A vet’s guide to treating your dog with cannabis

How to Treat Your Dog’s Pain and Anxiety Using Cannabis

What if cannabis could make your elderly dog’s arthritis or cancer less painful, alleviate his anxiety and even stop seizures?

Veterinarian Dr Barry Hindmarch has been working together with his pooch patients to use cannabis medicinally for end-of-life care, pain management and for its calming effects.

Dr Barry has been a practicing vet for over 20 years, and currently consults at the Cape Animal Medical Centre in Kenilworth.

He says about 8 years ago, pet owners started asking him about medicinal cannabis use for their furry family members.

“Dogs have more cannabinoid receptors in their brains than people do, so the effect of cannabis will be more pronounced and potentially more toxic,” Barry says. Just think of how much more acute their senses of smell and hearing are, compared to humans.

“Their receptors are so much more powerful than we have, so it has a more profound effect on them.”

As with any first time user, you have to start low and go slow – but Barry has seen some promising results.

What problems does cannabis treat in dogs?

First off, it’s important to know that there isn’t much scientific evidence yet.

“There haven’t been enough clinical trials to give guideline of what can and can’t be done,”  Barry says. “There is anecdotal information, but not enough clinical evidence to convince my veterinary colleagues.”

While not an accepted practice amongst vets yet, cannabis is being used by some to treat pain and inflammation, arthritis, gastro-intestinal issues, epilepsy, stress and anxiety, travel sickness, separation anxiety, allergies and skin problems.

Some owners have also been using cannabis to ease the symptoms of cancer in dogs.

Dr Barry says he has seen high THC ratios being used to treat severe pain in very aggressive cancers in a dog’s final weeks.

“From a veterinary perspective, these high doses are a stop gap before euthanasia. In some cases we’ve had very good results, and been able to maintain a good quality of life for the patient.”

Starting your dog on cannabis doesn’t mean you can take it off conventional medicines – and it may interact with certain drugs, so consult your vet first.

How to get your dog on dagga

The key to giving your pup an effective dose without overdosing is to start low and go slow.

“Be exceptionally cautious when using products with THC – dogs react more strongly to THC than humans do,” Barry warns.

CBD is usually well tolerated in dogs, with only diarrhoea as a potential side effect if the dose is too high.

“If the animal is not used to taking cannabis, we need to get the dog used to it, so we start on a loading dose.”

Give your dog a few drops once a day, in the evening, to get acclimatised.

“Take their water away in the early evening,” Barry advises. “They will sleep through the fact that their bladders are full, so they end up peeing themselves during the night. After 5-6 days, your dog’s body will be adjust and tolerate it much better.”

When administering CBD oil, the dose is dependent on dog’s weight and the condition being treated. These are the guidelines based on American studies:

Small breed dog under 10kgs: 2-3 drops, 2-4 times daily

Medium dogs between 10-25kgs: 3-4 drops, 2-4 times daily

Large breed dogs above 25kgs: 4-8 drops, 2-4 times daily

Getting the right ratio of THC to CBD for your dog

In mixtures with high CBD and low THC, the toxicity risk is low. These ratios should be at least 5:1. This mix can be used for low grade gastro-intestinal problems, anxiety, behaviour problems, restlessness, low grade pain and seizures.

Mixtures where the ratio of THC to CBD is roughly equal are used to treat more severe conditions. The 1:1 ratio can be used as a twice daily dose for neurological disease, brain or spine trauma, cancer, moderate to severe pain and inflammatory gastro-intestinal disease.

Know the signs of overdose

If a small dog picks up a bit of edible left lying around, it could have potentially devastating consequences. The complications often come more from the baked goods that the cannabis is infused into – a cookie or brownie that contains high fat ingredients such as chocolate or coconut oil could trigger pancreatitis in your dog.

“The chocolate toxicity is stronger than the cannabis toxicity,” Barry says. “One danger is that they could vomit then asphyxiate.”

A dog that has overdosed on cannabis itself usually presents with depression, lethargy, low heart rate or abnormal rhythms, respiratory depression, and loss of balance that makes it look like its walking drunk.

On the odd occasion, the total opposite occurs: the dog can appear anxious and afraid, with signs of hyperactivity like panting and pacing, and vocalising.

If the dog has a serious cannabis oil overdose, it can result in seizures and comas.

“If it’s mild we get them to vomit it out, get them hydrated and let them sleep it out. If it’s more severe, we do more tests to stabilise the symptoms.”

If you’re worried your dog might’ve got hold of that brownie you were saving, get to the vet as soon as possible and tell them your concern.

“There isn’t an easy test for us to do to determine its a cannabis overdose, so be up front and honest with your veterinarian,” Barry says.

Zootly says: Check with your local vet before giving your pets cannabis products, and watch out for your pooch pissing himself while stoned!