An old cat convinced Katherine Kramer that cannabis might work just as well for pets as it does for humans. Kramer met the 18-year old feline at Vancouver Animal Wellness, a vet clinic where she is medical director. The cat had a long list of health issues: pancreas and kidney issue, pain, low appetite. Kramer broached the subject of euthanasia, but the owner wasn’t ready. He worked at the BC Compassion Club and wanted to try CBD first.

“I knew nothing about [cannabis], but we had nothing to lose,” Kramer says. “Within a few days the cat started to eat again and lived another two years after that.”

Kramer has spent the past eight years since become an expert in treating pets with cannabis. In that time the idea has gone from no-no to one of the hottest topics in veterinary medicine. Kramer says cannabis is now a topic at every major vet conference. Pet owners are increasingly asking for cannabis products for their pets and many animals are experiencing the benefits.

It wasn’t that long ago that cannabis was only considered dangerous for pets. Dogs and cats are more sensitive to THC than humans. Every veterinarian has stories about pets getting into the “neighbour’s” cannabis and ending up very high. That’s still a concern and owners need to be especially cautious with edibles, which are more attractive to dogs than the plant and often contain ingredients like chocolate or xylitol that are already poisonous for animals.

But increasingly veterinarians are realizing there are plenty of benefits of the right doses and kinds of cannabis. Kramer says cannabis is beneficial for treating similar conditions in dogs and cats as for humans: pain, seizures, nausea, anxiety and other health issues. Researchers believe that dogs have more cannabinoid receptors than any other animal, which makes products high in non-psychoactive, CBD compounds especially promising.

“Veterinarians are now frequently fielding questions about the potential therapeutic benefits of using cannabis in animals.”

More and more studies and more and more anecdotes are driving a surge in interest in cannabis products for pets. Several large cannabis brands are working on pet focused products. Pet shops aren’t waiting. Saskatoon’s Critters Pet Health Store started stocking CBD products after customers kept asking for them. “Customers are very open to it, and they like the idea of giving them something holistic,” said Rebecca Gulka, the store supervisor.

“Veterinarians are now frequently fielding questions about the potential therapeutic benefits of using cannabis in animals,” says Dr. Roye McPherson, president of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association.

That prompted his organization to write Health Canada asking for amendments to the Cannabis Act to allow veterinary use. The act, which legalized cannabis for human consumption in October 2018, does not allow vets to prescribe cannabis for pets or advise owners on dosage. It also makes research challenging.

The letter said in part, “The CVMA believes that since CBD may have an important potential for use in animals, it is vital that veterinarians have products designed specifically for the unique needs of animal patients, including variable doses, flavourings, and formats to allow the ease of administration.”

The federal government says pets are low on their priority list and suggest they will consider the amendments in three years, when the act is open for review. That’s disappointing to Kramer.

“Veterinarians need to be able to talk about this freely, be able to study it and, most importantly, be able to use it in our patients,” she says.

Until that happens, she suggests pet owners talk to their veterinarian about cannabis. An increasing number are flaunting the rules to help pet owners use cannabis to help their dogs and cats live longer, better quality lives.

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