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Methylphenidate (Ritalin®)

By: Dr. Nicholas Dodman

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  • Behavioral disorders in dogs and cats are a frequent reason for veterinary visits. Unacceptable or dangerous animal behavior problems are also a common reason why owners request euthanasia of their pets.
  • Recently, veterinarians have placed greater emphasis on animal training and behavior modification, and specialists working in the field of animal behavior have increasingly adopted drugs used in human behavioral medicine for animal use. Methylphenidate is one of these drugs.
  • Methylphenidate, best known by its trade name, Ritalin®, is a stimulant used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • How methylphenidate works is not fully understood, but it appears to release norepinephrine in the brain, as amphetamines do.
  • Methylphenidate is a prescription drug and can only be obtained from a veterinarian or by prescription from a veterinarian.
  • This drug is not approved for use in animals by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) but it is prescribed legally by veterinarians as an extra-label drug.

    Brand Names and Other Names

  • This drug is registered for use in humans only.
  • Human formulations: Ritalin® (Novartis) and generic equivalents
  • Veterinary formulations: None

    Uses of Methylphenidate

  • In dogs, methylphenidate is used in the treatment of ADHD, aggression associated with ADHD, and narcolepsy.

    Precautions and Side Effects

  • While generally safe and effective when prescribed by a veterinarian, methylphenidate may cause unacceptable side effects in some animals.
  • Because there is little information available on the use of this drug in animals, caution should be employed when using this drug.
  • Methylphenidate should not be used in animals with known hypersensitivity or allergy to the drug.
  • Methylphenidate should be used with caution in animals prone to seizures.
  • Methylphenidate may increase blood pressure and should be used with caution in animals with a history of heart trouble.
  • Other side effects include anorexia, increased nervousness, and insomnia.
  • Methylphenidate may interact with some other medications. Consult your veterinarian to determine if other drugs your pet is receiving could interact with methylphenidate. Such drugs include anticonvulsants, tricyclic antidepressants, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.
  • Methylphenidate should not be used within 2 weeks of terminating treatment with a MAO inhibitor, such as L-deprenyl.

    How Methylphenidate is Supplied

  • Methylphenidate is available as a 5 mg, 10 mg, and 20 mg tablets.
  • A sustained-release preparation of methylphenidate is available in the form of 10 mg and 20 mg tablets.
  • An "extended-release" preparation is available as 18 mg, 20 mg, 27 mg, 36 mg, and 54 mg tablets.

    Dosing Information

  • Medication should never be administered without first consulting your veterinarian.
  • Methylphenidate is dosed at 0.125 to 0.25 mg per pound (0.25 to 0.5 mg/kg) orally twice or three times daily.
  • The duration of administration depends on the condition being treated, response to the medication, and the development of any adverse effects. Be certain to complete the prescription unless specifically directed by your veterinarian.

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