dog sniffing pot leaf

The answer to that question is a resounding “No!”… But on the day that marijuana use becomes legalized in Canada, I thought it was a good time to talk about pot and pets. So where do we begin?

Firstly, dogs and cats are extremely sensitive to the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) component of cannabis, so any ingestion of products containing this compound can be very dangerous for pets. Given their sensitivity, small size and the variety of ways that people tend to enjoy cannabis (including edible treats, gummies, butter or other food products) accidental ingestion is a consideration for any pet owner whether it is used at home or not. Signs to watch for include changes in heart rate, whining or crying, agitation, trouble regulating body temperature, incontinence, tremors, seizures and potentially coma. There is a lot of variability in onset and duration of signs from 5 minutes to days after ingestion. The online Pet Poison Helpline lists a 448% increase in marijuana toxicity case in the past 6 years, so be aware of the risk to your pets.

But what about helping pets?

We know that animal bodies have naturally occurring compounds called endocanabinoids that help to send regulation signals to many systems and in humans there is research to show that these affect day-to-day function of inflammation, immunity, hunger, memory and potentially even cancer growth. Cannabis has hundreds of  compounds that can affect the endocanabinoid signalling system, but Canabidiol (CBD) is the compound that has garnered the most research in terms of medical use. CBD is the non-psychotropic portion of the cannabis plant (found in many hemp products) and is thought to provide the beneficial effects without the “high” of THC. Current research into the use of CBD suggests widespread applications such as pain and inflammation control, anti-epileptic properties, anti-anxiety medication, anti-oxidant therapy, nausea control, fracture healing, diabetic regulation and perhaps decreases in tumour proliferation.

So with all of this good news, is it right for my pet?

Well, unfortunately, the answer there is not as clear. Because of the status of cannabis as an illegal narcotic up until today, research for the veterinary community has been limited. Clinical trials for pets to support the claims above are not available to veterinarians and may be years down the road now that marijuana has been legalized. Further, because there is no currently available pet medication approved for use in animals, veterinarians cannot prescribe CBD to pets as the law stands right now. Lastly, good studies looking at side effect profiles for CBD and long term use data are not available for pet owners at this time, creating more smoke around the issue of is this medication right for my pet? The good news is that this will likely all become a lot clearer in the near future as legalization leads to research and to usable data for doctors and pet owners alike.

As with many things in medicine, there is not one right answer to the question for every pet and each pet owner has to make the best decision that they can. For me, I like to know that a medication I am recommending will be effective at doing what I want it to do, and I want to know what side effects should be expected with it’s use. Currently, CBD is often used as a last resort for patients who have tried other medications and have found that they are not helpful or have undesirable side effects. In this situation, the unknown aspects of CBD are not as concerning if there is no other choice. Some people choose CBD because it is perceived as a more natural medication. Other people choose it because they have had personal experience with it’s medicinal properties.  Having said all of this, any medication must go through rigorous safety and efficacy trials before they can be approved in Canada and it may be that using CBD before these are completed opens our pets up to unwanted risk. If you feel that CBD might benefit your pet, please discuss things with our veterinary team and we can help to guide you through the decision making process. As more information becomes available, we will stay informed to help you make the right choices for your furry family members.

In the meantime, enjoy your new freedom responsibly.

– Dr. Rob