Cannabis for pets offers promise but vets urge caution

Cannabis products aimed at pets are producing excited testimonials from owners and warnings from veterinarians who caution against turning cats and dogs into guinea pigs by giving them products that have not been properly tested.

While things like hemp chews and treats have been on the market for some time, they have lately been joined by products containing cannabidiol (CBD). The oil is extracted from cannabis plants but contains has no psychoactive properties. But its boosters say it has health benefits for dogs and cats suffering from anxiety, osteoarthritis and seizures.

“Our customers are telling us that it is working,” says Kristina Greco, who works at PAWSitively Natural Pet Food & Supplies in Mission. “Pets have been able to go off the hardcore painkillers, and CBD is easier on their immune systems.”

PAWSitively Natural sells a line of CBD products for dogs, cats and horses made by PETtanicals, a company based in Kelowna, B.C. Greco says she gives it to her own cat that suffers from nerve pain and that she, too, has been able to stop giving it the painkillers prescribed for it.

These sorts of reports are what veterinarians like Dr. Alastair Cribb term “anecdotal evidence.”

Cribb was the founding dean of the University of Calgary’s faculty of veterinary medicine and remains a professor there. He says anecdotal reports tend to obscure the fact that very little is actually known about the effects of CBD in dogs ands cats.

“The short answer is that there is no testing overseen by an authorizing body,” he says. “There is in-house testing by the companies making these products, but nobody is checking up on that.”

Cribb strikes a further note of caution by citing a U.S. Food and Drug Administration survey, which reported many CBD products were “found to not contain the levels of CBD they claimed to contain.”

In Canada, veterinarians are not allowed to prescribe medical marijuana or dispense CBD products. In the absence of Health Canada approvals companies are not allowed to make health claims for their CBD products.

Despite these obstacles, interest in CBD products for pets is growing. Greco, who has worked at PAWSitively Natural for three years, says demand has spiked recently. “Sales really picked up in the course of this year,” she says, adding that because Google and Facebook don’t allow ads that use the words “cannabis” or “marijuana,” interest is spreading just by word of mouth.

That means customers come in looking for the PETtanicals oils (a 30 mL bottle is $49.99), but that some are a little fuzzy on the exact nature of the products. “Some people, especially the older generation, need a bit of education,” Greco says. She is quick to assure customers that the oil contains no THC and won’t produce a high in animals. Instead, it is recommended it as a treatment for anxiety, seizures and pain associated with arthritis.

“We are hearing back that it is working,” Greco says. “Pets have been able to go off the hardcore painkillers.”

Cribb is skeptical about these sorts of testimonials, saying there are just too many questions surrounding the use of CBD in pets. He says the recommended dose is vague (PETtanicals recommends 0.01 mL per pound the animal weighs), there is little known about how CBD interacts with other drugs and the conditions is it said to be effective in combatting—particularly anxiety and osteoarthritis—“tend to wax and wane, so how do you know when the CBD is effective?”

In the 2019-20 academic year, third-year students in the U of C’s veterinary school will attempt to answer some of those questions in a year-long research project. But until that study and others like it offer their findings, Cribb is wary about CBD.

“I have no experience administering it,” he says. “I wouldn’t give it to my dog.”


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