Doc Talks – Cannabis and Pets

Oregon-based Veterinarian Gives Her Expert Advice | by Art Cosgrove

Dr. Moriah Kaufman is a veterinarian who works in the Portland/Gresham area of Oregon. She gave us a vet’s perspective on the efficacy and future of cannabis as a treatment for pets. Her opinions and views are strictly those of a scientist and do not necessarily reflect the views of anyone other than Dr. Kaufman, unless otherwise stated.

Emerald Magazine: How do dogs and cats react to THC?

MK: It’s something we mostly see in dogs. Cats don’t really ingest too much THC, because dogs are more likely to go after an owner’s edibles. Typically, what we see is hypothermia, dysphoria — that means confusion, shaking, seizure-like activity — they’re often hyper-responsive to stimuli. Sometimes they’ll scream in what seems like pain if you touch them (it may just be surprise). These are signs of confusion and fear, as if they don’t know where they are. It’s just not a good experience for them.

EM: What is it about THC that is toxic to dogs?

MK: Dogs can’t choose to be high. So it’s like they’re overdosing on something that causes negative side effects — now does that mean that toxic metabolites are affecting their organs? In extreme cases, yes, but in a more traditional sense of the term ‘toxicity,’ as in a poison, it’s not the same thing.

EM: Do you recommend the use of cannabis for pets in any therapeutic form?

MK: We’re still really far from having good studies and good dosing recommendations for animals. The AVMA’s stance on it is […] there’s not enough research, we can’t legally recommend it. As of now, the law states it’s a drug that doesn’t have any therapeutic value.

EM: What about CBD products? Is the stance the same on that?

MK: The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA) has come out with a stance that is open to its value. As stated by the AHVMA, “There is a growing body of veterinary evidence that cannabis can reduce pain and nausea in chronically ill or suffering animals, often without the dulling effects of narcotics. This herb may be able to improve the quality of life for many patients, even in the face of life-threatening illnesses.”

The AVMA is still officially against recommending it, but there are some vets that advocate using it, and there have been some CBD products developed for pets. Some of them have even been developed and tested by vets as well. There’s a lot of positive anecdotal evidence coming out for use of these products, so it’s certainly a good possibility we’ll eventually get to the point where vets are prescribing it, but we’re not there yet.

EM: Do you have patients who use cannabis as a treatment?

MK: I’ve definitely had owners say that they give these types of products to their pets, some owners [with] positive results. These are typically in pets who are on a lot of different therapies; animals that either have advanced cancer or severe orthopedic conditions that cause them to be in chronic pain […]. So for them to start giving CBD oil and then start attributing positive results to it may not be a clear picture of what’s really going on.

EM: In your experience, what are the most common conditions seen in patients that use cannabis?

MK: Mostly it’s chronic pain and cancer. But a lot of the sites that sell these products have a list a mile long of ailments they can treat and cure. I think most people know, or should know, that any drug that says it can cure anything from muscle pain to cancer, while having no side effects or negative aspects whatsoever, is probably due for some very close inspection and research. Pet owners need to use critical thinking regarding these claims, to determine if the therapy has a real potential to help their pets while also managing their own expectations.

EM: Does the pet pharmacology world have the same problem with opioid dependence and over-prescription?

MK: There is some evidence to suggest dogs increase their tolerance to opioids, though it’s unclear how much. There isn’t a similar epidemic of abuse of the drug as there is with humans, however, I will say there is a potential problem with owners abusing their pets medications. That’s always something we think about when we prescribe opioids to pets; is the medication actually going to the pets? Or the owners? But clearly an alternative therapeutic option (like CBD treatment) could help alleviate that problem.

EM: So there’s promise in using cannabinoids as treatment, but you’re reserving judgment as a medical professional until more research and results are done?

MK: More or less. I think some day soon, we’ll have the data we need. It’s crucial we have more studies on dosing, efficacy and safety in order to feel comfortable prescribing it. As veterinarians, we all took an oath to alleviate the suffering of animals. If cannabis can help us do that, we owe it to them to find out.

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