Side Effects of Buprenorphine in Cats

By Betty Lewis

Your four-legged friends might not be able to complain about a headache, but you can definitely help them. After you learn how to tell if your cat is in pain and what to give your cat for pain relief, you can learn more about specific medications like buprenorphine.

cat in doctor arms
Buprenorphine is a medication used for pain relief in cats and can be very helpful, but make sure to ask your veterinarian for advice.
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Cats smile
Just because your cat can't yell "ow!" doesn't mean she doesn't feel pain.
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Veterinarians have a wide variety of pain relievers to call into service if your cat's feeling any pain especially after surgery or dental procedures. Buprenorphine is a synthetic opiate and an effective option with relatively few side effects.

Buprenorphine Is a Narcotic

Buprenorphine may be familiar to you by its traditional brand names: Buprenex, Carpuject or Simbadol. The National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment (NAABT) describes this medication as a fast-acting narcotic, usually kicking in within 15 to 30 minutes after dosing and lasting around eight hours. Because it's a narcotic and vulnerable to misuse and abuse, buprenorphine is controlled by the Drug Enforcement Agency and available only by a veterinary prescription for your cat. Despite the fact it is approximately 30 times stronger than morphine, it isn't as strong a pain reliever as morphine, best used for mild to moderate levels of pain.

Small kitten into the hands of doctor
Buprenorphine is one of the most commonly used pain medications because of its low risk of side effects.
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Side Effects

One of the reasons vets rely on buprenorphine as a pain medication for cats is because it has low risk of side effects when it's administered properly. The most common side effect of the drug is sedation, although a decrease in blood pressure and heart rate is also possible.

Despite the few potential side effects, there are cautions to using the drug. Veterinary Partner advises that cats with kidney disease should not use the drug, and it should be used with caution if the cat has liver disease since the liver is responsible for removing buprenorphine from the body. Other conditions that preclude its use include heart failure, head trauma, respiratory damage or pregnancy and lactation.

Cat with girl in vet clinic
Ask your vet about what method is best to administer medication to your cat.
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Administering Buprenorphine

One of the other benefits to this pain reliever is its ease of administering it to your cat. The NAABT describes the different methods of using it: your vet may use buprenorphine as an injectable, however if prescribed for home use, you'll likely administer it as a liquid or oral spray. The oral spray is helpful because your cat doesn't actually have to swallow the liquid; buprenorphine is absorbed into her body directly from her mouth membranes, referred to as transmucosal administration. The dosage impacts how often the medication is administered; the larger the dose, the longer its effects last.

Cat and vet
Ask your vet if burprenorphine will interact with any of your cat's other medications.
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Cautions and Contraindications

Make sure you and your vet are on the same page about what medication your cat is already taking because buprenorphine can have negative interactions with other medication. Anti-fungals and other medications, such as the antibiotic erythromycin can cause increased levels of buprenorphine in the bloodstream. It should be stored at room temperature, in a cabinet or other place shielding it from light exposure.