Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Cats on buprenorphine

Broken cat door from a cat on buprenorphine
Proof of the damage a pissed-off cat can do.
Cats in pain are notoriously hard to medicate. They tend to metabolize drugs really slowly, and as a result, even small doses of drugs can build up to toxic levels in cats in just a few hours. As a result, there are very few options when it comes to treating cat pain, and when I took Beorn to the hospital last week for his hit-by-car incident, I learned that one go-to pain med for cats was recently taken off the list of approved cat pain meds. As a result, we had only one pain med we could give broken Beorn, and he didn't take to it very well.

This medication, buprenorphine, is an opiate drug that's supposed to kill the pain sensation in cats. There are dozens and dozens of websites that describe how wonderfully well cats do on this pain drug.

I think I will be writing one of the only accounts of a cat that did not like his buprenorphine experience.

When Beorn was on this drug, he became incredibly nauseated. He'd smack his lips, over and over again, and when I felt beneath his chin, I could feel drool just pooling there. Trying to get him to eat was impossible, as he would gag and retch at the mere sight of food. My husband and I ended up force-feeding him with spoons and a significant amount of willpower, and while Beorn kept that food down, he adamantly refused to eat on his own.

Additionally, Beorn seemed a little out of his head. He would sway on his feet, like he was listening to far-away music, and he would let out these weird, strangled cries. He'd smash himself into tight spaces and then seem unable to get out. He couldn't walk. He also didn't seem to know who we were. The one time we let him out of his house to stretch his legs, he headed for the space beneath the deck, as though he were looking for a quiet place to die.

Watching a cat go through this is pretty terrible, as it's really hard to tell if the cat is experiencing some sort of horrible reaction to the medication or some horrible reaction to the initial injury. I couldn't tell if he had pain or a brain lesion or internal bleeding or a bad trip. In the end, I decided to cut off the meds and see how he did.

The next day, this was a completely different cat. He can eat on his own (and he's really hungry), he craves attention, he can walk and he wants to be with his cat friends. He even broke down the cat door (see the missing orange arm in the photo above?) so he could get out of his house and back to his real life. He's not out of the woods, but the drugs were certainly 75 percent of the problem I saw last week.

Experts usually label the reaction Beorn had as "dysphoria," which is typically defined as restlessness, anxiety or dissatisfaction. Anyone who sees these symptoms in a cat on pain meds should call their veterinarians to discuss the matter. It's easy to think, as I did, that the cat is on the short road to death. It could be that the cat is just on a bad trip.