As the Oct. 17 legalization of marijuana nears, Canada’s veterinarians are gearing up to add cannabis-based medicines to their tool kits for therapeutic uses in pets, but are also warning pet owners to keep a close eye on their stash.
"As a group, we’re excited to see more clinical research come out and be able to add these products as another tool for helping treat pain, anxiety or other neurological issues," said Dr. Ian Sandler, CEO of Grey Wolf Animal Health and a veterinarian at Rosedale Animal Hospital in Toronto. Medical marijuana for pets isn’t something that’s necessarily imminent, he said.
Sandler quickly tempers his enthusiasm by warning pet owners against medicating their pets without a veterinarian’s help, and to take precautions to prevent inadvertent ingestion by a ravenous Rottweiler or curious cocker spaniel.
Dr. Jonas Watson, president of the Manitoba Veterinary Medical Association, said not enough is known about dosage and side-effects, but suggests that may come over time.
"Once some peer-reviewed, controlled clinical studies have been conducted, we may confirm anecdotal evidence that cannabis has a utility as an appetite stimulant, an anticonvulsant, an anti-anxiety medication and possibly a pain reliever," Watson said.
"Marijuana in all its forms — fresh or dried plant material, baked and other edible products — whether ingested or inhaled, can have deleterious effects on pets, which are usually transient but certainly require veterinary care" - Dr. Jonas Watson, president of the Manitoba Veterinary Medical Association
Complicating the studies is separating out the effects of the two key ingredients in cannabis, CBD and THC. CBD (cannabidiol) generally promotes calmness while THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is what offers a "high." Knowing how each works in animals is key, Sandler said. Different strains of cannabis products have differing concentrations of each chemical, with some high in CBD and low in THC and vice versa.
But what if Fido decides to bogart your supply? Sandler said there are a number of concerns, and recommends contacting a veterinarian immediately.Advertisement
Watson said signs of marijuana toxicosis in dogs include lethargy, lack of co-ordination, vomiting, behaviour disorders, hyper-salivation, slow heart rate and urinary incontinence. He said in areas where legalization has already occurred, other symptoms like hypertension, seizures and intoxication have, rarely, resulted in death.
It isn’t just the pot that’s a problem, either. Sandler said in edible form, cannabis can sometimes be the least of a dog’s concerns, particularly if the brownie contains chocolate, certain nuts (such as macadamia) or raisins, all of which could make the brownie toxic even if it wasn’t "special."
As well, which dog is ever going to be smart enough to stop at just one brownie, one cookie, one piece of cake?
Even if you safeguard your edibles, when it comes to smoking, should Sparky be in the room when you spark up? "Absolutely not!" Sandler said. "Dogs, and especially cats, are sensitive to second-hand smoke of any kind. Same advice for children."
Dogs are the main concern, Watson said. "Marijuana toxicosis is primarily a problem in our canine patients, though it has also been reported occasionally in cats and ferrets."
Both Watson and Sandler say the danger to pets exists regardless whether the cannabis has been heated. "Marijuana in all its forms — fresh or dried plant material, baked and other edible products — whether ingested or inhaled, can have deleterious effects on pets, which are usually transient but certainly require veterinary care," Watson said.
Treatment depends on when the ingestion occurred and what was also on board. Sandler said treatment usually begins with getting the pet to vomit, but he recommends that only be done by a veterinarian to reduce the risk of choking or from side-effects of home-remedy mixes to induce vomiting.
If Fido has stolen your stash, it’s important to contact the vet quickly, and provide as much information as possible, including what and how much was eaten, what other ingredients were included — other drugs, nuts, chocolate, etc. — and when it occurred.
And once you bring Fido home, see about securing your stash.