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Dexmedetomidine (DEX) may have some therapeutic advantages over the racemate medetomidine (MED). Here we have examined how serum concentrations of DEX correlate with some of its anaesthetic effects. Cats (n = 6) were administered with a continuous stepwise intravenous (i.v.) infusion of DEX or MED on different occasions in a cross-over design. Maintenance infusion rates (mg/kg/min) used were: DEX = 0.25 (MED = 0.50); DEX = 1 (MED = 2) and DEX = 4 (MED = 8) for infusion steps 1, 2 and 3, respectively. Each maintenance infusion lasted at least 50 min and was preceded with a loading dose. There was no significant difference between serum DEX and 0.5 serum MED concentrations at any dose level nor was there a significant difference between serum DEX and the (entire) serum MED concentrations. There was no significant difference between DEX and MED for sedation, analgesia, muscular relaxation and heart and respiratory rates. For both DEX and MED, serum drug concentration and analgesia were dose-dependent and sedation increased until the end of infusion step 2 (dose level 2) and decreased at the end of step 3 (dose level 3). Muscular relaxation was not dose-dependent. We conclude that increasing the blood concentration of DEX or MED beyond a certain level decreases the level of sedation instead of increasing it even though analgesia increases. The rate at which DEX and MED are metabolized in cats may not be the same.