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Can I Give Cannabis to My Pet?

Just like us, animals have an endocannabinoid system, and when it is out of balance, there can be resulting skin, GI and behavioral issues. Is cannabis the answer?
Written by
Dr. Amanda Reiman with Dr. Casara Andre
April 7, 2024

People love their pets. They are part of the family, and in some cases (like mine), “fur children”. We would do anything for our dogs, cats, rabbits, horses and other critters. A few years ago, my dog BoJack developed terrible allergies that resulted in skin lesions, infections and hair loss. We tried a variety of treatments including medications, topicals, and special food. And while we have gotten his condition somewhat under control, the symptoms are still there. Wanting to investigate every avenue, I was connected to Dr. Casara Andre, a veterinarian since 2009, who specializes in the care and healing of the Endocannabinoid System (ECS), and cannabis is one modality that has shown a lot of success. Just like us, animals have an endocannabinoid system, and when it is out of balance, there can be resulting skin, GI and behavioral issues. Is cannabis the answer? I met with Dr. Andre and asked her some questions in the hopes that it may help some of you with your beloved fur babies.

Why did you get into this work?

I love animals, and after having experiences with my own animals, I wanted different care for them than what I had observed. I also have the personality of wanting to fix it, especially after having some poorly handled experiences. In those situations, I would have picked something different. The animals I loved needed a different kind of advocate. I was previously in the med school track. Veterinary medicine has different problems to solve.

What got you interested in the use of cannabinoid therapy for animals?

We love animals. I was in the military and felt I was missing something in my medicine. I found myself reaching for acupuncture, massage, and physical therapy. When I transitioned out of active military service (as a veterinarian in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps) and into the Army Reserve, I was in CO and began exploring integrative modalities such as acupuncture and massage. In 2013, the recreational cannabis market opened in Colorado and I began exploring cannabinoid therapy.  I wanted to know, how do we support the body before there is a crisis. My cat, Maddy, had severe Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome (IBS). When we came to the end of the line of available medicines, I knew and wanted to explore what else was out there. And (with cannabis) saw the amazing benefits in her life. 

Is cannabinoid therapy appropriate for all species? Why or why not?

Anything that has a spine has an ECS, so it should be helpful in some way for a large number of species, e.g. cats and dogs, horses and cattle. There was a recent article in the New York Times called Mammals with Munchies about treating elephants, tigers and other animals with cannabis medicine. We still need more research, as we don’t know a lot about how animals like hind gut fermenters (those who chew cud) like horses and cows metabolize cannabinoids. We know other pharmaceuticals affect them differently. So we can assume that there are some species that may absorb and metabolize it differently. But cannabinoids work with the body’s own regulatory system and within its own balancing mechanisms which offers a large degree of clinical safety. This means it is relatively safe, and the protocol of start low, go slow, is as true for animals as it is for humans. 

What types of conditions can cannabinoid therapy treat?

Because we have an understanding of cannabis in mammals, we can extrapolate it pretty easily to animals. So if it has a benefit in humans, it probably has a parallel in animals. Pain, cognitive decline, ECS deficiency (congenital or acquired), behavioral and anxiety disorders, sleep and appetite regulation, seizures, cancer, and palliative care. Like use in humans, there is a great deal of clinical safety. 

Are there any contraindications like there are with people? If so, what are they?

Yes. As with humans, it's the right dose, right patient, right timing. With cardiac patients we use caution because cannabinoids can change the heart rate and blood pressure. Changes in cardiac patients can be hard to monitor for some pet parents, so having the cardiologist and all of the veterinary care team on board and aware of cannabis use in the case is important. It is also important to extend caution in cases of renal disease and liver disease or any concurrent disease condition. Also, important to the prescriber, is an understanding of how cannabinoid molecules interact with other medications on board. About 60% of pharmaceutical drugs create some kind of interaction, especially if they are metabolized through the liver. These can compete with cannabinoids for processing through the liver. We may be able to reduce the doses of pharmaceuticals when including cannabis. But, it is important to understand how to adjust dosing of pharmaceutical medications, and to work with a practitioner. 

Are there any situations (besides described above) where people should NOT use cannabinoid therapy with their animals?

From the behavioral health side: if the family does not have capacity to work on the behavioral issues at the same time or address how their human behavior relates to the issue, then cannabinoids may help, but if the tough situation continues, it likely won’t do much good long term. Low dose CBD may address some of the symptoms, but be careful about going any further unless there is investment in the environment and animal’s behavior change. Don’t pursue (cannabinoid therapy) without guidance for certain conditions (e.g. seizures or severe concurrent conditions or when the animal is on other medications).

Are all cannabinoids safe to use? If not, which ones should be avoided?

Molecular ratios within the cannabis product matter so much in animals. CBD is a great place to start. We are not seeing negative effects from non-intoxicating cannabinoids such as CBDA, CBN and CBG. But price may become an issue. Newer ones like Delta 8 may be a concern because they are more unknown and more highly processed. There is also a question about their usefulness. 

What is the best way to administer cannabinoids to your animal?

Whatever is low stress for you and your animal. Tinctures tend to be the best because you can titrate and mix them. Treats are ok as a place to start. But these have extra calories, the potential for allergies, and could be a safety issue if the animal gets into them and eats a whole bag of cookies. 

What adverse reactions should people look out for?

The most common is GI upset. This is usually because a person is using low quality products, with low quality base oil. If this happens, stop the product, talk to your animal's veterinarian. Sedation is the next most common, but sometimes we are looking for that. If the animal is too sleepy, we are at the edge of their appropriate dose. Intoxication can occur even it hemp-derived (low THC) products if the animal is naive to THC and the starting dose is too high. You still want to titrate up rather than start with a big dose. If the animal gets worse, stop treatment and talk to a professional. If you don’t see any improvement, something is wrong with the protocol or the product.

Is there a difference in using products made for humans vs. ones for animals?

There are products made for animals that are high quality, and ones for humans that are low quality. The most important things are to know the company, do your research, and have a Certificate of Analysis (COA). Being labeled for an animal doesn’t tell you anything. It's about the product itself. Look at the COA, and don’t worry if it's for animals or humans. There is more likely to be flavoring in human products or other ingredients such as chocolate or xylitol that are okay for humans but very dangerous for animals. Animals don’t necessarily like our flavoring. It's better not to have any flavorings (beef, chicken, etc) because they could trigger allergies. You also don’t want any additional molecules. It’s best to have just cannabinoids and the carrier oil for a strict medicinal case. 

If someone wants to learn more or work with you to develop a treatment protocol, how would they do that?

I am happy to meet with pet parents. Interviews are free but I only keep 15 patients at a time. Visit www.medicineofwonder.org for more information. Our cannabis consulting team offers more readily available consultations to get your animal on a protocol which costs $285. We also offer education programs available for veterinary medical professionals as well as science-minded pet parents who want to learn more. Our Veterinary Cannabis Counselor program is available for veterinary technicians (credentialed and non-credentialed), and we offer CE programs for veterinarians. Visit https://www.veterinarycannabis.org/certification.html to learn more about those programs.

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