Buprenorphine is a powerful opiate that is available only by prescription. Veterinarians sometimes order buprenorphine for cats...
Cat Care

What Is Buprenorphine for Cats?

Susana Bradford
2 minute read
September 3, 2021

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.

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.

elderly cat

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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Meet the author:

Susana Bradford

Susana is an avid animal lover and has been around animals her entire life, and has volunteered at several different animal shelters in Southern California. She has a loving family at home that consists of her husband, son, two dogs, and one cat. She enjoys trying new Italian recipes, playing piano, making pottery, and outdoor hiking with her family and dogs in her spare time.