Although cannabis is legal in Canada for humans, many pet parents are left wondering if THC (the psychoactive component) or CBD (the non-psychoactive component) could help treat health issues in cats and dogs. Anecdotally, some owners report positive changes in their animals, but experts like Dr. Sarah Silcox warn that the scientific research is lacking.
As founder and president of the Canadian Association of Veterinary Cannabinoid Medicine, Dr. Silcox has over 20 years of clinical experience with small animals. She's passionate about sharing accurate information about cannabis use for pets and gave us some important advice to help keep the #PawzyPosse safe.
In both laboratory research and survey results from pet parents using CBD products, cannabis was related to positive outcomes for conditions such as chronic pain, seizures, behavioural problems/anxiety, quality of sleep, skin conditions and appetite stimulation. The effects are especially beneficial for older animals that are nearing the end of their life. More research is needed in many areas, says Dr. Silcox, namely cancer treatment and back pain.
Interestingly, cats might be better candidates for cannabis treatments. This is because cats with chronic pain are more sensitive to veterinary drugs that are also given to dogs. Those traditional treatments can lead to undesirable side effects that cannabis does not cause. Additional studies on cannabis and feline urinary tract infections are showing promising results.
The most common products you'll see on the market are CBD-infused treats, but some pet parents are curious about the effects of THC. Dr. Silcox says that some research has shown therapeutic results in proper doses, but you should talk to your vet about the amount. Like any other prescribed drug or over-the-counter medication, the toxicity is in the dose. Excessive consumption of THC products could be very dangerous for your dog or cat. You should make sure that all cannabis products are stored safely away from your pet so that there's no risk of accidental ingestion. Additionally, cannabis edibles can contain other ingredients that are poisonous to your dog such as chocolate, xylitol or raisins.
It might seem like they're everywhere these days, but CBD treats and oils marketed to pets are technically illegal and your veterinarian can risk being charged with professional misconduct if they recommend them. This is because they're not regulated, often pet parents don't truly know what they're purchasing — reports have shown contaminants or dosage different from what was advertised. Vets can, however, advise on cannabis products that are purchased through legal channels, similarly to how they can advise on other legal pharmaceutical products like Benadryl or Pepto-Bismol, says Dr. Silcox.
There are no cannabis products approved by Health Canada for animal use, says Dr. Silcox. Furthermore, veterinarians are unable to prescribe, dispense, or administer cannabis products to their patients. These limitations have caused some confusion in the veterinarian world and some vets are reluctant to discuss cannabis at all. Often, a vet's only exposure to cannabis is when an animal is dangerously intoxicated due to an overdose. If you're interested in exploring cannabis as an option for your pet, make sure to find a vet that's familiar with the Endocannabinoid System and how cannabis works as a medicine. You should also make sure that cannabis doesn't negatively respond to other medications or treatments that your pet is taking.
If you and your vet decide that cannabis is the right treatment for your pet, Dr. Silcox recommends monitoring the effects with a log book. Keep track of what you're giving your pet, how much, how often and the response you're observing. This will help your vet stay informed about the process. Dr. Silcox's main advice, which other medical professionals also tell humans ingesting cannabis, is to "Start low and go slow." Keep the amount and percentage of active ingredients as small as possible, and then build from there.