Elephant Formulary

© 2003-17 Susan K. Mikota DVM and Donald C. Plumb, Pharm.D. Published by
Elephant Care International

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Narcotic (Opiate) Agonist Analgesics

Elephant specific information, if available, is in blue.

Receptors for opiate analgesics are found in high concentrations in the limbic system, spinal cord, thalamus, hypothalamus, striatum, and midbrain. They are also found in tis­sues such as the gastrointestinal tract, urinary tract, and in other smooth muscle.


Opiate receptors are further broken down into five main sub-groups. Mu receptors are found primarily in the pain regulating areas of the brain. They are thought to contribute to the analgesia, euphoria, respiratory depression, physical dependence, miosis, and hy­pothermic actions of opiates. Kappa receptors are located primarily in the deep layers of the cerebral cortex and spinal cord. They are responsible for analgesia, sedation and mio­sis. Sigmareceptors are thought to be responsible for the dysphoric effects (struggling, whining), hallucinations, respiratory and cardiac stimulation, and mydriatic effects of opi­ates. Delta receptors, located in the limbic areas of the CNS and epsilon receptors have also been described, but their actions have not been well explained at this time.


The morphine-like agonists (morphine, meperidine, oxymorphone) have primary activity at the mu receptors, with some activity possible at the delta receptor. The primary pharma­cologic effects of these agents include: analgesia, antitussive activity, respiratory depres­sion, sedation, emesis, physical dependence, and intestinal effects (constipation/defecation). Secondary pharmacologic effects include: CNS: euphoria, seda­tion, & confusion. Cardiovascular: bradycardia due to central vagal stimulation, alpha-adrenergic receptors may be depressed resulting in peripheral vasodilation, decreased pe­ripheral resistance, and baroreceptor inhibition. Orthostatic hypotension and syncope may occur. Urinary: Increased bladder sphincter tone can induce urinary retention.


Various species may exhibit contradictory effects from these agents. For example, horses, cattle, swine, and cats may develop excitement after morphine injections and dogs may defecate after morphine. These effects are in contrast to the expected effects of sedation and constipation. Dogs and humans may develop miosis, while other species (especially cats) may develop mydriasis. For more information see the individual monographs for each agent.