With medical cannabis research unveiling exciting solutions for so many human health conditions, it’s not a stretch to imagine similar benefits could apply to an ailing pet.
In fact, cannabis therapy actually does appear positive for animals, according to Dr. Sarah Silcox, an Ajax, ON-based veterinarian and president of the Canadian Association of Veterinary Cannabinoid Medicine (CAVCM).
The problem is, prescribing cannabis for pets isn’t legal in Canada (yet).
“While many veterinarians are supportive of using cannabis as part of the total treatment plan, many people don’t realize that legally, veterinarians cannot authorize (prescribe) medical cannabis. And this puts them in a very difficult spot,” says Silcox.
Surprised? Well, dogs just aren’t the litigious type: legal pressure by human patients put the original medical cannabis regulations into effect. Then, when the Cannabis Act came along, Silcox explains existing medical regulations were simply rolled into the new cannabis regulations, “without consideration of our animal friends.” To date, there is no legal framework for animal care providers until the Cannabis Act is reviewed again in 2022.
While vets cannot prescribe cannabis, many are open to advising on treatment options you could independently provide for your pet. Just don’t play Doc McStuffins on your own: Silcox warns administering cannabis without some guidance can pose serious adverse effects and potential drug interactions—even pure CBD.
Here, she plays out a few scenarios:
Can I use my topical on my dog’s eczema or arthritic hip?
Not really. “The biggest concern surrounds the risk of your pet licking the cream off,” she explains. Not only will fur likely get in the way (wasting your product), when your pet licks or grooms the area they risk ingesting something meant to be used externally. It’s not just the THC, other cannabinoids or terpenes she worries about, but potential effects from other compounds found inside the topical. If you have a topical that you think could help your pet feel better, bring it in to your vet for advice.
Can I let my anxious cat lick some CBD oil?
Again, it’s about the side effects and possible drug interactions that pose a risk. However, this is not to say you can’t discuss CBD with your vet. While Silcox says there aren’t published studies on CBD for treating cats specifically, she says they do appear to tolerate CBD well. Talking to your vet will ensure the product you’re using is safe and that the dose is appropriate. “Your veterinarian may also want to do some testing to ensure there are no underlying physical causes to your pet’s behaviour changes,” she adds.
My pet is having seizures. Couldn’t cannabis products help?
Maybe. Seizures, along with chronic pain, age-related changes, sleep disturbances, and cancer are the most common reasons people request cannabis therapy for their pets, according to Silcox. Again, while they can’t yet prescribe, veterinarians can discuss cannabis therapy as an option and help monitor the outcome.
“In this emerging area of medicine, documentation is important for many reasons. We want to track any unexpected effects, document your pet’s response to treatment, and learn from each case in the hopes that it will help other patients that follow.”
She says cannabis remains a viable option for treating pets, especially when other available treatments are not effective. This is why the CAVCM and the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) have been advocating to change current regulations.
Whether it’s a ripped dewclaw, sore joints, or something more serious, work with your vet to find the right cannabis therapy for your furry loved one. And if it’s important enough, Silcox encourages you to let your MP know you support changes to the Cannabis Act allowing veterinarians to authorize medical cannabis.
-Updated November 13, 2019