what does gabapentin smell like?
March 17, 2021 5:49 PM   Subscribe

One of my cats is notoriously spicy at the vet's and, in anticipation of tomorrow's annual checkup, I picked up a prescription of gabapentin solution. I attempted to give it to her tonight, but she spat it out / foamed at the mouth, and I noticed that the drug has a really strong sweet/fruity odor, almost like aspartame. I'm worried I gave my cat something other than gaba (I've given it to her before without issue and the sweet smell) and if so, if it was harmful.

I'll call the vet ASAP tomorrow but if I could get some reassurances that I did not, in fact, just poison my cat, I would sleep a lot better in the intervening 14 hours. Thanks.
posted by snerson to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I am not anyone's vet, but it sounds like it's a flavored suspension? I've seen Gabapentin done with tutti frutti, marshmallow, and honey flavors for various animals.
posted by LadyOscar at 6:00 PM on March 17 [5 favorites]

(It's possible the bottle will list the flavor - ours did, but that might just be the particular pharmacy.)
posted by LadyOscar at 6:01 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]

It's honey a lot of times because it's commonly given to rabbits for pain control as opioids are difficult to prescribe nowadays. Can confirm it smells weird.
posted by fiercekitten at 6:09 PM on March 17

It's often in a flavor suspension because it tastes so very bad. Most of my dogs won't take it because the bitterness lingers and is very hard to disguise.
posted by answergrape at 6:19 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]

Yes, our recently deceased cat was on gabapentin for a long time, and it definitely had a weird flavored kids cough syrup smell vibe to it. We typically mixed it in with his wet food.
posted by mostly vowels at 6:47 PM on March 17

Thanks for the answers everyone. I'm still deeply ????? about why they would put a cat's prescription in a fruity suspension, but now I know she's probably not going to die from it... and I even have a suggestion on how to get it into her (mixing with wet food).
posted by snerson at 6:49 PM on March 17

Cats do tend to foam at the mouth in response to flavours they don’t like. It can be really quite dramatic. The first time I had to give my cat a bitter-tasting medication I was really quite worried, but the vet said it was completely normal.
posted by embrangled at 6:53 PM on March 17 [4 favorites]

Our cat was prescribed gabapentin for pain, in caplet form, to be twisted apart and the powder inside parceled out. The powder had no discernible odor, and our cat never seemed to mind the flavor mixed up in some wet food.

Contrast that with prednisone liquid, which was plainly the same godawful cherry flavor frequently used in human medicine, and which he absolutely (and understandably) hated.

Consider asking for it in caplet form.
posted by jedicus at 7:01 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]

I'm an emergency physician/medical toxicologist.

...the drug has a really strong sweet/fruity odor, almost like aspartame

What you smelled was a mixture of artificial fruit flavoring (strawberry, most likely) and a sugar substitute called xylitol. Your intuition about Aspartame was right on target because Aspartame and Xylitol, despite being two completely different molecules, are functionally identical and can be used more or less interchangeably to add sweetness to everything from chewing gum toothpaste.

why they would put a cat's prescription in a fruity suspension

Gabapentin is a synthetic analogue of the neurotransmitter gamma-Amino butyric acid (GABA).

Synthetic = made in a lab
Analogue = the exact same molecule. An identical copy. A clone.

Which means Gabapentin, just like GABA, has butyric acid for a basic building block

Butyric acid makes vomit, rancid butter, and parmesan cheese smell the way they do. Presumably, it tastes as bad as it smells.

Hence the fruit flavoring and artifical sweetener

Tl,DR: you can rest assured that Gabapentin was what you gave to your cat
posted by BadgerDoctor at 7:36 PM on March 17 [17 favorites]

To for later, Sometimes you can ask compounding pharmacys that serve pets for more animal friendly flavors like tuna or chicken.
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:40 PM on March 17 [3 favorites]

Forgot to add that gabapentin is formulated for human, not feline, consumption.

If you do find your way to a compounding pharmacy, you might want to ask they have any sort of dead rodent or week-old tuna fish artificial flavoring ; - )
posted by BadgerDoctor at 7:59 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]

What you smelled was a mixture of artificial fruit flavoring (strawberry, most likely) and a sugar substitute called xylitol.

Also just want to add that Xylitol can be fatal for dogs but thankfully cats aren't affected.
posted by CarolynG at 8:23 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]

FWIW, the flavor of liquid gabapentin that is intended for human consumption is "cool strawberry anise." Which sounds a lot like your description.

(It is also the worst-tasting liquid medication I have ever had the pleasure of drinking, and I wholeheartedly concur with your cat's opinion. It's the only liquid medicine I have ever paid the pharmacy to reflavor for me, and I have had a lot of them.)
posted by sineala at 8:55 PM on March 17 [5 favorites]

My friend’s cat was prescribed gabapentin the other day and there was an advisory that the cat would probably foam at the mouth after taking it because it is bitter and not to worry.
posted by Gymnopedist at 9:29 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]

cool strawberry anise is a combination of words designed specifically to torment me, I will blood sacrifice to any and all gods to avoid consuming anything that can be described that way

Funny thing is, it was the vet techs who formulated it. They knew it was for a cat. Unless they deal with a lot more non-cats/non-dogs than I thought, I'm not sure why they would keep around the fruity stuff instead of, you know, stinky meat flavor. Unless it's a supply issue. I'll ask tomorrow and try to remember to update.

For anybody freaking out about the foaming mouth issue like I was, I got around it by mixing the dose with some of that salmon mousse goop that comes in a little foil tube. There may be a higher value cat treat out there, but I have yet to meet it.
posted by snerson at 10:13 PM on March 17 [3 favorites]

I will say that the few times we had meat-flavored oral meds (fish, chicken) they tended to be hard to deal with - again, I don't know if it's our pharmacy, but they did not combine well. They had to be shaken vigorously several times a day or become permanently too lumpy to go through a syringe (no needle), and even with lots of shaking it was hard to be confident that things were mixed properly. The pharmacy said that the issue was with the flavorings being oil-based. And, half the time the animal didn't like the meds anyway. (This was at a zoo.)
posted by LadyOscar at 10:42 PM on March 17

Cats can't even taste sweetness, FFS.
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds at 1:22 AM on March 18

Bitter Taste
posted by chocolatenights at 5:17 AM on March 18

My cat's recent prescription of gabapentin smelled like chicken stock (I did not taste it). She hated taking it via a syringe anyway. Like you I had better luck mixing it with a small amount of wet food.

(not seeing any cat tax in this thread....)
posted by doift at 7:26 PM on March 18

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