A few years ago, in the late afternoon, Karen came home to the disturbing sight of her dog, Brumus, barely able to get up, dragging his hind leg and in severe pain. Bone cancer was found to be the cause.
The vet prescribed painkillers, but it didn’t take long to see that they were clearly not enough. Then it occurred to Karen that CBD products (cannabidiol – derived from cannabis) – help relieve pain in people, so maybe they could help her dog.
She bought hemp-based oils at her local health food store and started mixing drops of it into Brumus’ food. Several tries later, Karen had found a product and dosage that worked well.
Then Brumus, during the last weeks of his life, was able to go out and play in the snow. He brightened up to his old frolicking self, and Karen felt the CBD therapy gave Brumus more than an extra month with them.
Stories similar to this appear in the current issue of “All Animals”, published by the Humane Society of the United States. Right here in the North Fork, we hear of those bittersweet stories of dogs and cats, who weren’t relieved of chronic arthritis pain with anti-inflammatory medication, but walked around more comfortably after only a few days of starting CBD.
Is it so simple? Do all animals respond well – sometimes very well – to CBD? The questions go much deeper.
Is CBD therapy really good for pets? What do we know about CBD treatment for small animals and what do we need to know? How well have we studied the harmful effects of CBD on dogs and cats? Can we trust the claims on CBD product labels? Where is the FDA on CBD therapy for pets? How confident are vets in recommending CBD, and how confident should we be in those recommendations?
Across New York State and nationally, the use of CBD supplements is a hot and complicated topic in veterinary medicine. According to some professionals quoted on the website of the Veterinary Cannabis Society, formed to guide the profession with studies and advice on CBD, research on CBD is still in its infancy.
It is generally known to help dogs and cats with anxiety, epilepsy, osteoarthritis and pain control. This is based, however, almost entirely on anecdotal evidence – the personal experience of various individual cases. It’s been a sort of trial and error approach that shows the value of CBD for pets for noise aversion, separation anxiety, and other behavioral issues.
Veterinary neurologist and researcher Dr. Stephanie McGrath is one of the few well-known specialists who has the added gift of saying it clearly: “CBD has its place for cats as well as dogs,” she says, “but we are far from proving this.”
She goes on to explain that the longest time a dog has been on CBD in a controlled study is 12 weeks. Yet, according to this study, a still unanswered but fundamental question is how CBD works physiologically in dogs and cats.
Some questions may seem a bit technical, but worth considering: CBD is known to act on different “ion channels” in the brain and nervous system. Does this mean that it actually alters neurotransmissions? And with CBD therapy, vets have seen “liver enzyme elevations,” but it’s unclear if that means it’s metabolized by the liver or harms the liver. Adverse reactions with other drugs are not observed, but continue to be scientifically unclear and largely unstudied.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, for its part, actually discourages the use of CBD in these species, due to sparse data on proper dosage, and so far no real science on the effects at all. term on “serum chemistry” and “pharmacokinetics”. ”
This reflects this agency’s overall reluctance towards CBD therapy in general. Note that the FDA has only approved one human CBD drug, Epidiolex, for a rare form of epilepsy in humans.
The legal side of the issue is also unclear. The lack of FDA approval creates an interesting conflict of laws. Fact: If a product has not been approved by the FDA and is marketed as a therapeutic product, it is not marketed legally. On the other hand, New York State law only recently allowed veterinarians to discuss and recommend CBD therapy with pet owners. In many other states, vets should still avoid discussing it at all.
Limited research described by both the Veterinary Cannabis Society and the Humane Society of the United States has shown some adverse effects of CBD therapy in cats: pacing, head shaking, gagging, licking, drooling, lathering and vomit. In both cats and dogs, there have been cases of low blood urea nitrogen and triglycerides.
Yet the anecdotal evidence, story after story of the beneficial experience of CBD therapy, particularly with pain management, as with Brumus above, is plentiful. But how long will it take science to catch up, because our beloved pets have such short lives?
A central point of all of this: at least so far, the limited studies and the few experts available tell us that hemp-based CBD appears to be safe in healthy dogs and cats, with some adverse effects seen in both species.
Then there is the issue of quality assurance of CBD products, currently sold as over-the-counter supplements. On a CBD products industry website, we are informed of a 2021 study by Leafreport.com, which found that more than half of CBD products on the market were inaccurately labeled; most of them contained more CBD than expected.
And CBD products intended for human consumption often contain ingredients, such as xylitol, that are toxic to pets. Experts seem unanimous in advising against edible products, such as cookies or gummies, for use in animals. The need for this kind of basic information underlies the reason the Veterinary Cannabis Society was formed – to educate veterinarians and improve industry standards.
What’s a worried pet owner to do about CBD product labeling issues? Dr. McGrath recommends looking for companies that are readily able to provide “Certificates of Analysis,” which she describes as a “piece of paper that ties their CBD product together with a clear, current description of that product’s ingredients. “. She emphasizes that this entire product profile should be easy for the pet owner to understand. “Beyond that, we don’t know what’s in these products.”
In other words, we have to trust what the CBD product industry tells us. As a profession that protects the world of companion animals, veterinarians must be extremely careful. We don’t want another devastating scenario like with antibiotics or opioids for people, with the painfully slow if not horrible catch-up by doctors, patients and regulators.
A final compelling concern with CBD therapy, particularly for behavior modification cases, is whether we are unwittingly altering our pet’s unique and cherished “personality” in ways that we do not clearly understand.
Let’s end by referring to an informative resource, a free (until March 1) HSVMA 2018 webinar, “Medical Cannabis in Small Animal Medicine”. CBD therapy can work for dogs and cats, but we owe it to them to get professional advice first.
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