It’s well established at this point that cannabis can be used to treat a wide variety of mental health conditions. But you may be surprised to learn that it may also be beneficial for our animal companions.
Many household pets—including cats, dogs, birds and more—are known to experience anxiety, which has traditionally been treated with a combination of medication and behaviour reconditioning. However, in recent years, there’s a been a rise in the number of people incorporating medical marijuana, especially in the form of cannabidiol (CBD), into their pets’ anti-anxiety treatment plans.
Animals & the Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is made up of an enormous network of receptors that respond to endocannabinoids produced naturally by the body, as well as the very similar cannabinoids found in cannabis CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Interestingly, it’s not only humans who have an ECS—in fact, all vertebrates and some invertebrates are thought to have some form of an ECS. Not only does this mean that animal studies can help scientists unravel some of the mysteries of cannabis, but it also means that marijuana-based products may work on animals in much the same way as they do on humans.
Given that current research indicates that cannabis may have a role to play in treating anxiety in humans, it’s possible that cannabis could also provide relief for anxious pets.
What Is Pet Anxiety?
Pet anxiety is a term used to describe the nervousness and fear that your animal companion feels when it perceives something to be dangerous. Exactly what your pet considers dangerous can vary from the loud bangs of fireworks to you arriving home late due to a change in your work schedule. Pet anxiety is most closely related to cats and dogs, though it can affect other types of animals, too.
Pet anxiety can manifest in a few different ways. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Barking or meowing
- Digging and chewing up your property
- Trying to escape
- Repeatedly pacing along a fixed path
- Lack of appetite
- Urinating or defecating in the house
What causes pet anxiety? The exact underlying mechanisms still aren’t fully understood, but it’s generally believed that dramatic changes in the animal’s life are a major factor.
Some examples could be:
- Being abandoned and adopted by a different family
- Moving to a new home
- Experiencing a series of traumatic events
- The abrupt departure of a family member
Some breeds are innately more susceptible to anxiety, which suggests that genetics may also have a role to play.
Medicating Your Pet with Cannabis
In years gone by, most treatment methods for pet anxiety have involved prescription medication such as Alprazolam, Amitriptyline and Clomicalm, among many others.
However, just as human patients are increasingly opting to use medical marijuana as an effective and safer alternative to prescription drugs, more and more pet owners are starting to explore the possibility of using cannabis for their cats and dogs.
Thanks to its excellent anxiety-reducing properties, medicinal cannabis can help decrease anxiety levels in pets during traumatic events. Some pet owners report that cannabis also helps promote social behaviour, boosts appetite and alleviates pain.
Here we’ve rounded up a few tips to help you get started with medicating your pet with cannabis.
Look for CBD-dominant Cannabis for Your Pet
There’s a lot of controversy surrounding the use of cannabis for pets as—perhaps understandably—many people don’t want their furry friends getting high. This is a legitimate concern, but it can be entirely avoided by simply looking for cannabis strains and products that are rich in CBD but that contain very low levels of THC. CBD is a non-psychoactive compound that offers a range of medical benefits for humans and pets alike. And it’s been shown in humans to have a calming effect.
In terms of administration, oils and homemade edibles are what you want to go for. You can put the CBD oil on top of your dog’s food or you can make animal-safe treats that contain CBD oil.
Start With Very Small Doses of CBD
Many vets are hesitant to discuss cannabis treatment, so it’s difficult to give precise dose recommendations.
For dogs, some vets have recommended a starting dose of about 0.05 mg of CBD oil per pound of bodyweight, delivered twice per day. This means that if your dog weighs 20 pounds, you would deliver a 1 mg dose twice per day.
Administer Cannabis in Advance of Stressful Events
If you’re a medical marijuana patient yourself, you may be aware that it can take some time for edible forms of cannabis to kick in. The same may apply to our animal friends.
So, it’s best to plan ahead and administer it in advance of any events that your pet may find stressful, such as fireworks, loud storms or visits to the vet. You may even want to go on a test run with the CBD oil before the stressful event just so you have a preview of how your furry family member reacts to the cannabis.
Don’t Ask Your Vet for a Cannabis Prescription
Last but not least, it’s worth keeping in mind that, under current legislation in Canada, vets can’t legally prescribe CBD for pets. It’s possible that this could change in the years ahead as more research comes to light about the medicinal potential of cannabis for anxious pets. But for now, you’ll have to be the one deciding if CBD is right for your pet and monitoring dosage, reaction and symptoms.
Photo credit: Jarrod Reed