Veterinarians won’t be dealing doggy dope any time soon

Vets are being asked about giving cannabis products to pets — but there’s no research, it’s not legal, and it could be dangerous

High-strung heeler hounding you day and night? Crazy old barn cat climbing up the walls?

You might be tempted to put on some Pink Floyd, dim the lights, and give them a little something to mellow them out.

All of the attention on the pending legalization of marijuana has pet owners asking their vets about whether edible cannabis products are suitable for dogs or cats with behavioural problems or medical issues.

But before dealing doggy dope or carrying kitty cannabis, think again, says the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association.

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“There is a real lack of evidence and information about cannabis use in animals,” said veterinarian Dr. Phil Buote, the association’s complaints director. “Veterinarians are in a situation where they’re being asked for a product that really doesn’t have sufficient research behind it to be able to safely make the recommendation to administer to pets.”

His association has been fielding calls from vets across the province about the safety and effectiveness of administering cannabis to companion animals, said Buote.

“If an animal owner has exhausted other treatment options, they may look for alternatives, as they might do for themselves in human medicine,” he said. “The issue is whether or not there’s sufficient information that a veterinarian can comfortably and confidently oversee the treatment of an animal with a cannabis-based product.”

And the answer is a definite no can do doggy dude.

“The research is not there to ensure that those products are safe or effective for the treatment of any kind of condition,” he said.

The benefits of administering cannabis to animals are still theoretical as there is a “gross lack of randomized clinical trials and evidence that they are safe and beneficial,” the association said in a recent statement to its members.

Moreover, the pending legalization of cannabis only applies to people, not pets, and there’s been no approval from Health Canada’s veterinary drug directorate — which is typically required for any drug given to pets or livestock.

Veterinarians not only want to see solid research on the safety and efficacy of cannabis products, they also need information such as how to administer it, what dosage to prescribe, and how long the animal should be treated, said Buote.

He also advises against pet owners going on the internet to find products containing cannabis for their animals. There’s no evidence those products actually work and they might be dangerous.

“There’s nothing on the market that’s approved by Health Canada to treat pets,” said Buote.

“There are some products that might barely be described as ‘natural’ health products, though none are approved through natural health product regulations.

“They could be administered to pets, but there’s still no data on the safety or efficacy of those products.”

And the potential side-effects go beyond a case of the munchies.

There has been “a significant increase in the number of incidences of marijuana toxicity” in jurisdictions where cannabis has been decriminalized or legalized, he said. The biggest concern is for dogs, as cats are less likely to eat something that has fallen to the floor or been left lying around.

“We know that dogs aren’t really discerning when it comes to eating things, so they could potentially ingest a discarded butt of a joint or consume some edible products that contain cannabis,” said Buote.

Symptoms in animals include sleepiness, salivation, dilated pupils, bloodshot eyes, a fast heart rate, sensitivity to light or sound, increased vocalization, wobbling, pacing, and agitation.

“Some of those side-effects probably aren’t surprising, but dogs are thought to be very sensitive to THC, one of the active compounds in cannabis,” said Buote.

And while there is some potential for therapeutic uses of cannabis in companion animals, that’s a long ways off, said Buote.

“We don’t really have any research into the risks.”

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer Blair is a Red Deer-based reporter with a post-secondary education in professional writing and nearly 10 years of experience in corporate communications, policy development, and journalism. She's spent half of her career telling stories about an industry she loves for an audience she admires--the farmers who work every day to build a better agriculture industry in Alberta.

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