Every small animal veterinarian has stories about stoned dogs and cats. Usually the animal is nearly comatose and the owner acts bewildered: “Must have been the neighbours cookies.” THC, the compound that creates the “high” in cannabis, is a known toxin in animals and can result in death to animals that ingest it. It’s cause for concern with legalization. After Colorado legalized cannabis the number of dogs treated for marijuana intoxication increased fourfold over five years.
But, cannabis is also emerging as a miracle treatment for dogs and cats, giving pets years of good living. As more anecdotal and scientific evidence trickles in, veterinarians are changing their mind about the plant.
“Veterinarians are now frequently fielding questions about the potential therapeutic benefits of using cannabis in animals,” says Dr. Troye McPherson, president of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association.
Some are doing more than that. Veterinarian Katherine Kramer is one of the most vocal advocates for research and therapeutic use of cannabis for animals. An 18-year old cat turned her on to cannabis’s potential. It had a long list of medical issues and Kramer suggested euthanasia as the kindest prescription. The owner, a member of the B.C. Compassion Club, a medical cannabis dispensary, wanted to try CBD first.
Some strains of cannabis, like hemp, have high concentrations of CBD, a non-psycho-active compound linked to many health benefits, and negligible amounts of THC, making it safe for pets, says Kramer.
“Within a few days the cat started eating again and lived another two years after that,” Kramer says. That was eight years ago. Kramer has since become a cannabis champion.
But despite her best efforts it remains off limits to vets. Legalization of cannabis didn’t include for pets. Kramer can’t legally prescribe CBD. But when owners bring it up she feels it’s her duty to help them use CBD properly. Especially because it works.
“I can count on one hand the number of pets who haven’t done well with CBD,” says Kramer. “I have had many, many more happy stories than I do problems with it. At this point, I can’t imagine practising without it.”
Kramer says cannabis is beneficial for treating similar conditions in dogs and cats as for humans: pain, seizures, nausea and anxiety, in particular. Researchers believe that dogs have more cannabinoid receptors than any other animal, which makes CBD products especially promising as therapy.
The CVMA is working on making it easier for vets and researchers to unlock the potential. In January, McPherson lobbied the federal government asking for amendments to the Cannabis Act to allow veterinary use. In a letter addressed to the Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Secretariat he said in part, “The CVMA believes that since CBD may have an important potential for use in animals, it is vital that veterinarians have products designed specifically for the unique needs of animal patients, including variable doses, flavourings, and formats to allow the ease of administration.”
The federal government responded that pets are low on their priority list and pet focused amendments to the cannabis laws will have to wait for at least another three years, when the act is open for review. That left Kramer disappointed.
“Veterinarians need to be able to talk about this freely, be able to study it and, most importantly, be able to use it for our patients,” she says.
Until that happens she advises owners to try their local pet store; many carry CBD products. And then talk to their vet. More and more are flaunting the rules and advising their furry patients about the benefits of CBD.