Side Effects of Buprenorphine in Cats

By Betty Lewis

Pain in our companion animal friends is a bit of a mystery -- when was the last time your cat complained of a headache? However, sometimes it's predictable, such as after surgery or a dental procedure. Fortunately, the vet has a wide variety of pain relievers to call into service if your cat's feeling any pain. Buprenorphine, a synthetic opiate, is one of those effective options with relatively few side effects.

The Narcotic Buprenorphine

Buprenorphine may be familiar to you by its traditional brand names: Buprenex, Carpuject or Simbadol. 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. It's 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's controlled by the Drug Enforcement Agency and available only by a veterinary prescription for your cat.

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. 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.

Administering Buprenorphine

One of the other benefits to this pain reliever is its ease of administering it to your cat. You 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.

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 medications. 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.