Written by: Dr. Haris Raza, BSc., DVM
Buprenorphine is an opioid pain reliever used to treat people and animals. It is often prescribed as a liquid to be squirted into the mouth (not eaten). In hospital settings, this drug is usually administered by injection under the skin.
Buprenorphine is a potent drug that works quickly in dogs.
In veterinarian practice, this drug is considered “off label” because it hasn’t officially been approved for use in animals. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a time or place for it. There are many drugs that are successfully used in veterinarian practice that would normally be used in people.
These drugs can include things like anti-seizure medications, anti-anxiety medications, anti-depressants and certain antibiotics.
Beware of Possible Drug Interactions When Using Buprenorphine
In reality, it’s highly unlikely that you will be in a position to administer Buprenorphine without a veterinarian’s guidance. However, should that possibility arise, it’s very important to understand that other drugs (including supplements) may interact negatively.
Sometimes, a “negative” impact means the medication doesn’t work as well. In other cases, it could mean that the medication causes serious side-effects, including over-sedation.
Negative Drug Interactions
The following medications could cause adverse effects when used in combination with some medications. Use with caution when administering Buprenorphine with:
- local anesthetics
- anticonvulsant medications
- azole antifungals
- central nervous system depressants
The list above is not complete. Always let your veterinarian know what drugs (including herbal, natural, organic, and any supplements) your dog is taking. Even if your dog isn’t currently on anything but has recently taken certain drugs or supplements, let them know.
What is the Right Dose of Buprenorphine for my Dog?
Do not give your dog more than prescribed, even if he appears to be in pain. It’s difficult to give a generalized dosing guidelines because of the many variables that could be present. These could include other medications, underlying conditions, etc.
While it may appear that there is a relatively high level of safety (LD50 in rats is around 110 mg / lb), be aware that dangerous side effects are possible and that there is a limit to the degree of relief from some types of pain regardless of dosage.
If your dog is in considerable pain, please contact a veterinarian for help. A veterinarian will be able to provide treatment that is appropriate for your dog’s breed & size. He/she will also take into account any underlying conditions that could affect the effectiveness and safety of the medication.
Side Effects of Buprenorphine in Dogs
Buprenorphine is generally well tolerated in dogs. In fact, the drug’s low incidence of side effects is one of the main reasons veterinarians prefer to use it to treat pain.
Other less common side effects may include:
- increased heart rate
- decreased blood pressure
- changes in body temperature (high or low),
- slow breathing
Warning for Home Administration of Buprenorphine
While it’s unlikely that pet parents would be expected to administer this drug at home, you may be given a liquid to administer to your dog.
1. KEEP OUT OF THE REACH OF CHILDREN
It’s important to remember that patches contain active ingredients designed to be absorbed through the skin. It’s not just pills and needles that are dangerous to children. Always keep medication like Buprenorphine completely out of reach of children.
2. Be Careful When Dosing This Medication
Always follow the veterinarian’s instructions carefully. One good reminder is that this medication is prescribed in micrograms, not milligrams.
3. How to Correctly Dispose of Buprenorphine
Flushing medications down the toilet or sink can contaminate public water supplies and pose serious health risks. Garbage disposal leaves anyone who comes in contact with that vulnerable as well.
The best way to dispose of medications is to bring unused drugs back to the veterinarian or to a pharmacy.
When to NOT Give Buprenorphine to Your Dog
Buprenorphine should be used with extreme caution in pets previously diagnosed with hypothyroidism, liver disease, Addison’s disease, poor kidney function, or poor heart or lung function.
1. KIDNEY DISEASE
In dogs with kidney infections, buprenorphine should be used with extreme caution. Unmanaged use of buprenorphine can lead to the worst kidney problems.
Buprenorphine should be used with caution in dogs with underactive thyroid.
3. ADDISON’S DISEASE
In case of Addison’s disease, it should be used with extreme caution in pets with head trauma or other nervous system disorders. Use with caution in pregnant or lactating animals as the effects have not been well established.
Why Buprenorphine is Prescribed for Dogs
Pain has varying degrees of severity and affects animals just as it does people. There are some situations where a veterinarian feels that this medication will benefit your dog.
1. POST SURGICAL PAIN
Buprenorphine can be used safely and effectively to manage postoperative pain in dogs. Buprenorphine may be better than tramadol during the first phase of hospitalization.
2. CHRONIC PAIN
Although Buprenorphine is considered much more powerful than morphine, it’s chemical make-up doesn’t provide the same response in animals.
For chronic pain, veterinarians can offer a variety of treatment options that may include:
- Activity restriction (temporary)
- Physical supports (ACL brace for example)
If the veterinarian suggest Buprenorphine for chronic pain, ask how long your dog will be on the medication, how effective it will be over the long-term, and whether non-steroidal anti-inflammatories can be added in cases of acute pain.
3. ACUTE PAIN
Buprenorphine is 25 to 30 times more potent than morphine, the parent opiate narcotic against which all others are compared in terms of potency and efficacy.
Although the potency is higher, the efficacy is mainly in acute pain. This means that lower doses are needed to determine a particular analgesic effect, but the maximum effect that the drug can produce is less.
4. BROKEN BONES
Not only does buprenorphine help reduce pain, it also has natural anti-inflammatory properties. As a result, veterinarians will also prescribe the drug for the treatment of localized inflammation caused by:
- tissue necrosis
- skin infections
- pathological diseases
- tissue spasms
- ischemia and trauma to the skin from wounds,
- fractures and joint injuries.
Buprenorphine is used to treat severe surgical pain and can also be used in advanced cases of canine cancer or to control severe pain from arthritis.
Untreated pain is something no pet should experience. By closely observing your pet for subtle signs of pain and working with your vet, you can help your dog enjoy a pain-free life.
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Your vet can monitor your pet to make sure the medication is working. Take care of your pet and look for any adverse problem in breathing or pain.
If you suspect an overdose or any side effect of the drug, call your vet’s office right away. If they are not available, follow their instructions to contact an emergency call center.
At the end of the day, you should never administer this drug unless instructed by a veterinarian professional. Keep out of reach of children and do not distribute to anyone or any other animal.
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