Medicinal cannabis for your pet? Here’s what you need to know.
We love our pets. We always want the best care for them and it is no fun when they’re sick.
As cannabis continues to work its way back into the country’s pharmacopeia, people are finding that this plant can have substantial therapeutic value for animals as well as humans.
That’s right. Medical cannabis for your pet.
Some people may call the cannabis movement a trend or a craze, but this herb’s therapeutic properties are science-based fact.
According to Oakland-based veterinarian Dr. Gary Richter, cannabis can be used to treat a variety of medical conditions including:
- Arthritis and other causes of pain
- Cancer treatment
- Cancer pain
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Allergies/ itching
- Appetite support
- Quality of life / Hospice care
And yet, as with many types of medicine, we still have a lot to learn.
If you’re considering medical cannabis for your pet, here are some important points you want to keep in mind.
And of course, be sure to consult with a trusted veterinarian before giving medical cannabis to your pet.
Pets have endocannabinoid systems, too.
Just like humans, animals also have endocannabinoid systems (ECS).
The ECS is this complex array of cannabinoid receptors found in the brain, organs, skin, bones, and generally throughout the entire body.
Through what we call cannabinoid signaling, this system is what helps us maintain homeostasis – that all-important balance amongst the body’s metabolic processes.
Like us, animals produce their own cannabinoids to interact with and signal the ECS. And like us, animals also run into endocannabinoid deficiencies. This is where whole-plant-based cannabis medicine comes into play.
But, according to Richter, one key difference with animals is that it’s very easy to inadvertently overdose your pets with cannabis.
Be very careful with dosing.
“With animals we must avoid thinking in terms of human-sized doses,” says Alison Ettel, who supplies whole-plant cannabis medicine for both pets and humans through her California-based company TreatWell.
According to Ettel, the general rule of thumb is this: give the smallest dose possible and gradually work your way up until you find the smallest yet most effective dosage level.
But knowing exactly what dosage you’re giving your pet can be tricky, Richter says.
“Very few of the products you find in a dispensary for example will have an actual concentration listed on the label – how many milligrams per milliliter of THC and CBD,” Richter says.
And because many of the products on the market are highly potent and animals have a smaller body size, we have to be extra careful.
But if you can’t trust the label how do you avoid giving your pet too much THC? Start ‘small’ and pray for the best?
Signs of a pet overdose.
Too much THC can be extremely unpleasant, and with pets it’s really easy to overdo it if you’re not careful – or if you don’t know what you’re doing.
So what does a pet overdose look like, and how do you know when to make a trip to the emergency clinic?
“A lot of it might be what you expect. The animal will start to look a little bit spacey and get a bit wobbly,” Richter says. “A lot of dogs will develop the syndrome called static ataxia, where basically they’re standing still and start to tip over but catch themselves before they fall.”
If the overdose is substantial enough, the pet’s blood pressure level may not be particularly stable or they won’t eat, Richter says.
Even though these overdoses are not fatal they can be an extremely traumatic – not to mention pricey – experience for pets and families.
“Nobody wants to see their pet in that kind of condition. And the thing with edibles is that the effects can be really long-lasting,” Richter says.
“It’s an experience that can turn pet owners away from cannabis medicine completely, even though there is still therapeutic potential if done properly.”
Should you take your pet to the emergency clinic?
“There is a spectrum there. If the dog is a little wobbly but seems comfortable, I would not necessarily advise a visit to the emergency room. If you are concerned however, it’s best to contact a veterinarian for advice,” Richter says.
“If the pet is having a hard time standing and they’re not really responding properly and they’re not eating or drinking, then they probably need to be seen for that.”
Learn the methods of delivery.
Capsules, treats, tinctures, topicals – just like cannabis medicine for humans, we have a variety of options.
Richter has seen a lot of pet owners find success with cannabis oils, which they give their pet orally.
He has also seen a cannabis topical spray clear up severe skin allergies in dogs, to the point where they stop scratching for 4 to 6 hours.
“Short of loading them up on a steroid like prednisone, nothing does that. This topical is nothing short of amazing,” Richter says.
Yet another method of delivery, although Richter has yet to see it applied to pets, is a cannabis suppository.
Figuring out THC-CBD ratios.
This is an important part of cannabis medicine, especially because the amount of THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes can fluctuate wildly from one strain to another.
Dr. Richter has seen success with varying ratios of THC and CBD depending on the condition being treated. “Sometimes, higher concentrations of THC are more effective provided the product is dosed correctly,” he says.
Finding the best ratio requires experimenting, trial and error – and of course safe access to products that are accurately and precisely labeled.
“It is always best to seek the advice of an experienced veterinary professional when deciding which product and what dose to use,” Richter says.
Richter advises against CBD products where there is little to no THC – such as with a lot of the CBD hemp oils found online.
Ettel is also not a fan of hemp-based medicine, which why she used only whole-plant cannabis in TreatWell’s products.
“If you’re looking to treat a dog that maybe has minor soreness, there might be some positive effect with a hemp-based CBD product, but otherwise you’re severely restricting your therapeutic applications,” Richter says.
“With higher-end therapy for things like cancer, autoimmune disease, seizures, or even severe pain, you want a product that is made from cannabis – not hemp – that has a certain amount of THC in it.”
The difference without THC in the mix, Richter says, is like the difference between shooting a bullet and throwing it.
Talk to your veterinarian about cannabis.
Whether you live in a prohibition state or not, it’s okay to talk to your vet about cannabis medicine.
The conversation has to start somewhere, and even if your veterinarian knows next to nothing about cannabis – that’ll change if enough people start asking.
“As cannabis becomes more available, you’re going to see people out there who will want to use it with their pets,” Richter says. “It’s going to be really important that somebody is able to provide people with guidance. There’s an opportunity here for education.”
Talk to your local politicians, too.
And of course, if you believe that all of us have the right to learn about this plant and to have access, we’ve got to keep taking this conversation to our politicians as well.
That means rocking the votes, writing letters, sending emails, holding town hall meetings, and coming together and discussing this as a community.
Help spread cannabis education by sharing this article with friends and followers. Who knows how many pets we might save.
Dr. Gary Richter is the owner and medical director of two award-winning veterinary hospitals in Oakland, California. His facilities, Montclair Veterinary Hospital and Holistic Veterinary Care provide both Western and complementary medicine for patients.
Dr. Richter approaches veterinary medicine with an “eyes open” strategy. He utilizes Western medicine, complementary and alternative care, and new, emerging therapies to achieve the best possible results. By incorporating modalities such as herbal/nutritional therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic, and hyperbaric oxygen with conventional medicine and surgery, Dr. Richter does more than treat disease – he promotes healing and wellness.
“There are many conditions that can only be treated with Western medicine and surgery,” says Dr. Richter. “But clearly Western medicine is not the solution to every problem. It would be a mistake for us to turn our backs on successful treatment options because they are not mainstream or widely accepted. There are many occasions when alternative therapy or a combination of therapies is the best solution. If optimal health and welfare is the goal, every legitimate option should be considered for every patient.”