Buprenorphine For Cats (What is it?)

Posted in: Cat Health - Last Updated: August 25, 2022 - Author: Dexter Jones
Posted in Cat Health 
Last Updated: August 22, 2022  
Author:  Dexter Jones

Buprenorphine is one of the most common pain relief medications for cats. It has a short-term effect and is administered following surgery or a serious injury to reduce a cat's unbearable pain.

Keep reading to know more about Buprenorphine, how it works, how it's used, and its side effects.

Buprenorphine for cats

What is Buprenorphine for cats?

Buprenorphine is a partial mu-opioid agonist. Let us explain it. Opioids are drugs that bind to the opioid receptors in the body, causing pain to go away.

A full agonist is a drug that gets a tight grip on the opioid receptors. 

A partial agonist binds less tightly to the receptors. 

This might lead you to the conclusion that partial agonists are less effective in alleviating the pain. 

Actually, they act similarly to full agonists at certain doses. When it comes though to higher doses, full agonists provide a much better effect. 

Still, it's worth mentioning that partial agonists have fewer adverse reactions. For most pets, Buprenorphine provides worse pain relief than other opioid drugs, but for cats, it seems to be the perfect painkiller.

Buprenorphine's effect on cat's body

Buprenorphine is a leading postoperative pain control medication for cats. It appears to have a better effect on felines than on other animals and the side effects are at their lowest. 

Buprenorphine is administered following surgery (recovering from anesthesia) like spaying or neutering, after tooth extraction or other painful dental procedures, injuries like bites, fractures, and in case of urinary tract issues that cause difficulty urinating.

Types of Buprenorphine

The first variety used in veterinary medicine is called Bupremex and is used in both cat and human medicine. It is administered in the form of injection or via the oral transmucosal route. 

The OTM route implies introducing the drug into the mucous tissue of the cat's mouth. This route is highly attractive for cat owners because the kitty doesn't have to swallow the drug.

As soon as it gets inside the feline's mouth, it starts to absorb into the tissue.

The absorption method has a similar pain relief effect to the injection, though it takes longer for the maximum effectiveness to be reached. 

It mostly has to do with the fact that injection is introduced directly into the aching tissue, so there is no need to wait for the drug to reach the trouble area through the circulatory system. 

Bupremex provides pain relief that typically lasts for 12 hours. Yet sometimes it may be administered at shorter intervals of 6-8 hours. It depends on the cat's general health, weight, and type of injury. Your vet will prescribe the dose after analyzing your feline. 

Buprenorphine for Cats Side Effects

The second form is called Simbadol and comes as a subcutaneous injection whose effect lasts for 24 hours. It can be given through the oral transmucosal route as well, but it will have a shorter-lasting effect than Bupremex. 

So it's better to have it injected under the skin even if it implies a slight discomfort for your kitty.

Buprenorphine for Cats Side Effects

Most cats taking Buprenorphine will display some common side effects, including pupil dilation, hyperactivity, increased heart rate, high blood pressure, excessive purring, and rubbing on things. 

These adverse reactions are mild and bearable so you don't have to worry that your kitty is struggling and suffering. In fact, she becomes more affectionate and playful, rubbing herself on everything she sees on her way. 

Sometimes the side effects are more intense, causing the cat to be excessively agitated and confused.

In rare cases, a common side effect of Buprenorphine can lead to gastrointestinal issues such as vomiting, drooling, and lost appetite. Increased body temperature and even hypothermia are also possible.

While some cats get hyperactive from Buprenorphine, others may experience the opposite, they may get sleepy and dose off for a while on their favorite couch. 

Do not use in cats with known hypersensitivity.

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You should also monitor your kitty for respiratory depression after giving her the injection. This manifests in slow and shallow breaths and typically occurs as a result of an overdose. 

A buprenorphine overdose is rarely life-threatening. Do not use in cats with known hypersensitivity 

However, If you notice concerning signs in your cat after accidentally administering it a higher dose, call your vet immediately. The side effects should naturally disappear with time, but if they don't, the vet will use an agent reversing the effect of opioid drugs, called Naloxone.

Buprenorphine Dosage for Cats

The dosage of Buprenorphine depends on the cat's weight, the level of pain, and the type of Buprenorphine used. 

Usually, the dose ranges between 0.01 and 0.04 mg per kilogram. Each form of the drug has a different concentration. For example, Simbadol is six times more concentrated than Bupremex, meaning that a dose of Simbadol is six times more potent than the same dose of Bupremex. 

That being said, it's only the veterinarian who can determine the dosage and you should follow the prescription exactly. 

If any questions regarding dosage arise, contact your vet. It may be your cat feeling too much discomfort from the drug or the administered dose may not be as effective as expected.

Buprenorphine Dosage for Cats


Administration at home has to be done only orally using a needle-free syringe given by your vet. 

First of all, insert the syringe tip into the corner of the cat's mouth. 

This will make her open her mouth and when she does it, spray the liquid into the mouth. It is recommended to aim for the cheek pouch, in other areas the best part of the drug will be absorbed into the tissue. 

Watch out for the tongue! 

Cat parents aren't recommended to administer Buprenorphine in injection form at home. An injection is a more complex procedure, which is why you are best off leaving it to a veterinarian.

Buprenorphine should be used cautiously in pets with, liver disease, thyroid issues, bile disease, heart, lung or lung disease, or kidney disease.

It should be used very cautiously in very young, very old, or debilitated pets. 

It should be used with extreme caution in pets with head trauma or any other central nervous system problems.

Missing a Buprenorphine dose

If you miss giving your kitty the pain medication on time, give the skipped dose as soon as you remember and wait for the recommended amount of time until administering the next dose on the schedule. 

NEVER give your cat two doses at once or at very short intervals of one or two hours. This can have a reverse effect, worsening your kitty's health condition due to overdose.

Buprenorphine For Cats: Summary

Buprenorphine is an effective pain reliever for cats that comes in three different preparations.

Two of the forms, Simbadol and Buprenex, may be administered both at a clinic and at home, while the third one Bup SR may be administered only by a professional veterinarian. 

Just like drugs like Ketamine, Buprenorphine is subject to strict inventory monitoring. 

The vet will run a recheck exam before prescribing the drug. Buprenorphine is used to treat acute pain and is given only for a few consecutive days.

It's a drug with a short-term effect that aims at relieving the pain on the spot and can't be used on a long-term basis. 

Chronic pain is treated with other drugs such as Gabapentin.

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About the author

Dexter Jones has been a solid member of the ‘Mad Cat Dad’ club since time began! Dexter has been a keen cat writer for many years and lives in Croatia. He lives with his two tabby cats, Milly & Marly, who also flew in from the UK to start their new Adriatic island life together.