As research on cannabis progresses, we are what we know (and don’t know) about pet cannabis treatment, and how cannabis affects pets.
We’re finding out more and more about how cannabis can be helpful to the human body. But, what about cannabis treatment for a beloved pet? Just like humans, dogs and cats also have an endocannabinoid system. This means their bodies can also interact with cannabinoids through endocannabinoid receptors. However, the ways their bodies react to various cannabis compounds can be different than humans.
And just like human studies, veterinarian research on how cannabis affects animals is still in its infancy. While the wealth of human research is growing exponentially, there have only been a handful of studies specifically about pet cannabis treatment. This is why our knowledge continues to be very much limited.
What We Know About Cannabis and Pets
There are a few things that science has discovered about cannabis consumption by pets. For instance, we know that THC is toxic for dogs and cats. Accidental ingestion of cannabis by pets has led to a surge in emergency phone calls to the Veterinary Services Poison Helpline. Symptoms of cannabis intoxication in pets include panic, seizures, sedation, low heart rate, tremors, cognitive impairment and in some cases even death.
CBD, however, is a different story. Pet treats infused with CBD seem to be everywhere. Are they safe? And are they effective as pet cannabis treatment?
The research is sparse, because of the legal status of cannabis up until now. But recently, there have been a few studies into whether or not CBD can be helpful to dogs and cats. A study in Frontiers in Veterinary Science (2018) concluded that CBD oil administered twice a day could help dogs with osteoarthritis. Researchers observed that CBD increased comfort and activity levels in canines with the condition.
Unlike THC, CBD does not cause intoxication in pets because it does not directly activate and bind to CB1 and CB2 receptors. The possibility that it could help ease arthritis in dogs is promising news for pet owners. Presently, it’s more or less regarded as safe for pets in low dosage. However, research on the long-term effects of CBD among pets does not exist. Until we see specific studies, other reported benefits of CBD for pet treatment are largely anecdotal.
What We Don’t Know About Pet Cannabis Treatment
There have been reports that CBD helps ease anxiety, and reduces inflammation and pain in dogs and cats. But this is largely based on observations of pet owners. A study published in Toxicology Communications (2018) found “more gaps than knowledge” when investigating CBD consumption by pets. They found that pet owner observations were largely uncontrolled and perhaps overly optimistic. The anecdotal evidence gathered from “enthusiastic pet owners” has led to a divide between scientific knowledge and opinion.
Even though CBD is now legalized in the United States through the 2018 Farm Bill, it is also still highly unregulated. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned marketers of CBD pet treats against labeling their products with unproven health claims. It has not approved the use of CBD in pet treatment, which means it has not issued a recommended dosage.
This leads to the other component of pet cannabis treatments where we lack knowledge. It is unknown how CBD might interact with other pet medications. There is also much to be discovered in how dogs and cats metabolize cannabinoids. And, when it comes to cats, there is even less research available. Currently, there have been no direct studies on how CBD affects cats.
What You Should Know About Treating Your Pet With CBD
Before treating a dog or cat with CBD, there are a few things to consider. First, the market is largely unregulated. Look for products that have a seal of approval from the National Animal Supplement Council. Or, see if the company making the products has allowed independent third-party testing.
Second, keep dosage in mind. Just like humans, the best rule of thumb is to start low and scale up or down from there. Watch the dog or cat closely for any unusual behavior. Since the effects of CBD on dogs and cats are still largely unknown, it’s best not to overdo it. Also, be sure to use only pet-specific products. Some ingredients in human products are toxic to pets. Grape seed oil and xylitol are two examples.
But most importantly, talk to a veterinarian. Up until recently, it was illegal for vets to recommend a dosage or give pet owners advice on CBD. A compassionate care bill in January 2019 changed that, and more and more vets are talking with their patients’ owners about cannabis treatment.
But in some states, veterinarians might not be allowed to broach the subject with pet owners. However, they can answer questions. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a talk with a veterinarian about pet treatment with CBD — considering it could interact other pet medications.