Pets Are Just Like Us
But is it smart to treat them with weed?
By Mike Sula
Keeva, a 12-year-old collie mix, was in bad shape when Sean Zyer adopted her. The Denver dog suffered up to 20 epileptic seizures every day, and a lifetime of inactivity and poor nutrition deteriorated her hips to the point that it was painful and difficult to walk.
Drugs—phenobarbital and painkillers—only exacerbated the problems. “She was having more seizures because she wasn’t eating,” says Zyer. “And the pain pills really just made her lay there all day. I knew because she was older she wasn’t going to be around long, and I wanted to give her a good quality of life.”
Zyer, a sales rep in the pet industry, began treating Keeva orally with small doses of a 500-mg CBD hemp extract. She improved right away, and before long Keeva was off her meds. “It boosted her appetite,” he says. “It gave her more mobility in her hips and it also reduced the seizure episodes significantly to where we were able to take her on multiple walks every day.”
Just as more humans are turning to cannabis to treat their own medical conditions, they’re also using it to heal their pets and ease their pain. CBD-infused doggy treats, along with tinctures and topical medicines, are available over the counter at pet stores nationwide. High-CBD, lowTHC pet medicine is common in states where cannabis is recreationally legal for humans. In Facebook groups, such as CBD Oil for Pets, members post stories about how the nonpsychoactive cannabinoid soothed Tigger’s anxious caterwauling and enabled Rex, who could barely get off the floor, to chase Frisbees over fences again.
But even in states where marijuana is legally prescribed by doctors, veterinarians will not write one for your sick, suffering best friend. That’s because cannabis is still a Schedule 1 drug, according to the federal government; vets aren’t allowed to prescribe those.
A growing number of veterinarians, however, are providing education on safely treating pets with cannabis. Such information is essential given the dizzying array of products. “I do not prescribe and I do not recommend,” says Casara Andre, a Denver area-based holistic vet. “But I will absolutely help a pet owner avoid harm for their animals.”
Veterninarycannabis.org, her education and consulting practice, features “Cannabis Guidelines for Pet Parents” to help them choose medicine and dosage and find contaminant-free, safely extracted products. The site also provides information to determine the ideal balance of CBD and THC. Perhaps the most important advice happens to apply to humans as well: Go slow.
“You’re trying to figure out if that particular animal is extra sensitive or not,” Andre says. “Animals, just like people, develop a tolerance for THC and CBD and so as you creep up in dosage you can still have the beneficial effects of a higher dose without having the intoxicating effect. We have a patient journal on our website where people chart what they see happening with their animals.”
So when should you treat a sick pet with cannabis, and what should you use?
When Layla, a Phoenix Australian shepherd mix was experiencing panic attacks—shredding and scratching the door when she was left alone—her owner, Tyler Hurst, added a half dropper of hemp oil to her food twice a day.
“Over the span of three weeks, she went from shaking and having her head down a lot and freaking out to sort of a normal dog who would hop on the bed and bark slightly less when guests came over,” he says.
After Charlie Brown, a Yorkshire terrier from Portland, Oregon, fell down the stairs and injured his shoulder, it hurt so badly he’d wake up crying. His owner, Syd Rappaport, bought a CBD glycerin tincture and dropped it in his food. “Lo and behold, the next morning he didn’t wake up crying,” she says.
Because tinctures and cannabis-infused oils can be absorbed through mouth tissue and directly into the bloodstream, they are the most common animal cannabis medicines. Dosage can be easily adjusted. Edibles—ahem, petibles—which travel the gastrointestinal tract before they’re absorbed, can be easier to administer but can take longer to act.
Edibles worked on Lulu, a 16-year-old Lhasa Apso in Sacramento, California, who has arthritis in her hips and scar tissue in her knees. Her owner, Sally Leake, gives her a 1-mg CBD peanut butter-quinoa treat twice a day to supplement a painkiller. “She seems to have more energy,” she says. “She’s happier. She still sleeps a lot, but she doesn’t seem as uncomfortable.”
But what about THC? Stories of pets breaking into their owners’ stashes and getting stoned are common and alarming. Is it safe or ethical to treat them with it?
“The important thing to know is that a stoned dog or cat is never an acceptable outcome,” says Oakland, California, holistic vet Gary Richter. “Really the goal is to make sure that the dosing is below the threshold where there is a psychoactive effect.”
Before embarking on any cannabis treatment, consult a vet. The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association website, ahvma.com, can help with resources.
The lack of peer-reviewed medical research presents a roadblock for vets. They rely on anecdotal evidence showing that THC and CBD is effective for treating many conditions, such as pain, cancer, gastrointestinal disease and anxiety. It can also ease the end of an animal’s life.
Sean Zyer credits CBD for prolonging Keeva’s life for a year and a half after she began treatment. “It changed our lives changing her life,” he says. So impressed by the improvement, he and his partner launched Earth Buddies, a line of hemp treats and extracts derived from whole hemp plants that provide a spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes that vets, including Andre believe provide a better therapeutic effect than isolated CBD.
Not all petible manufacturers are as upfront about their ingredients and methods, which can prompt some pet owners to make their own medicines using plants and extracts they trust. Syd Rappaport now grows high-CBD Stephen Hawking Kush plants for the tinctures she gives to Charlie Brown.
Chef and cookbook author Laurie Wolf started making treats for Bisou and Abby, her anxiety-prone rescue Chihuahuas, and then began giving them to her friends for their pets.
“It’s cheaper,” she says. “You can control exactly what goes in it. You don’t need to put preservatives in. With edibles, people like to make their own. And also like a lot of people, my dogs get kind of spoiled.”