Vets, Pets, and CBD: What to Know About Treating Your Four-Legged Friends

Vets, Pets, and CBD: What to Know About Treating Your Four-Legged Friends
Image by Erin Stone from Pixabay

Betty Travers threw her son out of the house when she found a bag of weed under his mattress.

“That was 1978 or so,” she remembers. “I told him I wouldn’t have any drug users in my house. And now here I am feeding pot to my kitty. It’s a new and different world.”

Actually, Travers, a retired MVD worker, is giving her cat CBD, which unlike the marijuana beneath her son's mattress doesn't get anybody high. She buys her CBD oil from Local Joint, a dispensary near her Tempe home. It’s the first medicine that’s done anything for Trulaine, her 14-year-old cat who suffers from a seizure disorder.

“I tried everything the doctor could think of,” says Travers of Trulaine’s vet. “Nothing was working." Then her cat sitter told her she gives her dog CBD biscuits for his arthritis. "And I thought, ‘What the heck?’”

Those dog biscuits are sold at Bonnie’s Barkery, whose owner, Mike Murray, also wants to emphasize that his products do not contain marijuana and that the pets that receive them aren't getting high.

“It’s important to understand that marijuana contains THC, a chemical compound that’s harmful to animals,” says Murray. “Our biscuits contain CBD, which is used safely and medicinally for pets...I always recommend starting slow with small doses, but if they take too much, they’ll just excrete out what they don’t use.”

Hemp — which is defined legally as cannabis containing less than 0.3 percent THC — has been marketed to pet owners for years. But the trend has picked up as cannabis becomes more and more normalized: CBD products being sold at drug stores, states legalizing recreational marijuana. According to a recent Forbes report, hemp-based CBD products for pets will make up five percent of CBD’s total sales by 2025.

In Arizona, local dispensaries and pet food stores and bakeries offer CBD edibles, oils, and topicals for Fido and Fluffy, as do many local veterinarians. But while retailers are happy to bark about the benefits of pet-specific CBD, many animal doctors remain shy about copping to cannabis use with their patients.

“For vets, hemp is right up there with heroin on the Drug Enforcement Administration schedule,” says a Phoenix-based mobile animal doctor who didn't want her name in print. She recommends CBD to pet owners and says many other vets she knows do, too. “We’re just not making a medical record of it when we do," she says, because, "The DEA can fine me $10,000 for every time I offer CBD to anyone with four legs.”

The FDA’s main concern seems to be the toxicity of cannabis for domesticated animals. Until the FDA studies the clinical use of CBD products in pets, there’s no regulation of them. Laws governing unregulated medicines vary from state to state; in Arizona, a dog's physician can discuss using CBD oil for rheumatism but can’t actually prescribe it.

For some vets, suggesting CBD-based products is a moral issue. “Some think of it as if they’re being a drug pusher,” says the anonymous vet. “Then again, I’ve had other veterinarians scream at me for prescribing Chinese herbs to a cat. All I was doing was trying to lower some kidney enzymes. There are a lot of crazy people out there.”

Laura Fuentes, CEO and cofounder of pharmaceutical CBD retailer Green Roads, isn’t too worried about any of it. “I think there have been studies saying a person would have to smoke a pile of marijuana the size of a Volkswagen in order to OD,” says Fuentes, who once treated a chimpanzee with multiple sclerosis by giving him CBD oil. “So I think our pets are safe.”

Her company offers a trio of CBD tinctures designed for cats and dogs. “I don’t want to be too claim-y,” she admits, “but I’ve heard stories about old, arthritic dogs who can barely walk taking CBD and they’re running around like puppies.”

Fuentes expects to see a Green Roads sales spike later this month.

“Fourth of July is a big one for CBD use by dogs," she says. "Fireworks are scary for pets, and uptight dogs especially need help chilling out that night.”

His own uptight dog led the owner of Zenbarn Farms to create a pet-friendly CBD line. “We adopted a husky,” explains CEO Noah Fishman. “They’re a high-energy dog with separation anxiety issues and hyperactivity disorders. We wanted ours to chill out and stop barking.”

Fishman’s new line did the trick. It includes a dog biscuit, a peanut-butter-and-bacon-flavored CBD oil, and a cold-pressed puppy treat, because he discovered that baking dog biscuits changed the chemical structure and efficacy of the CBD.

“Joint issues, inflammation, anxiety, allergies,” he says, rattling off a list of ailments CBD can address in our fur babies. “I just wish more veterinarians were recommending CBD as a standard protocol.”

Betty Travers says she feels a little crazy herself, offering CBD to her kitty. “I had to call my son, who’s a total straight-lace now, and apologize to him for being so mean about his marijuana,” she says. “He just laughed at me. You know. ‘Mom, are you serious? You’re getting your cat high?’ A mother just can’t win.”
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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela