Time Magazine and Designer Dogs: My Response

The cover of the most recent edition of Time magazine states, “The Answers Issue: Everything You Never Knew You Needed to Know.” When I initially glanced at the centerfold’s jazzy appearing infographic titled, “Where Do Designer Dogs Come From?” I winced and my heart raced a bit. Uh oh, would this feature enhance public interest in the “designer hybrids?” Or maybe, just maybe (my hope knows no bounds), the piece would point a disapproving finger at breeders who have jumped on the designer dog bandwagon hoping to cash in on this misguided fad.

My hopes were quickly dashed. The Time piece was seemingly all about enticing the puppy-purchasing public to shell out $2,000 plus for intentionally bred mutts. There’s abundant appeal in the 45 whimsical designer names presented in the article, such as Sharmation (Shar Pei/Dalmatian mix), Schnoodle (Schnauzer/Poodle mix), and Pugalier (Pug/Cavalier King Charles Spaniel mix). A list of popular celebrities and their chosen designer dogs was also included. Additionally, the infographic suggested that designer dogs sustain better health than their purebred parents. Good luck finding a veterinarian who agrees with this sentiment.

My concerns with designer breeds
How I wish I’d been sitting around the editorial table at Time magazine when the designer dog feature was conceived. I would have encouraged running the piece, but with a whole different bend. Readers would have learned that mixed breed dogs (aka, designer dogs) do make wonderful pets, and that they are readily available for adoption from animal shelters, humane societies and rescue organizations. Getting a puppy from these sources not only saves a life, the adopter will spend a fraction of the amount required to purchase a designer dog from private parties and puppy mill proprietors.

Why choose a shelter dog?
While the exact “design” of a pup adopted from a shelter or rescue organization may not be known, the not knowing always makes for some great conversation. For those with a need to know, simple and relatively inexpensive DNA testing may shed some light on a mutt’s pedigree.

My Time piece on designer dogs would talk about the mindset of reputable/responsible breeders. They do not produce mixed breed dogs. Rather, they focus their time and energy perpetuating the best traits and eliminating the undesirable ones of the breed they love so dearly. Such breeders view “designer hybrids” to be no different than any other mixed breed of dog. They detract from, rather than enhance the breed they fancy.

The "inventor" of designer dogs
Time magazine readers would learn that Wally Conron, the original “inventor” of the designer dog, regrets the day he created his first Labradoodle back in the 1980’s. MailOnline reports that he did so with hopes of accommodating the needs of a married couple. The Lab portion of the mix was intended to assist the wife who had vision problems, while the Poodle portion would deter the husband’s allergies. Mr. Camron has since stated, “I’ve done a lot of damage. I’ve created a lot of problems. Instead of breeding out the problems, they’re breeding them in. For every perfect one, you’re going to find a lot of crazy ones. You can’t walk down the street without seeing a Poodle cross of some sort. I just heard about someone who wanted to cross a Poodle with a Rottweiler. How could anyone do that? Not in my wildest dream did I imagine all of this would happen.”

In my article I would share photos of my own designer dogs (how cool would that be in Time magazine!), Nellie might just be a Cairnrussell (Cairn Terrier/Jack Russell Terrier mix), and Quinn could be a Borderpap (Border Collie/Papillon mix). Ask me next week and I will have changed my mind about who their parents may have been!

Lastly, I would encourage Time readers to recognize the difference between purchasing an inanimate designer item such as a purse versus a living, breathing creature. The less expensive, fully functional non-designer handbag that wasn’t purchased was not in dire need of a home. Not the case for the less expensive, adorable, shelter or rescue puppy that was not adopted.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Reviewed by:

Dr. Peter Kintzer, DVM, DACVIM

Reviewed on:

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Cecil County

We are so touched by the response of our community as we navigate through altering services in response to COVID-19. The health of our community, staff, and animals is our first priority. So many of you have asked how you can help remotely during this trying time. The following is a list of ways you can help!

Adoption - What better time than to adopt a new furry family member! We are scheduling adoptions by appointment only. If you are interested in adopting a new best friend, please send us a message or call us at 410-441-2040.

Fostering - So many of us are spending time at home. This is a perfect opportunity to welcome a lonely foster pet into your home to decompress and get lots of love and attention. If you are interested in fostering a cat or dog, please send us a message or call us at 410-441-2040.

Donations - We are always in need of donations. Our current needs include:

  • Purina Busy Bones
  • Cat Toys
  • Canned Cat Food(any brand)
  • Pedigree Dry Dog Food
  • Pedigree Canned Dog Food
  • Purina Kitten Chow
  • Purina Cat Chow
  • Any brand of food for our Pet Pantry

Donations can be dropped off in the rear of the shelter building. Linens and newspaper are not being accepted at this time.

Visit our Amazon Wishlist at the following link to make a donation:

Thank you from the bottom of our paws.

Welcome to

Below, you can see some of the animals currently staying with us that are looking for forever homes.

Adoption Fees
Cats & Kittens $40
Dogs $70 (includes Cecil County dog license)
Ask about current specials on our adoption fees!

Adoptable Pets:

Redeeming Your Pet

Pets can be redeemed at our shelter seven days a week during normal business hours (excluding major holidays). The pet redemption fee is $25. A $10 rabies vaccination fee is required unless proof of an up to date vaccination is provided. Please bring a copy of a valid driver’s license and proof of ownership. Proof of ownership includes photos, veterinary records, microchip registration, etc. We look forward to reuniting you with your pet!

The Cecil County Animal Services Division (CCAS) is committed to providing quality care and innovative services to the animals and people of Cecil County through the preservation and promotion of the human/animal bond and the protection of animals from abuse and neglect while ensuring thoughtful consideration is given to the best interest of the community. This is accomplished through transparency, open communication, public awareness, partnership-building, and, most importantly, the humane treatment of the animals served through the shelter.

CCAS serves as the County’s Animal Control Authority and provides quality care to animals in the community through the management of an open-admission shelter. Additional programs and services provides through this Division include the Pet Pantry Program, Adoption and Foster Services, Behavioral Helpline, Pet Loss Support, Humane Education, Project Safe Haven, "Seniors for Seniors," Pet Visitation Program, Volunteer Initiatives, and Pet Re-homing Intervention.

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Animal Welfare Enforcement Division Hours:
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Available After Hours for Emergencies

Identifying food allergies: The veterinary elimination diet trial

Dr. Judy Seltzer graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in London and completed her residency in dermatology at the University of Florida. She has been working in her home state of New York since 2009, currently at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in New York City. She and her husband have a brand-new baby girl and four cats and enjoy traveling, fall festivals, winter activities and dining out.

There is only one way to truly determine whether the clinical signs youre seeing in your patient are reactions to a food ingredient or additive. Heres how to conduct a proper elimination diet trial.

The term cutaneous adverse food reaction (food allergy) is often used to define the food-triggered clinical syndrome of allergic dermatitis, gastrointestinal (GI) signs or both. Food allergies may be responsible for chronic skin and ear disease in both cats and dogs.

Potential allergens can include protein sources (e.g. chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, soy, dairy, eggs) or carbohydrate sources (e.g. corn, rice, barley, wheat). Some pets can have more than one food allergy. Food allergies often start in pets younger than 1 or older than 7 years of age, but they can be acquired at any time, even when a pet has been eating the same food for months to years.

What does food allergy look like?

Food-allergic animals usually have nonseasonal pruritus because the source of the problem does not change with the weather or seasons. About 20% of food-allergic pets also have GI signs such as flatulence, vomiting, diarrhea, loud intestinal sounds, or defecating more than four to five times a day. Dogs may scratch their face, ears, feet, groin or anal area or develop recurrent skin or ear infections (Figure 1). A frequent presentation includes licking at the anal area in addition to problems with the ears-this is why the condition is often referred to as one that affects “ears and rears.” Cats may overgroom certain areas of the body or the whole body, exhibit intense itching at the face or neck, or develop ear infections.

Figure 1. Skin infections in a food-allergic cat (top) and dog (bottom). Images courtesy of Judy Seltzer, BVetMed, MRCVS, DACVDThe onset of food allergy can be slow and gradual or more sudden. Clinical signs often continue to progress as long as the offending allergen is fed. It can take several weeks to months for clinical signs to resolve once the allergenic agent is removed from the animal's diet. Up to 30% of food-allergic pets may have other allergies, such as a flea allergy dermatitis or atopy (environmental allergies). About 50% of food-allergic dogs will not respond favorably to steroids.

Diagnosis and treatment of food allergy

The only accurate way to diagnose an animal with a food allergy is to remove all of the currently fed foods and start a strict elimination diet trial. Available blood and saliva tests are not reliable for diagnosing food allergies in cats and dogs, and skin testing has also been found to be ineffective.

An elimination diet consists of a prescribed home-cooked or prescription therapeutic diet that contains a unique protein and carbohydrate source to which the animal has not previously been exposed. The most common novel protein diets include rabbit and potato, venison and potato, and kangaroo and oats. Many fish and lamb diets are no longer considered novel as these ingredients are more commonly used in over-the-counter (OTC) diets.

Another option is to use a hydrolyzed (low-molecular-weight) diet, also available by prescription. These diets are composed of common ingredients (such as chicken and soy) that have been molecularly altered to be below the allergenic threshold. This alteration prevents the animal's immune system from recognizing the food.

Oh, no, you didn't

Simply changing from one brand of pet food to another does not constitute an allergy diet trial. Several OTC “allergy” or “limited-ingredient” diets are now available in pet stores and online, but they are not always as pure as they claim to be or may have hidden ingredients.

Some pets with food allergies will not get better on a pet store diet. A small percentage of truly food-allergic animals remain undiagnosed with commercially prepared diets and need to be trialed with a home-cooked diet.

Home-cooked diets. Examples of proteins used in home-cooked diets are tilapia, salmon, duck, rabbit, pork or pinto beans, usually mixed with sweet potatoes, oats, quinoa or barley. A home-cooked diet should be nutritionally balanced. Therefore, recommend that the client consult with a board-certified nutritionist before feeding a home-cooked diet. Nutritionists are also extremely helpful when an animal has a concurrent disease, such as urinary tract infection, history of bladder stones or irritable bowel disease, and they can work with the primary veterinarian or dermatologist to formulate an appropriate diet. Websites including and have also been helpful in formulating home-cooked diets for a trial.

Therapeutic diets. Veterinary dermatologists often prescribe therapeutic diets from Royal Canin, Hill's and Purina for use in elimination trials. In addition, Rayne Clinical Nutrition makes rabbit, kangaroo and pork diets for dogs and cats that are less processed than dry kibble or canned foods. Selecting a diet will depend on your patient's diet history. Furthermore, some cats and dogs will require a wet food to help administer medications, and some owners are adamant about having treats to feed their pet. Knowing the needs of your patient and client will help in choosing the most appropriate diet for your patient.

Did we mention elimination diet trials are strict?

Emphasizing to clients that absolutely no other food products or treats should be given during an elimination diet trial is imperative. The pet should be allowed to consume only the prescribed diet, associated treats and water. Pets in an elimination trial cannot have:

Rawhides, pig ears, bones or other chew toys made with animal products

Parasite preventives, medications or toothpastes with added flavor

Treats used to administer medications (e.g. peanut butter, cream cheese, lunch meat, pill pockets).

Regardless of which elimination diet is selected, it should be introduced gradually over a five- to seven-day period. This is extremely important as some animals may develop GI problems if their diet is changed suddenly. Most pets adapt to the new diet well, but some need time to adjust. If the pet doesn't adjust to the new diet within a week or two or refuses multiple therapeutic diets, a home-cooked diet can be formulated with the help of a veterinary nutritionist. To formulate the best possible plan for your patient, it is also important to take into consideration challenges such as households with multiple pets or small children.

The elimination trial should continue for at least eight to 12 weeks and a minimum of one month beyond resolution of a skin infection. The pet should be rechecked frequently to assess the progress and results of the diet trial. Rechecks may be more frequent if the pet is being treated for an active infection.

If the pet has a food allergy, we expect to see at least a 50% reduction in licking, scratching, chewing or other dermatologic signs. This may occur within the first four weeks for some animals in others the response may take up to 12 weeks. Cats may need to be on the elimination diet for three to four months before a food allergy is confirmed.

The diet challenge

To prove that a food allergy is responsible for a pet's condition, a diet challenge is typically performed. This involves reintroducing the original diet, or ingredients from the original diet, to see if the pet has any reaction. In the food-allergic pet, clinical signs will usually worsen within hours to two weeks. If an adverse reaction occurs, resume the elimination diet exclusively. Once the flare-up is resolved, reintroduce individual ingredients from the former diet one at a time to identify the specific cause.

Beyond proving the food allergy diagnosis accurate, a food challenge helps to determine which specific foods or treats should be avoided and to identify an OTC diet that the pet can tolerate. If we can determine the ingredient causing the problem, we can manage the condition by eliminating the offending food(s) from the pet's diet for life.

Keep in mind, however, that this may not always be possible. Some patients may need to remain on a therapeutic or home-cooked diet for life. Feeding a therapeutic diet long-term will not harm a pet because these diets are well balanced. Therapeutic diets tend to be more expensive than OTC diets, however, and many owners prefer to feed a commercial diet.

As with other types of allergies, there is no cure for food allergy. What's more, animals can develop new food allergies over time. However, if a food allergy is the sole cause of a pet's skin or ear problems, identifying and eliminating the protein(s) or carbohydrate(s) causing the allergy may significantly increase the pet's quality of life and reduce or prevent skin and ear problems in the future.

As noted earlier, pets with an allergy to food ingredients are at higher risk for developing other allergies such as atopic dermatitis or flea allergy dermatitis. To keep below an animal's itch threshold, all food-allergic pets should be maintained with strict flea control and monitored for secondary skin infections and itching.

Dr. Judy Seltzer graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in London and completed her residency in dermatology at the University of Florida. She has been working in her home state of New York since 2009, currently at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in New York City. She and her husband have a little girl and four cats and enjoy traveling, fall festivals, winter activities and dining out.

Should I Adopt A Dog During The Coronavirus Crisis? Read This First

Should I Adopt A Dog During The Coronavirus Crisis? Read This First

If you're thinking this might be a good time to adopt a dog, you're not the only one.

City Dogs Rescue usually adopts out 20 to 30 dogs in one month, according to adoption counselor Jillian Molina. In March, it adopted out 40 dogs. Colleen Bernhard, the director of operations at Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, told me that in one week in March, "we brought in 149 animals from high-kill shelters and adopted out 134. That is our average for one month normally."

Some rescues are seeing an unprecedented number of foster applications. Sue Bell, executive director of Homeward Trails, told us its foster applications have increased more than 50%.

It makes sense — in an era of shelter-in-place orders and social distancing, many of us long for a little companionship (and a reason to see the light of day). Before you rush into adopting a canine companion, here are a few things to consider.

1. Don't adopt just because of the lockdown.

The coronavirus pandemic won't last forever, and adopting a dog is a long-term commitment.

Kayla Fratt, a certified dog behavior consultant and owner of Journey Dog Training, recommends thinking through some basic questions. For example:

  • How much time will you have to care for a dog, now and post-pandemic?
  • Do you have the funds to adopt right now? Do you have job security or extra savings to cover unforeseen pet-related expenses?
  • How much space do you have for a dog? Does your current housing situation allow for pets?
  • How much time and energy are you willing to commit to training a dog?
  • Consider your lifestyle. Do you want a dog that can run miles with you every day? Or are you looking for a less active dog that will be content skipping walks here and there?

Think about your life post-pandemic. Make sure you're adopting a dog that matches that lifestyle, not your current one or your aspirational one.

Speaking from experience, Fratt notes that a lot of people like to think they're more active than they actually are. "They're actually not going out and really hitting the trails all day, every day in a way that some of these really, really high-energy dogs do need."

2. There are upsides to adopting a dog during the pandemic.

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8 Tips To Make Working From Home Work For You

Fratt warns, "I would really caution people who weren't thinking in January that they might get a dog in 2020 against springing on that now."

But if you were planning to adopt a dog before the coronavirus pandemic, now could be a great time to take that step. More time at home means more time to bond with a new dog.

You'll also have increased availability to work on training. This can be especially helpful if your dog needs to be crate trained or if you've adopted a puppy or a rescue with more behavioral concerns.

Fratt recommends implementing a training protocol called "SMART x 50," developed by Kathy Sdao. "SMART" stands for "See, Mark, And Reward Training." The method relies on positive reinforcement:

  • See your dog doing something you like.
  • Mark it by saying "good dog" or "yes."
  • Reward your dog.

"[Sdao suggests] counting out 50 pieces of kibble and rewarding your dog for 50 small good things throughout the day," says Fratt. "If you do this and nothing else to train your dog, you're going to end up with a relatively nice dog."

If you adopt a fearful or anxious dog, this is a good time to work through some of those issues. You can take it for walks during off-peak hours and slowly build up to meeting strangers.

3. There are also downsides to adopting during the pandemic.

Socialization, which is important for puppies and fearful dogs, will be more difficult to achieve in an era of social distancing.

If you feel like you're in over your head, it'll be harder to seek help from outside sources. You won't be able to take your dog to classes.

Don't delay dog training just because you can't go somewhere in person! A lot of dog trainers are currently offering online classes, and YouTube is a great resource if you need to teach your dog basic commands like sit, stay or come.

Another downside? You may have limited access to necessary supplies. Try to anticipate everything you'll need initially to care for your new dog. You'll want to minimize trips to the pet store and consider how many orders you place online. Deliveries could be delayed. Cleaning supplies are still hard to find in some places, so plan for that too.

If you don't have a car and you're avoiding ride-hailing services right now, consider how you plan to transport your dog to the vet.

It's not fun to think about, but the Humane Rescue Alliance urges people to have an emergency preparedness plan for what happens to their pet if they fall ill. You may want to prepare an emergency supply kit for your pet with two weeks' worth of food, medications and other necessary supplies.

4. Make a plan for the transition to post-pandemic life.

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If you're working from home, currently furloughed or unemployed, you're able to spend 24/7 with your new dog. "Down the line, when you do restart work, that might be a really big shift for your dog," Fratt notes.

Sticking to a schedule will help your dog transition to post-pandemic life. Fratt recommends feeding and walking your dog at the same time every day.

If you plan to be out of the house 40 hours a week when this is over, plan some time apart from your dog now so it doesn't come as a total shock later.

"One of the beautiful things with this pandemic is you can build up to this," says Fratt. Try leaving your dog alone incrementally — you can start out with as little as three minutes, graduating to five minutes, then 10, then 20 and beyond!

5. Budget at least $100 per month for pet-related expenses on top of initial costs.

The initial costs of adopting a dog are high. You'll have a lot of upfront expenses: food, a bed, a crate, a collar and leash, medicine, vet visits, shots, toys, etc.

After that, expect to budget around $100 per month for pet-related expenses, not including money for training or dog walkers. If you plan on hiring a dog walker post-pandemic, that could potentially cost you $100 per week.

During the 2008 financial crisis, pet surrenders went up because people could no longer afford to take care of their dogs.

If you've gotten to this point and you're convinced that adopting a dog right now is right for you, then .

6. The adoption process is different now. Prepare for it.

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Even though shelters are closed and rescues have paused in-person adoption events, many are hosting virtual meet-and-greets. Check with your local rescues to find out how they're handling adoptions in light of COVID-19.

Focus on the quality, not quantity, of your adoption applications. Molina, of City Dogs Rescue, suggests you "scope out one or two rescues that you do want to adopt with and . stick with the process."

Molina also recommends checking the rescue's social media accounts for the latest available dogs — they're likely to be more up to date than the website during periods of high demand.

Consider looking at dogs that have been at the shelter for the longest. If you're willing to adopt a puppy or take on harder behaviors, include that on your application too. Molina says that this could make it easier for an adoption counselor to match you with a dog sooner.

Be prepared for an online home visit. If you demonstrate you're thinking about the future, it will make you a more attractive candidate.

Molina advises, "You might say something like, 'I'm working from home right now. I don't need a dog walker. But when I go back to work, I intend to send my dog to day care or get a local dog walker to come visit when I'm at work.' . People who are demonstrating long-term thinking, those [people] are going to stand out more than people who are kind of impulse-applying for a dog."

Specificity — and patience — are key in the adoption process.

If you're not sure if you want to adopt or if you're not sure what kind of dog you can handle long term, fostering or dog-sitting are great options. Get some practice — you don't have to adopt right now just because you have more time at home.

This story was adapted for digital by Audrey Nguyen. The audio portion of this story was produced also by Audrey Nguyen.

The use of gabapentin to help manage anxiety in dogs

For some veterinary patients, the anti-anxiety effects of a single medication might not be enough. When monotherapy is insufficient, consider adding this drug to your treatment plan.

The use of psychoactive pharmaceuticals in veterinary behavior medicine has proved invaluable in managing anxiety-based disorders. Without the appropriate and judicious use of these medications, many dogs would be much less likely to respond to treatment with environmental management and behavior modification therapy.

Medications such as fluoxetine and sertraline (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors [SSRIs]) and clomipramine (a tricyclic antidepressant [TCA]) can successfully treat patients affected by conditions such as separation anxiety, noise phobia and fear-based aggression. In some cases, however, use of a single pharmaceutical agent doesn't provide sufficient anti-anxiety effects to achieve a suitable outcome. When a patient fails to respond to monotherapy with an SSRI or a TCA, veterinarians have three options:1-3

1. Increase the dose of the medication if the typical maximum dose has not been reached and the patient has not shown undesirable side effects.

2. Switch to a different drug.

3. Augment the first drug with a second drug.

If the first two steps prove ineffective in reducing the intensity or frequency of the patient's fear or anxiety, combination drug therapy is a viable option. Numerous possible combinations of agents can be used to manage particular cases. In this article, we review the use of gabapentin in dogs for treating anxiety-related conditions.

Traditionally, gabapentin has been utilized in veterinary medicine for management of neuropathic pain and as an anticonvulsant.4 However, in human medicine it has also been used to treat patients with social anxiety and panic disorder.5 In the last several years veterinary behaviorists have used gabapentin as an adjunctive therapy for anxiety in dogs and cats. In dogs, it is frequently used in the treatment of generalized anxiety, impulsivity, phobias and panic disorders, and compulsive disorders.3

Generally, gabapentin is used as an adjunctive medication when an SSRI or TCA has already been prescribed but has failed to significantly reduce the intensity of the patient's fear or anxiety. Gabapentin has frequently been given alongside fluoxetine, sertraline, paroxetine and clomipramine in treating these conditions.

Gabapentin is a structural analog of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), but it does not interact with GABA receptors nor does it affect GABA uptake or degradation.4 Gabapentin binds selectively to the alpha-2-delta subunit on voltage-sensitive calcium channels, thereby reducing the release of excitatory neurotransmitters, including glutamate, from presynaptic neurons.5 These calcium channels are upregulated when nerves are stimulated in conditions such as epilepsy, neuropathic pain and anxiety.4,5 Blocking these channels has minimal effect on normal neurons but suppresses stimulated neurons.4

In dogs, gabapentin is metabolized into N-methyl-gabapentin.6 It has greater than 80% systemic oral availability,7 and absorption is not affected by food. Maximum blood levels are achieved in one to three hours and it has an elimination half-life of three to four hours.6 Gabapentin is excreted almost completely by the kidneys and it does not rely on hepatic biotransformation,7 making it a good choice for patients with hepatic disease.

Dosages can vary, but commonly gabapentin is dosed in dogs at 5-30 mg/kg up to three times daily,3 though in our own patients we have used 10-40 mg/kg up to three times daily as well. Gabapentin has also been used on an as-needed basis to achieve anxiolysis at 30-60 mg/kg one to two hours before an anticipated stressful event, such as a veterinary visit.

Experts suggest beginning at the low end of the dose range and gradually titrating up to effect with dose adjustments occurring about seven days apart, allowing time to evaluate the effect. Wean patients off gabapentin gradually to reduce the potential for seizures.8 Also, when using this drug in conjunction with antacids, separate dosing by two hours.8 Keep in mind that gabapentin can cause a false positive result for urinary protein, and concomitant use of morphine or hydromorphone can result in increased activity of gabapentin as well as causing a reduced activity of the opioid.8

While we're discussing dogs here, it's worth noting that in cats, gabapentin is increasingly being used prior to veterinary visits at a dose of 10 mg/kg up to 100 mg/cat given 1.5 to 3 hours before an appointment.9

The drug is available in 100-, 300- and 400-mg capsules as well as 600- and 800-mg tablets. Use caution when prescribing or administering prepared liquid gabapentin since some formulations contain xylitol as a flavoring agent.

While sedation and ataxia can occur with the use of gabapentin, there have been no reported serious safety issues in animals.4 In our experience, other possible side effects include gastrointestinal distress-such as loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhea-and increased anxiety or agitation.

These side effects are typically transient and mild. In some cases, however, effects can be more prolonged and serious. Be sure to educate clients about possible side effects and tell them to contact you or another veterinarian immediately with any concerns.

If you encounter adverse effects, you can decrease the dose (50% reduction is common) or, in more severe cases, discontinue the medication completely. While compounds with longer half-lives (such as SSRIs) can be discontinued abruptly, shorter-acting compounds, such as gabapentin, should be gradually tapered to minimize withdrawal signs. Gradual withdrawal is also helpful in cases when there is a need to determine the lowest effective dose.

Dose adjustments for gabapentin can be made every one or two weeks. There is no need to withdraw these medications before anesthesia, but consider reducing premedication sedation to minimize interactions.

In order to monitor hepatic and renal function, perform baseline premedication database testing, including a complete blood count, serum chemistry profile and urinalysis. Repeat this testing one or two months after starting the medication and then again every six to 12 months.

Gabapentin is an excellent option in managing anxiety when previous therapies alone have proven to be insufficient. It may be used situationally, prior to predictable stressful events, or administered daily in combination with an SSRI or TCA. With judicious management of dosing and close communication with owners, gabapentin can be an effective and safe adjunctive agent for the treatment of behavioral disorders.

1. Crowell-Davis SL, Murray T. Combinations. In: Veterinary Psychopharmacology. Ames, Iowa: Blackwell Publishing, 2006:234-240.

2. Sherman BL, Mills DS. Canine Anxieties and Phobias: An Update on Separation Anxiety and Noise Aversions. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract 200838:1081–1106.

3. Landsberg GM, Hunthausen W, Ackerman L. Pharmacologic intervention in behavior therapy. In: Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat. 3rd ed. Philadelphia: Saunders, 2013:113-138.

4. Riviere JE, Papich MG. Anticonvulsants. In: Veterinary Pharmacology and Therapeutics. 9th ed. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2013: 493-508.

5. Stahl SM. Stahl's Essential Psychopharmacology: Neuroscientific Basis and Practical Applications. 4th ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

6. KuKanich B, Cohen RL. Pharmacokinetics of oral gabapentin in greyhound dogs. Vet Jour 2011187:133-135.

7. Radulovic LL, Türck D, Hodenberg von A, et al. Disposition of gabapentin (neurontin) in mice, rats, dogs, and monkeys. Drug Metab Dispos 199523:441-448.

8. Plumb D. Plumb's veterinary drug handbook. 6th ed. Ames, Iowa: Blackwell Publishing, 2008415-417.

9. van Haaften KA, Forsythe LRE, Stelow EA, et al. Effects of a single preappointment dose of gabapentin on signs of stress in cats during transportation and veterinary examination. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2017251:1175-1181.

Dr. John J. Cirribassi is retired from practice and lives in Carol Stream, Illinois. Dr. Kelly Ballantyne owns Insight Animal Behavior Services in Chicago.

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