If your cat needs serious medication for pain relief, buprenorphine might be suitable. This drug manufactured for human pain relief but available for use by vets off-label is sometimes administered to cats undergoing surgery or recuperating from severe trauma. Because people misuse this synthetic opiate, few vets offer it.
Prescribed for humans under the brand name Buprenex, buprenorphine is approximately 30 times more powerful "at relieving pain" than morphine, according to the VetInfo website. Yes, it's potent stuff. Cat receive it either as an injection or orally. It takes effect in roughly half an hour, lasting about 8 hours before another administration is necessary. Cats usually react negatively to opiates, but buprenorphine is an exception. That's one reason vets use it if they can receive the necessary special certification.
For such a powerful medication, buprenorphine is relatively safe in cats if given at the appropriate dosage as determined by your vet. Let your vet know about any other medications or over-the-counter supplements Kitty is taking, as buprenorphine might interact with other pharmaceutical agents. While sedation is expected, other side effects include gastrointestinal disorders, slower respiration and weakness. While it's often addictive in humans, that's not generally a problem in feline usage. Pregnant or lactating cats should not receive buprenorphine.
How It Works
An opioid, buprenorphine acts on opioid receptors, which are sites on nerves in the brain and spinal cord. While it dramatically decreases the pain your cat feels after surgery, trauma or other painful conditions, buprenorphine doesn't actually treat the pain source; it masks it. It allows Kitty to feel relatively comfortable as his body recuperates but doesn't make him appear "out of it."
Buprenorphine must be injected into humans, because the body destroys it quickly if taken by mouth. That's not the case with cats. While you can inject it into cats, you can also apply it through the gums, a much easier way to medicate a feline than pills or capsules. Avoid giving Kitty any other medications at the same time as buprenorphine. If your cat is on other medications, ask your vet about the appropriate time frame for administering other drugs.
- VetInfo: Buprenorphine for Cats
- Sunnyside Veterinary Clinic: Buprenorphine
- Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia Support Group: Chronic Pain
- The American Animal Hospital Association and the American Association of Feline Practitioners: Pain Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats
- Veterinary Partner: Buprenorphine (Buprenex)
- Sunnyside Veterinary Clinic: Pain Management
- BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images