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Codeine for Dogs and Cats

By Evan Ware, DVM

Last reviewed: 9/20/2022

Commonly prescribed for: Pain Relief, Cough Suppressant and Mild Sedative

Species: Dogs and Cats

Therapeutic Class: Narcotic Agonist

Basic Information

Codeine is a narcotic agonist pain reliever that is part of the opiate class of drugs. It is derived from the opium poppy and is similar in structure to morphine. In some cases it is given to suppress coughing or as a mild sedative.

Types of Pain Treated with Codeine

Veterinarians can prescribe codeine to alleviate mild to moderate pain, which can be located in the back, muscles, or joints. It also can be used effectively for post-surgical pain management.

Codeine Precautions

Codeine has been considered to be a very addictive pain reliever, which can cause dose-dependent respiratory depression in cases of long-term use. Abrupt cessation following a long period of being administered the drug can cause the patient to experience withdrawal symptoms.

Codeine can be used primarily to treat dogs, as cats have a known sensitivity issue with morphine. Since codeine and morphine are so close in chemical composition, this medication typically is not used clinically to treat felines.

Not all animals are candidates for codeine therapy, including those with a known allergy or sensitivity to the drug or animals suffering from head trauma, brain tumors, or hydrocephalus. Animals with advanced respiratory disease, chronic heart failure, or in cases where there is a build-up of pressure within the brain should also avoid codeine. It should be used with caution in animal patients suffering from urinary retention, kidney disease, or liver disease.

Codeine can interact with one or more drugs that the animal patient is currently taking, so it is important for the veterinarian to be aware of the animal's drug regimen. Common drugs known to interact with codeine include rifampin, dexamethasone, phenobarbital, and central nervous system depressants.

Possible Side-Effects of Codeine

The most-common side effects of codeine include constipation, sedation, and nausea.
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