What Is Gabapentin Used For in Dogs? Everything You Need To Know

By: Katie KoschalkUpdated:

gabapentin for dogs: dog laying on sofa
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What Is Gabapentin Used For in Dogs? Everything You Need To Know

Does your dog suffer from chronic pain, anxiety or seizures? As a pet parent, witnessing these conditions can be gut-wrenching. Fortunately, medications can help manage these conditions and improve your furry companion’s quality of life. One such medication is gabapentin for dogs.

Originally developed as an anti-seizure medication for humans, gabapentin has become a valuable tool in veterinarians’ symptom-management toolbox. We spoke to vet experts to understand how gabapentin is used for dogs and to get info about side effects, dosage and more.

What Is Gabapentin? Is It Safe for Dogs?

Gabapentin (also known by several brand names, including Neurontin®, Gabarone and Gralise®) belongs to a class of medications called anticonvulsants. This drug is structurally similar to a naturally occurring inhibitory neurotransmitter called GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which is involved in suppressing the transmission of nerve signals within the brain and spinal cord.

It’s not fully understood how gabapentin works, but the Cleveland Clinic states it reduces the excitability of nerve cells (neurons) in the brain, which play a role in seizures, anxiety and pain signals.

Gabapentin is generally considered safe for dogs when used as directed by your vet. It’s also typically suitable for long-term use, which makes it a good option for chronic conditions, says Ray Spragley, DVM, CVA, CCRT, founder of Zen Dog Veterinary Care in Tuckahoe, New York.

While gabapentin is currently not FDA-approved as a veterinary medication, it is readily utilized in the veterinary field, and veterinarians can legally prescribe certain human drugs for use in animals in certain circumstances. This is called extra-label or off-label use, because this use isn’t described on the drug label.

Gabapentin (Generic) Capsules, 100-mg, 1 capsule

What Is Gabapentin Used for in Dogs?

A vet might prescribe gabapentin to a dog for a few reasons. These include:

Pain Management

“Gabapentin is commonly prescribed by veterinarians to help manage chronic pain in dogs,” says Sara Ochoa, DVM, veterinarian at Animal Hospital of West Monroe in Louisiana.

It’s effective for nerve pain and can work well for painful conditions like osteoarthritis due to its ability to suppress chronic pain by affecting neuronal pathways in the brain.

Gabapentin is sometimes used for acute pain relief in dogs along with other drugs, but more studies need to be done.

It’s also common for vets to prescribe gabapentin alongside another pain-relieving medication, such as non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like carprofen or opioid pain medications like buprenorphine.

Preventing Seizures

Epilepsy—a neurological disorder characterized by recurrent seizures—is the most common neurological disorder in dogs, affecting an estimated 0.75% of the canine population. Dogs with epilepsy or other seizure disorders may be prescribed gabapentin as part of their long-term management plan to reduce the frequency and severity of seizures.

Reducing Anxiety

If your pup experiences anxiety due to things like thunderstorms, fireworks, car rides, veterinary visits or being left alone (separation anxiety), you may want to ask your vet if gabapentin could help your nervous Nellie.

It’s thought that gabapentin decreases the release of excitatory neurotransmitters in the brain that can contribute to anxiety. As a result, your dog may be able to maintain a more go-with-the-flow feeling when confronted with their usual triggers.

Gabapentin Side Effects in Dogs

Gabapentin, like any medication, can potentially cause side effects in dogs. The good news is that, compared to other pain-relieving medications, gabapentin tends to have fewer adverse effects on the gastrointestinal system and kidneys, says Dr. Ochoa. Dogs with kidney or liver problems, however, may have prolonged side effects.

The most common canine gabapentin side effects include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Mild ataxia (unsteadiness or incoordination while walking)

Typically, these side effects lessen or go away with continued dosing, or your dog gradually becomes used to them over time.

While not common, some dogs experience behavioral changes, such as increased anxiety, restlessness or agitation, Dr. Ochoa says. Dogs usually don’t experience vomiting, diarrhea and constipation as side effects of gabapentin unless it’s being used at high dosages.

In rare cases, a dog might have an allergic reaction to gabapentin, which would cause symptoms like swelling, hives or difficulty breathing.

Always play it safe and contact your vet immediately if you notice side effects.  

Can Gabapentin Kill a Dog?

“While gabapentin is generally safe for dogs when prescribed by a vet, excessive dosage can indeed be harmful,” Dr. Ochoa says. “It’s crucial to follow the recommended dosage to prevent any adverse effects.”

If you suspect or know your dog ingested more gabapentin or a different formulation than they were prescribed, or they’re exhibiting side effects, contact your vet immediately. You can also call the Pet Poison Helpline at (855) 764-7661 or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435.

Also, a word of caution: The liquid form of gabapentin often prescribed for humans can contain xylitol, an artificial sweetener that’s highly toxic to dogs. So, always stick to the gabapentin prescribed specifically for your dog.

How Much Gabapentin Can I Give My Dog? Gabapentin Dosage for Dogs

Gabapentin is most commonly prescribed in pill form, which comes in various strengths: 100 mg, 300 mg and 400 mg capsules, as well as 600 mg and 800 mg tablets. There’s also an oral liquid solution available, but, as mentioned, it commonly contains xylitol, which is highly toxic to dogs. If your vet prescribes liquid gabapentin and you need to pick it up from an external pharmacy, always confirm with the pharmacy that the solution is xylitol-free.

Depending on the size of the dog and what the medication is being used to treat, gabapentin can have a wide dosing range. Your veterinarian will determine the appropriate dosage, frequency and treatment plan for your specific pup.

Gabapentin is typically given two to four times per day and can be given with or without food. Be sure to follow all directions on the medication label or consult your veterinarian.

In certain circumstances, your vet may recommend a compounded formulation of gabapentin. Compounded medications are not FDA-approved and are prescribed if there’s a specific reason your pet’s health can’t be managed by an FDA-approved drug. They are created by either a veterinarian or a licensed pharmacist on an individual basis to best suit a pet’s particular needs. Learn more about compounded medications.

How To Give Your Dog Gabapentin

So how do you get your dog to take a gabapentin pill? You have a few options:

Use a Pill Pocket or Favorite Treat

The most tried-and-true way to get your dog to swallow a pill is by hiding it in a pill pocket, which is a soft dog treat with a hollow center. Some pet parent favorites include Greenies’ pill pockets and Milk-Bone’s pill pouches.

To use a pill pocket, simply place the pill in the center of the pill pocket; pinch the treat closed with your fingers; and feed it to your dog. Just be sure to watch your dog eat the pill pocket to ensure they swallow the pill and don’t sneakily spit it out.

Greenies Pill Pockets Canine Real Peanut Butter Flavor Dog Treats
Milk-Bone Pill Pouches with Real Chicken Dog Treats

Use a Pet Piller

A pet piller resembles a syringe and directly delivers the pill to the back of your dog’s throat. Here’s how to use it:

  • Insert the pill into the tip of the piller.
  • Gently place the piller into the back of your dog’s throat.
  • Press the plunger to release the pill into your dog’s mouth.
  • Hold your dog’s mouth closed for a few seconds, then tilt their head back with one hand and massage the throat to help the pill go down. Follow with water.

For a visual, watch our Chewtorial on how to give your dog a pill like a pro.

VetOne Pet Piller for Dogs & Cats, 12 count

How Long Does Gabapentin Take To Work?

Gabapentin usually starts to take effect quickly, with the full effect experienced within one to two hours of administration.

How long does gabapentin last in dogs? Although it can last for 24 hours, Dr. Spragley says the primary effects last around eight to 12 hours. That’s why it’s typically dosed two to three times a day, so benefits are continuously felt.

FAQs About Gabapentin for Dogs

Q:How do I store gabapentin?

A:Gabapentin should be stored at a controlled room temperature of 77 degrees Fahrenheit, though brief exposure to temperatures between 59 degrees Fahrenheit and 86 degrees Fahrenheit are acceptable. Keep the container tightly closed to protect from moisture and light, and always confirm storage requirements by reviewing the label.

As for compounded medications, they should be stored according to the compounding pharmacy’s label.

Keep all medications out of reach of children and pets.

Q:Does gabapentin make dogs sleepy?

A:Yes, gabapentin can cause sleepiness and mild sedation in some dogs, especially when first starting the medication or when given at higher doses. This side effect tends to decrease with consistent use, however.

Q:How much gabapentin will calm a dog?

A:The dosage of gabapentin needed to calm a dog varies depending on factors such as the dog’s size, condition being treated and individual response to the medication.

Q:Can dogs take gabapentin and trazodone together?

A:Canine gabapentin and trazodone are sometimes prescribed together to manage pain and anxiety in dogs. However, consult with your veterinarian to ensure safe dosing and to monitor for potential side effects.

Q:What are alternatives to gabapentin for dogs?

A:There are several alternative medications that can be used to manage pain and neurological conditions in dogs, including non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), opioids, amantadine, pregabalin and tricyclic antidepressants. Your veterinarian can recommend the most suitable alternative based on your dog’s specific needs and medical history.

Gabapentin is one of many options for managing pain in dogs and may also be useful in the management of anxiety and seizures. Consult with your veterinarian to learn if this medication is right for you and your pup. Next, learn about other anxiety medications for dogs, like trazodone.

Expert input provided by Raymond Spragley, DVM, CVA, CCRT, founder of Zen Dog Veterinary Care in Tuckahoe, New York; and Sara Ochoa, DVM, veterinarian at Animal Hospital of West Monroe, Louisiana.

This content was medically reviewed by Chewy vets.


By: Katie KoschalkUpdated: