Why Sharing Cannabis Medicine with Pets is a Bad Idea

Jessica McKeil September 2, 2020 0 comments

Heads up pet owners – sharing cannabis medicine with pets can be dangerous.

True, several over-the-counter meds work just as well for pets as they do for humans, but sharing medicine with pets, especially cannabis medicine, requires research. Even if you have found significant relief from cannabis oil or CBD edibles, some of the ingredients that are OK for you, can harm your doggo.

First, Cannabis-based medicines in pet care are not as established (or understood), as medical cannabis is in human medicine. While there are now many areas of the world with medical cannabis programs, veterinarian associations haven’t quite gotten on board with cannabis-based pet medicine.

A lack of official veterinarian support for cannabis medicines in pet care hasn’t stopped pet owners. The CBD pet product sector is taking off, and CBD for pets is now a familiar therapeutic option. Still, not all cannabis medicine is healthy for dogs and cats. Sharing medicine with pets requires research.

sharing medicine with pets represented by dog looking sadly at camera

Why You Can’t Always Share Your Cannabis Oil With Dogs

Why does cannabis affect pets much differently than their owners? It all comes down to the endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system is the master of several essential aspects of mammalian life, including pain management, mood regulation, appetite stimulation, immunoregulation, and more.

All mammals have at least a basic endocannabinoid system monitoring physical and mental states for signs of stress. The endocannabinoid system kicks into gear to return the system into homeostasis when stressors infiltrate our state of balance.

Humans have both CB1 and CB2 receptors, and our own set of endogenous cannabinoids which work together to control pain, stress, memory, mood, and other endocannabinoid functions. Human CB1 receptors are focused within the central nervous system and the brain, and the CB2 receptors mostly within immune cells.

How is The Canine Endocannabinoid System Different

The canine system, on the other hand, looks slightly different. As the authors of “The Endocannabinoid System of Animals” reported in 2019, it’s this interspecies variation that triggers dangerous cannabinoid reactions in our four-legged canine friends.1)Silver R. J. (2019). The Endocannabinoid System of Animals. Animals : an open access journal from MDPI, 9(9), 686. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9090686.

Based on studies conducted by the U.S. government, we now know that, “As compared to humans, studies have determined the number of CB1 receptors in hind brain structures in the dog to far exceed those found in the human animal.”

The human brain contains CBD 1 receptors to bind THC. This cannabinoid also binds to the CB1 receptors of dogs, should the dog ingest or inhale it. Unfortunately, because they have such a high concentration of CB1 receptors, and specifically in their cerebellum, they are susceptible to static ataxia, a dangerous and even deadly canine overdose.

At the time of writing, little information was available about the endocannabinoid systems of other common pets, including cats. It may be equally as dangerous to expose cats and other pets to THC without a better understanding of their unique interspecies variation.

But, I Share Antihistamines and Pepto with My Dog

But, as a pet owner, you’ll know there is a long tradition of pet owners sharing medicine with pets. Pet owners typically share medicine with their furry friends to avoid the costly hassle of a trip to the vet. As per the VCA, commonly shared medications include over-the-counter medications like antihistamines, Dramamine, and Pepto-Bismol.

But while these medications are technically safe, there are always outliers. If you are considering sharing any medication with pets, do your research first. Further, speak with your veterinarian to confirm the dose and ingredient list. Always read the label to ensure that your over-the-counter medication doesn’t contain ingredients dangerous for pets, like ibuprofen or decongestants.

What about cannabis medicine? Unlike THC, CBD is increasingly thought to be a powerful option for veterinary health. Unfortunately, in the US and in Canada, you won’t get a prescription for CBD from any licensed vet. Why? According to College of Veterinarians of Ontario, “There are currently no approved CBD drugs for animals, meaning there is no legal pathway to obtain these products for animals in Canada.” The same is true in the U.S.

Still, there is mounting evidence that CBD is non-intoxicating, well-tolerated, and relatively safe for dogs and cats to consume. A growing number of vets are comfortable discussing it as an option for pet owners, even if they cannot legally prescribe it under their license.

What About CBD Edibles for Pets?

With the number of pet owners already experimenting with CBD for their pets at home, veterinarian scientists have been playing a game of catch up. To date, there have been a handful of successful CBD-based trials for canine medical conditions.

As a 2019 paper from the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association reported, CBD effectively reduces seizures in dogs. Their study compared seizure activity between a control group and a group of dogs treated with CBD. As they reported, “Dogs in the CBD group had a significant (median change, 33%) reduction in seizure frequency, compared with the placebo group.” However, they noted, “additional research is warranted to determine whether a higher dosage of CBD would be effective in reducing seizure activity by ≥ 50%.”2)McGrath, S., Bartner, L. R., Rao, S., Packer, R. A., & Gustafson, D. L. (2019). Randomized blinded controlled clinical trial to assess the effect of oral cannabidiol administration in addition to conventional antiepileptic treatment on seizure frequency in dogs with intractable idiopathic epilepsy. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 254(11), 1301–1308. https://doi.org/10.2460/javma.254.11.1301.

The big concern for human CBD edibles is the presence of a sweetener called xylitol. It is extremely toxic to dogs and should absolutely be avoided. Even some flavoured CBD oils can contain xylitol. Always check the ingredient label. Invest in CBD treats that are meant for pets.

More Research on CBD For Pets

“Pharmacokinetics, Safety, and Clinical Efficacy of Cannabidiol Treatment in Osteoarthritic Dogs” determined CBD treatment for dogs affected by osteoarthritis improved pain scores and general activity. The authors concluded, “This pharmacokinetic and clinical study suggests that 2 mg/kg of CBD twice daily can help increase comfort and activity in dogs with OA.”3)Gamble, L. J., Boesch, J. M., Frye, C. W., Schwark, W. S., Mann, S., Wolfe, L., Brown, H., Berthelsen, E. S., & Wakshlag, J. J. (2018). Pharmacokinetics, Safety, and Clinical Efficacy of Cannabidiol Treatment in Osteoarthritic Dogs. Frontiers in veterinary science, 5, 165. https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2018.00165.

Beyond the few studies into CBD for canine seizures and osteoarthritis, pet owner reports speak to other further applications. A few commonly reported uses of CBD for pets include:

  • Palliative or end of life care
  • Inflammation and joint pain
  • Chronic pain
  • Cancer and cancer-related pain
  • Anxiety and aggression

Sharing Medicine With Pets: Do Your Research First

Basically, keep your pets safe by only sharing medicine with pets if it’s already established by research and your veterinarian. The study of cannabis-based medicines for pets is still in its infancy, so there is only enough evidence to tentatively support CBD oil for pets (so long as it’s entirely free of THC).

Finally, it’s important to note that veterinary research is ongoing to develop better oversight of the pet CBD business. But, until then, the onus is on pet owners to do the research to keep their pets safe.

References   [ + ]

1.Silver R. J. (2019). The Endocannabinoid System of Animals. Animals : an open access journal from MDPI, 9(9), 686. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9090686.
2.McGrath, S., Bartner, L. R., Rao, S., Packer, R. A., & Gustafson, D. L. (2019). Randomized blinded controlled clinical trial to assess the effect of oral cannabidiol administration in addition to conventional antiepileptic treatment on seizure frequency in dogs with intractable idiopathic epilepsy. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 254(11), 1301–1308. https://doi.org/10.2460/javma.254.11.1301.
3.Gamble, L. J., Boesch, J. M., Frye, C. W., Schwark, W. S., Mann, S., Wolfe, L., Brown, H., Berthelsen, E. S., & Wakshlag, J. J. (2018). Pharmacokinetics, Safety, and Clinical Efficacy of Cannabidiol Treatment in Osteoarthritic Dogs. Frontiers in veterinary science, 5, 165. https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2018.00165.
Author avatar

Jessica McKeil

Jessica McKeil is a freelance writer focused on the medical marijuana industry, from production methods to medicinal applications. She is lucky enough to live in beautiful British Columbia, Canada where the cannabis industry is exploding. When not writing, she spends much of her time exploring in the coastal forests.

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