Gabapentin is a commonly used drug, in both human and veterinary medicine, which has properties that are useful for managing both seizures and chronic pain. As an owner, you may understandably want to know more about the medication that has been prescribed for your pet. Let’s look deeper into what gabapentin is and how it can help your pet.
What is gabapentin?
Gabapentin is part of a family of drugs called ‘anti-epileptics’. Its exact mechanism of action is still unclear, although it seems to work in several ways to block calcium channels, decreasing the release of neurotransmitters, reducing the speed at which nerves fire off.
It is not licensed for use in animals, therefore has to be prescribed under the cascade. This means that it is authorised for use in humans, but not by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate. It should only be used if licensed drugs haven’t yet been effective.
It comes in both capsule and liquid form, of which the most appropriate will be prescribed for your pet.
When is it used?
Originally developed for epilepsy in humans, it is used for a number of different reasons in dogs and cats.
While often not used on its own for epilepsy, it might be added in later down the line if other licensed drugs are not effective. It is also an option for animals with both epilepsy and liver disease, as it is primarily broken down by the kidneys.
Neuropathic pain is pain associated with damage to the nervous system, causing incorrect nerve signals to be sent to the brain, even if there is no actual pain stimulus. This can be from nerve root compression, traumatic nerve injury, cancer of the nervous system, and amputation. It also plays a part in the pain associated with osteoarthritis. Neuropathic pain tends to be chronic (long-term).
Gabapentin alone is unlikely to be used for the management of chronic neuropathic pain. Instead, it will be used alongside other drugs to provide ‘multi-modal analgesia’.
Prior to a vet visit
Gabapentin also has sedative properties, and therefore can be used for animals that find a trip to the vets particularly stressful. Your vet may prescribe gabapentin to be taken the night before and the morning of the visit, especially in anxious cats, to help make their experience more pleasant.
Are there any side effects?
Like any drug, there can be side effects. Your pet may experience the following:
- Increased drinking
- Mild weight gain
Side effects are rare, but if you are concerned about any symptoms your pet may be experiencing, do contact your vet.
Are there any animals that can’t have gabapentin?
Gabapentin should be avoided in patients with kidney disease, due to being excreted by the kidneys. It is also not recommended in pregnant or lactating animals.
How often should I give gabapentin?
Gabapentin can be administered up to three times per day (every eight hours) but give them according to instructions from your vet. If you forget to give a dose, do not double up on doses, wait until the next dose. Never stop giving gabapentin suddenly. If your vet decides your animal can come off gabapentin, they should be weaned off slowly.
Your animal may be on gabapentin for a short amount of time, or even for the rest of their life. Your vet will advise you on the length of the course.
If you have any concerns or further questions, do get in touch with your vet.