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Buprenex for Cats: Common Applications, Side Effects, and Dosing

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Reviewed by: Dr. David Tittle,BVetMed, CertVA, GPCert(WVA&CPM), MRCVS

Buprenex, a brand name of Buprenorphine, is prescribed by veterinarians to relieve or significantly reduce pain in dogs and cats. Buprenex is an opioid-based medication acknowledged to be on the stronger, more powerful end of the opioid painkiller spectrum. 

For reference, Buprenorphine (Buprenex) is thought to be about 30x stronger than Morphine. Opioid medications have been used in human medicine for centuries, and they have become somewhat notorious in our society. 

We know the potential dangers and side effects they can bring, so what exactly are these drugs (like Buprenex) used for in our pets, more specifically, our cats? 

What Is Buprenex Used for in Cats? 

With powerful opioid medications, your veterinarian will usually only prescribe them in situations that present moderate to severe pain. If your cat has just come out of surgery, has been subject to a severe accident like a broken leg, or is suffering from some kind of overwhelming pain, opioid medications like Buprenex are given to try and relieve the pain. 

Essentially, opioid medications block or significantly reduce pain signals sent by the nervous system to the brain. Once the pain is controlled, this can promote calmness and rest, both advantageous in terms of recovery. 

How Is Buprenorphine Used as a Pain Reliever in Veterinary Medicine?

More specifically, Buprenorphine is a semi-synthetic opioid commonly used in veterinary medicine for pain relief, especially in cats. 

One common side effect of buprenorphine is sedation, which, while it can be concerning for pet owners, is also indicative of the pain relief process. The sedation usually manifests as sleepiness and a reduction in the pet’s general activity levels.

Veterinarians often administer buprenorphine for postoperative pain management, as it offers a balance between effective pain control and manageable side effects. The FDA has not specifically approved buprenorphine for use in animals, but it is legally prescribed off-label by veterinarians (DVMs). 

When used correctly, buprenorphine’s safety profile makes it a go-to for acute pain and short-term management in cats following surgical procedures. Its transmucosal formulation, which is absorbed through the membranes in the cheek pouch, provides a non-invasive method of administration that is less stressful for the animal.

What Are Other Applications of Buprenex in Cats? 

Buprenex can also be used for chronic pain. Still, it is less common to deploy a strong opioid medication unless the chronic pain is deemed unbearable and other treatments have not seemed to work, as discussed later in this article. 

The main reason for this is that it is not preferred to subject someone (feline or human) to constant opioid intake. In time, overuse of opioids can have adverse effects on our cat’s bodies and even cause dependency. 

What Are the Side Effects of Buprenex in Felines?

All medications will include some side effects. While opioid medications can be somewhat intimidating, Buprenex comes with relatively mild side effects that include: 

  • Lethargy/Sleepiness
  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea 
  • Dependency 

If you’ve ever given your cat a painkiller or have taken painkillers yourself, you’ll notice these side effects are pretty much uniform when it comes to these kinds of medications. These side effects are often mild and even expected, yes, but that doesn’t mean opioid medications like Buprenex should be taken lightly. 

It is essential to closely monitor your cat during Buprenex use and inform your veterinarian if you think your cat is reacting negatively or showing signs of severe side effects. 

It has become somewhat common knowledge at this point that opioid medications have the potential to cause dependency and addiction. While it is less common in pets, it can still happen. 

Eventually, if taken consistently enough, your cat’s body and brain will become accustomed to the drug and start thinking it needs the opioid medication to survive, even if their injury or pain has subsided. If you stop Buprenex administration abruptly and notice your cat is acting “off” and is showing signs of being sick, it may be due to withdrawal symptoms. This is something to be aware of before starting an opioid medication like Buprenex. 

Buprenex is widely used and accepted in veterinary medicine and has been for some time. If the drug was thought unsafe or ineffective, this would not be the case. Risks come with every medication, but you shouldn’t let these potential side effects get in the way of helping your cat. 

How Should You Administer Buprenex to Your Cat?

Buprenex, like many animal medications, is used “off-label.” Dosing amounts and structure can differ on a case-by-case basis. With Buprenex being such an immensely powerful medication (remember, 30x stronger than Morphine), dosing can be even more individualized. 

Your veterinarian will assess your cat’s current pain, weight, and other factors that will determine their exact recommendations. As always, it is important to closely follow your veterinarian’s instructions while monitoring your cat closely. The dosing amounts and frequency will likely differ immensely from what is listed on the bottle!

Buprenex is given orally, usually once a day, in liquid form. Veterinarians and some cat owners recommend inserting the liquid in your cat’s cheek or under their tongue. Injections are also available, but this will have to be performed by a veterinary professional. 

Once the drug is administered, you should see it taking effect within two hours. 

How Can Buprenorphine Help With Feline Chronic Pain and Disease Management?

For cats with chronic pain, perhaps due to conditions like arthritis or terminalcancer, buprenorphine offers a level of comfort that can improve quality of life. However, when prescribing this opioid medication for long-term use, veterinarians take extra precautions, particularly with cats that have liver or kidney disease

The metabolization of the drug can be slower in these patients, leading to higher levels in the bloodstream and potentially increased side effects or adverse reactions. The analgesic effect of buprenorphine works by attaching to the body’s natural opioid receptors, which modulate the pain signals. 

While providing pain relief, it’s essential to monitor vital signs such as heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature since opioids can impact these parameters. While respiratory depression is a severe side effect of many opioid drugs, buprenorphine tends to have less impact on respiration at therapeutic doses. 

However, at higher doses, this can become a concern, and drugs like naloxone may be kept on hand as an antidote for opioid overdose or severe respiratory depression.

What Is the Role of Buprenorphine in Emergency Situations?

Buprenex has applications beyond routine surgical pain management. In emergency situations involving traumatic injuries such as head trauma, it provides rapid pain control, which is critical in stabilizing the animal’s condition. 

As an opioid, buprenorphine’s ability to quickly alleviate severe pain makes it an invaluable part of the veterinary pain management toolkit. Veterinarians might also use buprenorphine in conjunction with anesthetics during surgical procedures to provide a multimodal approach to pain relief, reducing the amount of general anesthetic needed. 

This is particularly useful in pets with Addison’s disease or other conditions where the common side effects of general anesthesia pose significant risks. The drug’s classification as a controlled substance mandates careful handling and precise drug administration to prevent misuse or accidental overdose. 

For the safety and well-being of the pet, all opioid medications, including buprenorphine, should only be given under the strict guidance of a licensed veterinarian, who will also provide detailed instructions on monitoring for potential side effects and what to do in the event of an adverse reaction.

Should I Try Buprenex for My Cat?

Buprenex is a powerful medication and, used correctly under the proper guidance, it is unquestionably effective in regards to reducing pain and promoting comfort. If your cat has endured an injury or is heading into surgery, educate yourself on opioid medications like Bupenex. 

Talk with your veterinarian about other management options, and figure out the right approach for you and your feline friend!


Cancer in Cats | International Cat Care

Chronic Kidney Disease | Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine

Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (Shock Lung) in Cats | VCA Animal Hospitals

Atypical hypoadrenocorticism in a Birman cat | NIH

The ElleVet Team
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