What to Know About Buprenorphine for Cats

Buprenorphine is a short-term pain relief medication that's commonly combined with other medications to manage mild to moderate pain in cats. It is usually given subcutaneously (under the skin) or sublingually (under the tongue). Read on to find out more about buprenorphine for cats. 

What Is Buprenorphine for Cats?

Buprenorphine (Buprenex, Simbadol, Belbuca) is a pain relief medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in cats and humans. This drug is not officially approved for use in other animals. But the FDA does allow veterinarians to give animals products that contain the drug for some conditions in certain situations.

Buprenorphine is a partial agonist at the mu (μ) opioid receptors. As a partial agonist, it is a safer pain relief medication than full agonist opioids like morphine. Although this medication has some side effects in cats, overdoses are rare. This is because, unlike other opioids, buprenorphine provides pain relief with minimal respiratory depression effects. 

Buprenorphine Dosage for Cats

If your cat is experiencing pain, your vet may prescribe buprenorphine to help manage the pain. Buprenorphine is available as a prescription-only medication formulated as an injectable or oral solution. After surgery, buprenorphine is given for acute pain management intravenously (IV) or intramuscularly (IM) at a dose of 0.02 to 0.04 milligrams per kilogram.

Buprenorphine is an excellent home pain relief management option for cats. Usually, the maintenance dose for pain management is between 0.01 and 0.04 milligrams per kilogram IM, IV, or transmucosally.

Buprenorphine is usually given every 8 to 12 hours (two to three times a day). If your cat appears drugged while using this medication, you should discuss with your vet whether you should reduce the dose. 

Buprenorphine for Cats: How to Administer the Dose

Your veterinarian may prescribe buprenorphine as an injection or an oral drop or spray for pain control. In cats, buprenorphine can be administered into a muscle (intramuscularly), into a vein (intravenously), or via mucosal routes (transmucosally).

Usually, you'll be required to administer buprenorphine via the transmucosal route. This is because buprenorphine can be absorbed into the body through the mucus membranes or gums. The transmucosal route is the preferred route of administration because it is noninvasive, and the medication is easier to administer. In cats, the common transmucosal route for administering buprenorphine is buccal (around the cheek pouch) or sublingual (under the tongue). 

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Your cat cannot take buprenorphine by swallowing it because the liver and intestines will break down most of the drug. Therefore, the medication will be ineffective at managing your pet's pain if it is swallowed. Instead, you'll have to administer buprenorphine to your cat under their tongue or around their cheek.

Buccal or sublingual route. Draw up the proper amount of buprenorphine into a syringe. Your vet may draw up the appropriate amount into different syringes for you. Squirt a prefilled amount of buprenorphine into your cat's mouth — in their cheek pouch or just under their tongue for the best effect. Buprenorphine is potent, so the dose you'll have to give your pet is small. Be sure to give the exact amount prescribed by your vet.

Subcutaneous route. If your vet has told you to inject this medication under your cat's skin, ensure that you understand the technique and the proper places to give it. If you’re not comfortable with the procedure, you can ask for help. Your veterinarian may also provide a different course of treatment in this case. Usually, you won’t have to administer buprenorphine via the intravenous or intramuscular routes.

Side Effects of Buprenorphine in Cats

A common side effect of buprenorphine in cats is sedation (drowsiness, sleepiness). Vomiting is also a possible side effect, but it is rare.

A common side effect of all opioids is their tendency to cause respiratory depression. But this side effect is rare for cats on buprenorphine. Nevertheless, if your pet stops breathing at times or has trouble breathing, you should contact your vet immediately.

Buprenorphine for Cats: How Long Does It Last?

Buprenorphine may start to make your pet feel better within 1 to 2 hours. However, the pain-relief effect of buprenorphine is short-lived. It typically stops working within 6 to 8 hours. Therefore, buprenorphine is usually prescribed to be used two to three times a day, depending on your pet's condition. If your pet has decreased liver and/or kidney function, the benefits of buprenorphine may last longer than the typical 24 hours.

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How Much Buprenorphine for Cats Is Too Much?

Don't give your cat more than the amount prescribed. Follow the instructions from your veterinarian carefully. In the event of an overdose, get some advice from your veterinarian or an animal poison control center. Although a buprenorphine overdose is rarely life-threatening, it can cause significant discomfort for your cat. 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Vanessa Farner, DVM on January 04, 2022

Sources

SOURCES:

British Journal of Pharmacology: "The animal pharmacology of buprenorphine, an oripavine analgesic agent."

Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine: "A Review of the Studies Using Buprenorphine in Cats."

Kumar, R., Viswanath, O., Saadabadi, A. StatPearls, “Buprenorphine.” StatPearls Publishing, 2021.

Plumb's Veterinary Medication Guides: "Buprenorphine."

Veterinary Anesthesia & Analgesia Support Group: "B Drugs."

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