Side effects of buprenorphine in cats

Updated April 13, 2018

Buprenorphine is an analgesic pain reliever used to alleviate mild to moderate pain in cats for a short period of time. The most common methods of administration are oral transmucosal, where a lozenge is rubbed on the cat's cheeks or gums, or through a transdermal patch or injection. The efficacy of buprenorphine has been stated as 30 times that of morphine, a similar drug. Like any drug, buprenorphine can have side effects. Speak to a licensed veterinary medical professional if your cat experiences side effects while taking buprenorphine.


The most common side effect of buprenorphine use in cats is sedation. Buprenorphine is an opiate drug and is chemically similar to morphine in that both have a strong effect on the mu receptors. This drug is a kappa agonist and mu antagonist, meaning it has different effects on two separate receptors within the body. Sedation resolves within a few hours, according to "Applied Pharmacology for Veterinary Technicians." Sedation is not an indicator that the pain relieving action persists, as much as 10 hours after the initial sedation wears off.

Slow Respiration

All opiates, including buprenorphine, present the risk of slowed breathing. This is due to the direct effect they have on the cat's brainstem, the part of the brain that controls the body's actions. The brainstem controls the actions of the respiratory system in addition to the feeling of pain. Clinical trials indicate that a depressed respiratory rate is a rare side effect in cats, according to the "Clinical Textbook for Veterinary Technicians."

Stomach Upset

Cats with opiate allergies or cats receiving high doses of buprenorphine may experience mild stomach upset. This includes stomachache, diarrhoea, vomiting or constipation. Clinical studies indicate stomach upset as a rare side effect, though it may be a symptom of an allergy to a drug. Allergic reactions are very rare, according to the "Clinical Veterinary Advisor." If lack of thirst accompanies stomach upset, treat the situation as an emergency and seek help immediately.

Liver Failure

Buprenorphine is metabolised, or processed, by the cat's liver. Because of this, exercise caution and vigilance when giving buprenorphine to cats with a history of liver problems. The metabolism of buprenorphine in healthy cats is not an issue, but liver failure may occur in cats with a history of problems.

Other Complications

Cats with kidney disease, underactive thyroid and Addison's disease should not take buprenorphine. While veterinarians screen for these diseases on a routine basis, it is possible for them to go undiagnosed for a time. The hormones involved in the metabolism of buprenorphine are not produced sufficiently in cats with these issues, and a build-up of the drug in the cat's system may, rarely, lead to overdose.

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About the Author

Elizabeth Tumbarello has been writing since 2006, with her work appearing on various websites. She is an animal lover who volunteers with her local Humane Society. Tumbarello attended Hocking College and is pursuing her Associate of Applied Science in veterinary technology from San Juan College.