The optimum dose of dexmedetomidine for antinociception to a thermal stimulus was determined in a crossover study of 12 cats. In five treatment groups (n = 10 per group), dexmedetomidine was administered intramuscularly (i.m.) at 2, 5, 10, 20 and 40 μg/kg; positive and negative controls were administered buprenorphine (20 μg/kg, i.m.) and 0.9% saline (0.006 mL/kg, i.m.) respectively. Baseline thermal thresholds and visual analogue scale (VAS) sedation scores were obtained prior to drug treatment and then at regular intervals until 24 h after administration. The summary measures of overall mean thresholds and overall mean VAS scores were investigated using a univariate general linear model for multiple factors with post hoc Tukey’s tests (P < 0.05). Only dexmedetomidine at 40 μg/kg displayed an analgesic effect (less than that of buprenorphine). The VAS for sedation did not significantly affect the thresholds obtained and treatment was the only significant factor to influence VAS. Dexmedetomidine resulted in higher VAS for sedation than saline and buprenorphine. Dexmedetomidine at 40 μg/kg significantly increased nociceptive thresholds compared with saline control, but less than buprenorphine. Dexmedetomidine produced dose-dependent sedation, but only the highest dose produced analgesia, suggesting that induction of analgesia requires the highest dose (or an additional analgesic) in the clinical setting.