Background: Adequate peri-operative analgesia may reduce post-operative stress response and improve recovery in laboratory animals. We have established a method involving repeated automated blood sampling, allowing quantification of serum corticosterone levels in rats for stress assessment without stress-inducing handling or restraint. In the present study, the effects of the commonly used route of buprenorphine administration (0.05 mg/kg injected subcutaneously) were compared with oral administration (0.4 mg/kg mixed with Nutella® and orally administered by voluntary ingestion) in male Sprague-Dawley rats. Methods: A catheter was placed in the jugular vein and attached to an Accusampler® for automated blood sampling. During 96 h after surgery, blood was collected at specified time points. Pre- and post-operative body weights and water consumption were registered. Results: Buprenorphine significantly suppressed levels of circulating corticosterone after the oral but not after the subcutaneous treatment. Both buprenorphine treatments had a positive impact on maintenance of body weight and water consumption, compared to the control group that received no buprenorphine. Conclusion: The present investigation suggests that oral voluntary ingestion ad libitum is an efficacious, convenient and non-invasive way of administering peri-operative buprenorphine to rats, as judged by corticosteroid response and effects on body weight and water consumption.

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