Cannabis treatment for sick dogs lags behind US, but Colorado expert urges caution

Paddy is a 15 year old golden retriever, very popular but slow on his feet.

Important points:

  • US studies have found that dogs had fewer seizures when treated with cannabinoids – compounds found in cannabis
  • It was noted that there were fewer side effects for the dogs
  • Veterinary cannabis use has yet to be approved in Australia

He’s on arthritis medication and has to do blood tests every six months to look for kidney damage – a common side effect.

“It can also cause vomiting, but he is fine as long as he is fed a lot,” said owner Della Stevens.

“We give him a pill at night and he gets along well with it. Without it, he’d really have trouble pacing up and down.”

It’s still a curiosity in Australia, but many US states use medicinal cannabis to treat pets with conditions like arthritis and epilepsy.

It’s a big and growing business.

While medical cannabis is a growing industry for humans, veterinarians cannot prescribe it to pets. (

Supplied: Australian Natural Therapeutics Group

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According to US research firm Brightfield Group, consumers spent $ 426 million ($ 551 million) on pet products that contain medicinal cannabis last year.

That number is projected to climb to $ 629 million ($ 814 million) and $ 1.1 billion ($ 1.4 billion) by the end of this year) by 2025.

Studies are showing the first positive signs

Stephanie McGrath of Colorado State University is a veterinary neurologist who has conducted clinical studies of medicinal cannabis for the treatment of canine seizures.

One study looked at the effects in 16 dogs treated with standard anticonvulsant therapy.

Nine received cannabinoids (CBD) – compounds found in cannabis – while seven received placebos.

“It was very promising,” said Dr. McGrath.

“We showed a significant decrease in seizure activity between the treatment group and the placebo group.”

Two women in masks treat a dog lying on the floor of a veterinary room The study by Dr. Stephanie McGrath found that dogs treated with cannabis had fewer seizures and side effects. (

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The study also found that the dogs that absorbed CBD at a higher rate also had the greatest reductions in seizures.

“It really gave us a lot of hope that CBD could be a promising anticonvulsant for pets,” said Dr. McGrath.

“There’s an FDA-approved drug in the US for children with epilepsy, and it was exciting to show that it can do very similar things in dogs.”

CBD treatment also got by without the liver disease and pancreatitis that can come with anticonvulsant therapies.

A previous study of medical cannabis’ effectiveness for osteoarthritis in dogs was less convincing, but Dr. McGrath plans another project to investigate this connection later this year.

Australia is lagging behind

An Australian medical cannabis company that sources some of its raw materials from Tasmania, Auscann, recently completed a clinical study in the US that examined 46 dogs with osteoarthritis.

The randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study tested the effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the psychoactive compound in cannabis – and CBD on mood, pain, and lameness in dogs over a period of eight weeks.

The company told the Australian Stock Exchange, “A complete reduction in the veterinary lameness rating was observed in all dogs treated with CPAT-01, showing an improvement over time that was numerically better for the treated dogs compared to placebo . “

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Agency has not approved a single medical cannabis product for veterinary use in Australia, saying in a statement that before approval they would need to meet legal criteria, including safety and efficacy.

What happens if a pet overdoses cannabis?

Not much, as it turns out, unless they eat a lot of other dangerous things as well.

Cannabis is legal in Colorado for both recreational and medical treatment.

Emergency and Intensive Care Medicine Professor Tim Hackett, also from Colorado State University, has treated hundreds of animals for marijuana toxicity after they ate their owner’s stash.

He said after Colorado legalized cannabis use, the number of dogs admitted to the emergency room rose from a handful a year to almost one a day.

Golden Retriever dog sits on grass and looks at the camera Paddy is slowly on his feet, but still enjoys life. (

ABC News: Maren Preuss

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“This is a dog problem; cats don’t eat this stuff,” said Dr. Hackett.

“A human will know to stop after a gummy bear, but a dog will eat as much as it can and then come in with a range of systems from mildly impaired to unconscious and barely able to breathe.

“Most of the time, they recover quite well.

“But we’ve had the occasional very rare case where they’re so compromised that if they’ve been on too many drugs and then choked on their own vomit, they get the rock star problem.”

Consuming too much oil, which is often used as a carrier for medicinal cannabis, can also lead to pancreatitis and death.

A young woman feeds her golden retriever a treat Della Stevens says 15-year-old Paddy is a happy and loving companion even in old age.

ABC News: Maren Preuss

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More data needed

Although pet drugs containing marijuana are available over the counter in many states, there is still very little research to prove their therapeutic benefits.

“We still don’t understand things like how much do you dose the dog to get to a level similar to that of a person?” said Dr. Hackett.

“They have very different metabolic rates and deal with them differently. A single acetaminophen in a cat can be fatal.

“We are really in uncharted territory because pharmacokinetics (how the body uses drugs) is not yet complete.”

As for Ms. Stevens, she is open to cannabis treatments.

“If it didn’t have the side effects like kidney damage, I would try,” she said.

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