What to Know About Medical Cannabis for Dogs

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Increasingly, evidence is piling up about the health benefits and cancer-fighting properties of cannabis when used by people, but what about our pets? Anecdotal evidence of helpful effects for older dogs abounds, with CBD-infused treats marketed as “medical marijuana for pets,” but the legalities around this issues are murky at best. There’s little scientific evidence about the effectiveness of cannabis for pets, and no laws that allow for veterinarians to recommend it to treat illnesses. But for elderly, chronically or terminally ill dogs, when most conventional options have been exhausted, many pet owners feel there’s no harm in trying this unusual treatment.

Owners report that cannabidiol (CBD), a component of cannabis known for therapeutic benefits without the “high,” can be effective in treating separation anxiety, or helping pets cope with upsetting events like fireworks. Animals with seizure disorders, arthritis, inflammation, pain and anxiety could possibly benefit from CBD, but it’s important to be aware that dogs have a different endocannabinoid system than people. Canines have more receptors throughout their bodies, making the effects of THC especially intense and disorienting for them.

If you’re interested in finding out if cannabis can be helpful for your pet, here’s some essential things to understand in order to use CBD safely and effectively.

Do Not Give Cannabis Flowers or Edibles to Your Pet

If your dog gets into your cannabis stash and eats flowers or hash, it’s possible that they may need to go to the vet in case of an overdose. Unlike humans, it’s possible for smaller dogs to ingest so much THC that it could prove fatal, so be safe and visit the emergency vet.

“Double toxicity” is especially a problem with edibles. If your dogs eats a cannabis-infused food containing chocolate or artificial sweeteners like xylitol, go to the vet immediately since those ingredients are poisonous to canines. Vets can treat a THC overdose with IV fluids, stomach pumping or charcoal to help the animal flush its system.

Symptoms of THC overdose in dogs include loss of motor control, dribbling urine, drooling, staggering, panting, vomiting or flinching at movements. Speaking to CTV News, Dr. Jeff Goodall said that too much THC "profoundly affects the neurological system. It can progress to tremors and seizures, and they can go into a coma."

Make sure to keep all THC-containing products locked up and away from children and pets! While fatal overdoses are extremely rare for animals, you’re still going to incur a sizeable bill from the emergency vet for treating an accidental ingestion, so be smart and keep THC away from your pets.

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Only Use CBD for Dogs

Increasingly, CBD treats and tinctures are marketed towards animals, with more cannabinoid supplements found in pet stores. These hemp-derived forms of CBD may not be as effective as products made using CBD derived from cannabis cultivars.

When using a CBD tincture such as the products from Vet CBD, start by giving the animal a very low dose based on its body weight. Slowly increase the dose day by day until you notice benefits such as lessened anxiety or increased mobility without any excessive lethargy, which can be a sign of too much CBD.

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Veterinarians Aren’t Legally Able to Prescribe CBD

While many vets are aware of the benefits of CBD for animals, they are putting their professional license and practices at risk in discussing or recommending its use. There’s no laws on the books that protect the right for animals to access medical marijuana, and so the entire situation is a legal grey area. There is a type of “doctor-patient confidentiality” between pet owners and veterinarians, so you don’t have to worry about a vet reporting you to the authorities for using cannabis to help your pet.

If your dog is being prescribed a pharmaceutical anti-inflammatory like Rimadyl or a painkiller like Tramadol, you may be able to reduce or eliminate these drugs by using CBD. Depending on your relationship with your veterinarian, you should share the information that CBD is part of your treatment regimen, especially if the doctor asks why Fido is feeling so frisky!

Researchers at University of California Davis are surveying pet owners to determine how CBD helps pets, so we can hope that more rigorous scientific information backing up this wealth of anecdotal evidence will be forthcoming. When interviewed by Civilized, Dr. Tim Shu, founder of Vet CBD, said “As vets, we’re in a unique situation because we’re truly advocates for our patients…it’s our duty to always find and seek out the best course of treatment available to them. If cannabis offers such a course of treatment, its our obligation to pursue that for our patients.”