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What Is Buprenorphine for Cats?

Cat at veterinarian office.
Buprenorphine has a sedative effect on cats.
A cat on buprenorphine.
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  • Written By: Daphne Mallory
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 22 April 2014
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Veterinarians will sometimes prescribe buprenorphine for cats that are suffering from pain. The drug is a powerful opiate and is available only by prescription. Its use is monitored by the U.S. Drug Enforcement agency because of its opiate properties. Although it is formulated for humans, vets are allowed to use buprenorphine for treating moderate pain in cats and some other animals. In these cases, it is prescribed as an off-label drug. Buprenorphine can cause some side effects in cats, but it is very uncommon for an overdose to happen.

Owing to the known potential for abuse of opiates, buprenorphine is often administered to the cat directly at the veterinary clinic. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved the drug for use in animals as of 2011, but vets commonly prescribe it to cats because of its effective pain-relief properties. Buprenorphine interacts with the central nervous system to alleviate pain. The relief can last up to eight hours or longer, and the sedative effect of the drug helps cats to rest so they can heal. Buprenorphine is sold in 1-mL ampoules, which the vet will administer in small doses into the cat’s mouth. The drug can quickly be absorbed by the cat’s gums, where it enters the bloodstream. It can also be injected into the cat’s veins or directly into a muscle that is affected by pain.

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There are some common side effects of buprenorphine that veterinarians will warn cat owners about. The most common one is a feeling of sedation, which often happens with opiate drugs. It can also cause cats to breathe slowly. While cats can experience nausea, delirium, and strange behavior changes on other opiates, these reactions are usually not present when using buprenorphine. The drug is usually administered twice a day at 12-hour intervals, or more often in cats that are experiencing intense pain.

Veterinarians will not prescribe buprenorphine for cats that are suffering from certain conditions. Cats that are elderly, severely debilitated, or that have suffered a severe head trauma should not be given this drug. Vets will not prescribe it for cats that have kidney disease and certain other serious conditions and will use it only with extreme caution in cats that have liver disease. Cats that are taking antihistamines, tranquilizers, and other drugs can have adverse reactions to buprenorphine if it’s administered at the same time. Pet owners should inform their vet about any medications their cat is already taking prior to the use of the drug and should closely monitor their pet for adverse reactions while it’s being used.

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Discuss this Article

anon946723
Post 15

My male 11 year old cat had a dental cleaning and tooth extraction today. As soon as I got him home and out of his carrier he began his loopy exploration of the house, making sure his litter box, food and water were all where he remembered.

He was extremely high energy and was sort of galloping all over. His eyes dilated so that he looked like a cartoon cat! He was prescribed buprenorphine every 8 hours with a first dose at 8 p.m. tonight. The erratic behavior began anew with more energy than he's had in years. And an appetite that won't stop! He just keeps eating and roaming the house. Definitely not tired and I anticipate it will be a long night. Will call vet in AM to make sure dose is accurate. Crazy!

anon933904
Post 14

I'm not sure how old this post is, but my cat was also just prescribed buprenex in small syringes. They gave him a shot of it and told me to start giving him the oral meds three times a day, so I gave him one later that night only to see that within 30 minutes to 1 hour his eyes completely dilated, he stopped meowing (and he's usually a very vocal cat), and was acting a little loopy.

I called the vet this morning before giving him his morning dose and they said to only give him the meds two times a day now. I'm still unhappy with that response since he had a reaction only after the first dose!!

Kytlynn
Post 13

I accidentally gave my kitten buprenorphine as an injection in her scruff because I didn't understand the vet and they left the needles in. Apparently it was supposed to be oral. This article says the sometimes it is given as an injection, so will she be all right?

anon352914
Post 12

My cat is taking buprenorphine for cancer pain. It is expensive. Can one use human low dose oxycodone or methadone instead?

anon351498
Post 11

I'm on buprenorphine myself for opiate addiction. It helps stop my cravings and withdrawals. I am expected to slowly taper off this drug with time. So far, so good. Ironically it does not give me any sedation effects. Maybe it's different in animals?

anon346571
Post 10

My cat was diagnosed with cancer a couple weeks ago. She and her brother are 17-plus years old, both with kidney disease and hyperthyroidism (although, Max will live to be 40!)

I take morphine, for pain, too. I have no reaction to it and it appears Zoe doesn't either, but it works for her and it works for me!

I believe it all has to do with the dosage amount. Like with any drug, there needs to be adjustments, according to the reactions.

anon330195
Post 9

My cat just got the shot and her pupils are super dilated now. The vet said the shot would last for three days though, not 24 hours. So I wonder if her eyes will stay that way the whole three days. It is very worrying.

anon326271
Post 8

My vet gave me 12 syringes of 0.1cc/each of Buprenorphine for my cat, when she was spayed. After about an hour she was high as a kite. She definitely seemed to be feeling (or should I say feline, ha) no pain. She was lying on her back, all four legs outstretched with toes splayed. It was kind of funny in a sick sort of way! You can surely tell when it's wearing off, in about eight hours, as the cat starts to act "normal" again.

JessicaLynn
Post 7

@ceilingcat - It is kind of funny to think of an animal being depressed (after all, what do they have to be depressed about) but I have a friend that has a dog on Prozac and it's really helped the dog. The dog was a rescue, and was very traumatized. The Prozac has helped the dog calm down and get more comfortable in his new home.

ceilingcat
Post 6

I always find it interesting when animals can take drugs that were originally designed for humans. However, buprenorphine isn't the only drug that works like this. My veterinarian prescribed Benadryl to my cat awhile ago, because the vet thought the cat might have allergies.

I've also heard that cats and dogs are sometimes prescribed Prozac or another anti-depressant that also works in humans if the vet thinks it will help their problems. I thought that was kind of funny.

sunnySkys
Post 5

@JaneAir - It was a probably a combination of both. If your cat was already sick and feeling tired, then with the medicine, I'm not surprised he was totally knocked out. At least he was under professional supervision at the animal hospital at the time.

JaneAir
Post 4

@anamur - My cat has taken buprenorphine, but it was while he was at the animal hospital. I had to leave him there for an overnight stay, and he seemed to be really knocked out after they gave it to him. On the other hand, he was sick anyway, so that may have been part of it.

It's interesting your cat had the complete opposite reaction. I wonder why that happened. Also, hopefully the hyperactivity didn't affect whatever it was he was taking the medicine for in the first place.

serenesurface
Post 3

@fBoyle-- My cat has been on buprenorphine a couple of times too and never had that side effect. He does become extremely hyper and active while on this drug though. It's really weird since it's supposed to make him sleepy.

turquoise
Post 2

@fBoyle-- What dose is your cat on? What is she being treated for?

I have heard of opiates causing this symptom on cats and since it happened after getting the buprenorphine, that is probably the cause. I would recommend keeping an eye on him and if his pupils don't go back to normal after the medication wears off, you might want to ask your vet.

Also, keep in mind that it can take opiates a long time to wear off and it's different with every cat. So I would give it twenty-four hours before getting worried. If additional symptoms show up though, do give your vet a call.

fBoyle
Post 1

My cat was given a dose of buprenorphine at the vet's office this evening. I've noticed for the past few hours that his pupils are dilated.

Is this a side effect of this medication? Has anyone experienced this while their cat was on buprenorphine? Please help, I'm very worried.

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