- Researchers are studying the effects of cannabis on animals, including common household pets like cats and dogs.
- Some evidence suggests cannabis products could help animals with chronic pain or seizures, but pets shouldn’t take just any cannabis product. Some products that are safe for humans can be deadly for pets.
- If you think your pet could benefit from cannabis, speak with your veterinarian.
Cannabis isn’t just for humans. Researchers are increasingly studying the substance’s effects on animals, including horses, birds, cats, and dogs.
Some evidence suggests cannabis could potentially help pets with seizures and chronic pain. A small, preliminary study out of Colorado State University (CSU) last year found that dogs with epilepsy who were given CBD orally had fewer seizures than dogs who were given placebos. (CBD is an approved seizure treatment for humans in the form of the medication epidiolex.)
For another study, published in June 2018, researchers from Cornell University gave CBD oil to 16 dogs with osteoarthritis every 12 hours for four weeks. They found that the dogs who got the CBD oil had less pain than the dogs who were given a placebo. The pups’ pain levels were assessed using the Canine Brief Pain Inventory (CBPI), a method that looks at how a dog’s daily functions like walking are impacted by pain.
Robert Silver, an integrative veterinarian, told INSIDER that the National Animal Supplement Council has given a number of CBD products its quality seal of approval, a sign that pet parents are increasingly seeking out the alternative treatment.
More research on the effectiveness of cannabis for pets is needed— CSU has launched a larger clinical trial for CBD in dogs — but Silver told INSIDER that these preliminary findings about CBD are promising.
“All species seem to respond well [to cannabis] because our bodies, whether a dog, human, pigeon, or even jellyfish, have a system called the endocannabinoid system,” he said.
When a person, dog, or other animal ingests cannabis, the molecules fit into the endocannabinoid system’s receptors. As a result, a person might feel THC’s psychoactive effects, or in the case of CBD products, potential feelings of calm or pain relief. Dogs, cats, and other animals could feel these effects too.
Not all cannabis products are okay for pets — some can be deadly
Stephen Cital, executive director of the Academy of Laboratory Veterinary Technicians and Nurses, warned that many cannabis products on the market are not safe for pets. In the past decade, emergency calls about pets getting high from accidentally eating marijuana edibles or flower have increased 765%, according to The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Silver said THC-containing products can speed up an animal’s heart and potentially lead to death if they consume too much, so non-psychoactive CBD is a safer option for pets.
The dosing of these products, of course, differs for humans and animals.
“Cats and dogs have different endocannabinoid receptors than humans, so they react to it differently. So human ratios aren’t necessarily appropriate for small animals,” Cital said.
Plus, many edibles designed for humans contain chocolate, a known toxin to dogs. Some also have have xylitol, another toxin.
In the clinical trials completed thus far, researchers have given dogs CBD oil in a ratio of 2 milligrams for every kilogram the dog weighs (so heavier dogs get more CBD oil). Before these studies, Cital said, dosing was “totally trial and error.”
Silver said that clinical dose is a good place to start for pets.
“[That] dose twice daily you should give a couple of weeks to a month to see how it works,” he said. Cital said keeping a journal of your pet’s daily habits and sharing it with the vet is the best way to determine if they are reacting well to CBD treatment.
Discuss options with your veterinarian before giving any cannabis product to your pet
Before administering any cannabis-based products to your pet, Silver and Cital both recommended speaking to a veterinarian. A vet can look over an animal’s medical records to determine what kind of treatment their condition requires and whether CBD products could be an option.
If CBD makes sense for your pet, Cital said, vets can also suggest high-quality products, since not all are tested or approved by the Food and Drug Administration Some cannabis products could contain heavy metals or have less CBD content than a product’s packaging may suggest. A 2017 study from Johns Hopkins looked at 84 CBD products from 31 companies and found that 26% had less CBD than advertised.
“[The vet] will have you track appetite, movement, and sleep cycles at home and then evaluate it and say how things are progressing and change the dose based on that,” Cital said.
Silver warned, however, that CBD should not be used for emergency situations with pets, and should instead be a supplement to other medication a pet might be prescribed.
“The only thing that concerns me is that it may cause pet owners to reach for CBD instead of seeing the doctor,” he said.
Cital also noted that an animal’s “anxiety could be more of an environmental thing that doesn’t even need any medications or CBD products.”
Not all vets are willing to offer advice about cannabis products, though.
“Unfortunately, when it comes to these conversations with owners, techs and vets don’t learn about cannabis as a therapeutic option in vet school or tech school,” Cital said. Even if a vet is educated on the subject, he added, they may choose not to discuss it for legal reasons.
Still, Cital believes cannabis has the potential to benefit pets in a way similar to humans, though more research is still necessary.
“Anecdotally, we have had good success with the products out there,” he said.