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5 Things to Know Before Using Medical Cannabis for Your Pets

May 18, 2017
(Julia Sumpter/Leafly)
A growing number of veterinarians believe cannabidiol (CBD) products can be effective in treating an array of ailments in dogs and cats, from anxiety to a lack of appetite—but federal and state laws make it nearly impossible for them to discuss it with pet owners.

That’s why Dr. Greg Richter, a veterinarian in California, and Dr. Rob Silver, a holistic vet and pet herbalist in Colorado, have working in home states and beyond to educate pet owners and legislators on the benefits of treating pets with cannabis. Silver has even published a book, Medical Marijuana & Your Pet: The Definitive Guide, which draws on his research and experience to help people determine whether cannabinoid treatment is right for your animal.

Leafly spoke with both vets at the Green Flower Media Cannabis Health Summit in Los Angeles to find out what pet owners should know before they start a treatment regimen.

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1. It’s Illegal for Vets to Prescribe Cannabis to Pets

Vets don’t have the authority to prescribe a Schedule I drug, so don’t expect a quick trip to the local animal hospital to yield a doggie bag for Fido. In fact, vets in many states are barred from counseling pet owners on the potential therapeutic uses of cannabis, Richter explained.

“Right now it’s a conversation that has to be had very, very carefully between veterinarians and pet owners so nobody gets into legal jeopardy,” he said.

Silver added that because many veterinarians risk their licenses and criminal prosecution for prescribing cannabis to pets, they have to be very careful in how they talk about the plant. “As far as our First Amendment freedom of speech to speak directly about this,” he said, “if we’re not giving medical advice—if we’re giving educational information—it’s a much easier situation.”

In California, Richter has been leading the push for legislation that would legalize “compassionate use” of cannabis for animals in the same way the state has approved medical cannabis for humans. He’s created an online petition calling for a change that would allow vets to “provide guidance to people regarding the safe and effective use of cannabis for their pets.”

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Vets risk facing disciplinary action if they have any “involvement in the treatment of an animal with marijuana or hemp,” the petition notes. And according to California’s Veterinary Medical Board, in the event of a complaint related to a vet’s treatment of a pet with hemp or cannabis, the board “would be obligated to conduct an investigation and take appropriate disciplinary action if the findings so warranted.”

2. Don’t Calculate Dosage as if Your Pets Were Just Small Humans

Trying to take a human-size dose of cannabis and extrapolate dosage for animal use is an “invitation for disaster,” warned Richter, noting that overconsumption of THC can cause serious health risks in pets. Most issues arise when pets simply break into their owners’ own stash, indiscriminately consuming the cannabis, but careless dosage can also cause problems.

“Hemp-based cannabinoids, which are very low in THC, can cover almost all the bases.”
Dr. Rob Silver, veterinarian

To avoid a ticket to the emergency room, Richter said, start by choosing the right product for your animal’s needs and then start slowly. As you increase the dose, be careful to observe any side effects and back off treatment if it seems to be adversely affecting your animal.

Signs of overconsumption can include vomiting, diarrhea, trouble with equilibrium, or seeming zoned-out or spacey.

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3. Can’t Get Your Paws on Cannabis? Try Hemp-Derived Products

Depending on your location, cannabis products can be hard to come by. Luckily, hemp-based treatments are available in all 50 states and can provide some of the same relief. Hemp  products are high in CBD, a cannabis compound that has lauded medical uses but doesn’t cause the psychoactive high that comes with THC.

Silver pointed to decades-old government research that found that, of all species, dogs have the highest density of THC receptors in their hind brain. That, he said, makes them extremely sensitive to its effects. Because THC exists at such low levels in hemp products, it means a lower risk of overconsumption.

“In my experience, I found that using hemp-based cannabinoids, which are very low in THC, can cover almost all the bases as far as applications,” he said. “That’s where I always start.”

While Richter, in California, acknowledged that hemp-based products can be effective and are more widely available, he prefers to use cannabis products whenever possible in order to take advantage of the plant’s entourage effect—the synergistic results created by the hundreds of active compounds in cannabis working together. That effect disappears when you try to isolate a specific elements, he said.

4. Pets Have Anxiety, Arthritis, and Cancer, Too

Although the dosage proportions aren’t the same, cannabis can be used to treat the same conditions in pets that it’s used to treat in humans. Cannabis has proven highly effective in treating ailments—including conditions such as anxiety, stress, arthritis, seizures, and even cancer symptoms—in dogs and cats, Richter said. “It’s really just an amazingly versatile drug when used properly.”

Previous surveys and studies of cannabis use in pets have shown that owners have also tried using cannabis-based treatments to manage separation anxiety, noise phobia, irritable bowel syndrome, lack of appetite in their animals. Dog owners reported that hemp products were most effective in treating pain and helping their pet sleep, according to a report published last year in the Journal of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association. The most common side effects cited were sedation and an overactive appetite. Turns out even dogs get the munchies.

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5. Pets Can’t Puff, Puff, Pass—So Try These Methods Instead

There are plenty of edibles for pets these days—including biscuits, soft-chews, and more—that provide easy ways to medicate pets. But a better choice might be a tincture.

“The most commonly suggested format is what they call a tincture, which is usually oil-based and has a very set amount of the cannabinoids in it,” Silver said. Tincture is an extract, typically sold in a small bottle that comes with a dropper, and is recommended for use by the drop or milliliter.

Cannabinoids are best absorbed through a pet’s oral mucus membrane, Silver added, so medicating is as simple as spreading the tincture on your pet’s tongue.

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Silver sells his own hemp-based products through his company, Rx Vitamins for Pets, which offers a range of vitamins and CBD treatments. As far as marijuana products go, Richter said he’s seen “excellent results” in products made by Lovingly and Legally, a California-based company that has products with THC-to-CBD ratios formulated specifically for pets.

Hayley Fox's Bio Image

Hayley Fox

Hayley Fox is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. She writes about cannabis legalization, news, crime, and culture in Southern California and beyond. Her work has been published online and in print for Leafly, Rolling Stone, Playboy, VICE, LA Weekly, and others.

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  • Joe

    Why is it that this ridiculous allegations keep been propagated, the science for human is shady at best. There is no evidance and only especulation will be ever show. There is no one animal in the planet that can confirm this allegations. Stop promoting nonsence.

    • Jake

      Hey Joe… seems like you could use a few drops yourself to take that edge off… now go troll somewhere else.

    • 360dunk

      Joe, stop promoting illiteracy. Seriously, how did you get a degree….bribery?

    • Todd Burgess

      Hey Joe! Whadda you know? Whadda you know from Kokomo?
      Really though, my old dog, arthritic, tumored up so as to be all lumpy, gets tincture I myself make and she has survived, happily, for several years more than if she’d not been stoned.
      Recently, the dosage has been increased as her age is becoming more advanced and the efficacy or her tolerance has been questionable. Gotta be her tolerance, ’cause one dropper still knocks me out, she is up to three droppers a day.

    • kaylee Johnnson

      Go away Joe with this bs

  • We create a pet cbd oil. It was my project with tour cbdnetwork for years. (I have over 50 rescued animals) It works great fro many issues, in cats too!

  • For your Canadian readers. they can know that their pets are getting full CBD benefits from HEMP.. not cannabis. All Apawthecary Pets treats and tinctures are so.

  • pete

    Umm FYI cats can puff, puff, but not pass 🙁 My ex girlfriends cat was not only a smoker but he was a pot snob. You pull out a baggy and that cat would come running and he would come up and sniff the bag and if it was anything other then top of the line medical he would turn his head and walk away, but if it was good bud he would sit right next to you waiting for his hit and look you couldn’t pass that pipe around him, he knew when it was his turn and he would get mad if you wouldn’t hold the pipe out in front of him and he would come up and start licking the mouth piece and you could see the cherry heating up. the little dude was indeed puff, puff, puffing but no passing so as i am a firm believe that it is wrong to blow smoke in your pets face but what do you do when your cats insists on smoking with you, you hold the pipe and let him hit it.

  • pete

    Hi Joe, my moms bogs are both old and are in serious amounts of pain. The one guys is so bad he will just sit there and shake most of the day and you tell they are both in a lot of pain, we recently started treating them with CBD and oh my god does it work, after one small dose my moms one dog stopped shaking for 3 days and both were in noticeably less pain for days after one dose of CBD compared to the prescription pain meds the vet gave them, we actually took them off those pain meds and have them running on pure CBD and the vets are amazed at how well it works so yes there is lots of research on the subject just like medical mj…shit dude where have you been living under a rock, the research is all there my friend all you have to do is a little research and you will find it.

  • GodGutsGuns

    I’ve had a couple dogs who when they were having pain would come up to my wife and I while we were smoking and we would exhale into their nose and mouth a couple time and they would leave and go lay down. They certainly seemed to know that it would help their pain. My Labs seemed to want and enjoy it more than my German Shepards, not sure the why.

  • Two Bears

    I treat my little 4 year old Min Pin with cannabis.

    She has constipation every now and then.

    I get the chicken flavored pill pockets and put a drop or two of a tincture in the pill pockets and set on a counter(for alcohol to evaporate.

    About twice a week i give her one and no more problems.

  • Minnie Crawford

    Medical Marijuana are both loved by pets and humans!

  • Linda Houssein

    My cat has tumor on his paw and I want to get my hands on something that can kill his cancer. Is there a website I can go to to buy it?

  • James White

    How to sensibly buy LEGAL cbd products for my dog? Because I got a letter saying customs has confiscated my package two times already and I’m pissed.

  • John Ward

    Is there a product that would possibly work with a 15 pound Chi/Terrier that has severe car anxiety and ultimately vomits? When we get in the car for any reason she starts shaking like a leaf and ultimately vomits.

    • Kelly Hall

      John, don’t know if you will see this reply but I practice homeopathy with all my dogs and my rescue dogs. The later is very important as they have to be driven around to adoption events often. And there is always one in the group that gets carsick. This is a great remedy for that. Cocculus indicus – can be given just before getting in the car and is the most popular remedy for nausea due to motion sickness. Give your dog three pellets or crush them in a spoon and drop them in some water for him to drink (or in a dropper bottle so you can administer them). I would use either 6c or 30c. Any health food store would probably have it or might be better to order it to keep on hand. Best to you!

      • John Ward

        Hello Kelly, thank you for your reply and advise. So far nothing has worked so I will give it a try.

  • freqstyle

    TreatWell CEO aka #PermitPatty caused their products to be taken off the shelves. Any other Pet CBD 1:1 recommendations?

    • Jeffery Clyde Peters

      Dont buy crappy pet cbd oil. Just but any cbd oil and dose it right. Pet CBD is a scam because its same as human cbd except they put a small amount in a bottle and sell it at a higher price to unknowing customers.

  • Mark Werenczuk

    There is little to no scientific evidence of CBD efficacy in cats or dogs. Nobody knows if it is helpful or harmful empirically. To argue either way just makes you look ridiculous.

    THC on the other hand has been proven to cause distress in dogs and to be harmful to their health in the dosage range that humans use.

    • Jeffery Clyde Peters

      False. Animal testing has been done humane and inhumane on cats, dogs, monkeys, and more through history.
      They have given well over 1,000mg of cbd and even more to see if it could damage any organs or cause the animals to overdose. Even in extreme dosages of CBD, it did not damage anything in the animal nor did it overdose. It did male some throw up but even drinking to much milk or water can make you vomit.

      THC was also tested and in extremely high dosages, all it did was make the animal to high to walk and just sit down and either stayed awake staring or fell asleep.

      Once the hugh wore off, all was perfectly healthy and fine.

      Please be aware that Hemp and Marijuana is the only known drug to not cause any damage whatsoever and impossible to overdose.

      Bad evil drugs like cigarettes, alcohol, and narcotics kill more people in 1 second than marijuana has killed in 100,000 years so think about that.

      Oh yea……no cat or dog has ever died from CBD or THC related deaths. Even when one persons dog broke into a stash of weed large enough to get 30 people high.

      • Kelly Hall

        Haha! I love the use of ‘scientific evidence’ which equates to big pharma doing their own brand of testing to obtain their own outcome of their own products. On the other hand, there is much testing that has been done with cannabis and hemp on a smaller scale that never makes the big news. Not to mention the thousands of pet owners who have witnessed first hand the positive changes in their own pets. And who should know a dog better than it’s own caregiver. Good information Jeffery. One of my absolute pet peeves are negative, abrasive, trouble making for-the-fun-of-it human beings! They just come across as completely ignorant and cause a lot of time to be wasted addressing their mud.

  • Janessa Onwiler

    I know this conversation is a few years old, but my young Aussie broke a couple bones in his paw and we are having a really hard time keeping him calm. His cast keeps slipping off cause he’ll run from the kitchen to our bedroom. *sigh* He is also one of the rare dogs that gets hyper with sedatives. I live in CO so I have plenty of options but am unsure what the best route is. Ideas??