What Are Veterinarians Saying About CBD and Pets?
We have all seen advertisements for ways to make your pet’s life better, and now many companies are suggesting CBD products to promote better health for your dog or cat. Do these products work? Are they safe? And what are veterinarians saying about CBD? I spoke with Dr. Melanie Nesin of Chester Animal Hospital in Chester, Maine, and conducted email interviews with other vets to get a sense of how they feel about CBD for animals.
Up until about 5 years ago, Dr. Nesin had never heard of CBD. However, she has seen it become more popular with her patients in recent years. She states, “CBD is popular with the general population, but not with veterinarians. Holistic vets are more open and we are cautiously optimistic. Everyone admits there is some science to be done before vets feel comfortable using it.” The 3 doctors in her practice are divided in their views on CBD. Dr. Tim Montgomery of Dacula Animal Hospital in Dacula, Georgia feels that “ the lack of double blind studies means that people are relying on anecdotal evidence that is too subjective. The public view appears to be changing but prudent practitioners are waiting on hard data”.
As CBD has become popular with humans, veterinarians are seeing its use in pets increase as well. Many clients are asking if CBD is safe and if it can help their pet. Others are using it and then sharing their experiences with their veterinarian. Dr. Montgomery has had a few owners admit to using CBD, but stated that none saw a significant improvement in the animal’s condition. He did not know the source or content of the product his clients used. Dr. Nesin finds clients are turning to CBD because they feel it has fewer side effects and risks. With some pharmaceutical medications she prescribes, Dr. Nesin stresses the need for periodic testing, due to risks such as liver damage. While she can not prescribe CBD, she doesn't feel the need to do those blood tests when her clients inform her they are using CBD because of the low incidence of side effects. Additionally, Dr. Nesin states that many of the popular anxiety medications only have about a 40% success rate, so patients like having another option to try for their pets. Dr. Stephanie McGrath, a neurologist at CSU’s James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital conducted a small study on CBD and dogs with epilepsy. McGrath found that “89 percent of dogs who received CBD in the clinical trial had a reduction in the frequency of seizures”. 1 Other animal CBD studies currently being conducted or awaiting publication include how CBD helps anxiety, pain, cancer, and osteoarthritis.
When people ask their vet about CBD for pets, they can get varying answers. While gathering information for this article, I was surprised at the number of veterinarians who felt they could not even discuss CBD with pet owners. A veterinarian in Ohio had positive encounters with CBD but felt, legally, she could not discuss CBD with her clients. Another vet in New Hampshire expressed concerns about being able to advise or counsel patients who may want to try CBD. According to a Frontiers in Veterinary Science 2019 survey, 61.5% of veterinarians felt comfortable talking about CBD with their colleagues but only 45.5% felt comfortable discussing it with their clients. 2 James S. Gaynor, DVM, MS, DACVAA, DAIPM, a certified veterinary acupuncturist and veterinary pain practitioner, feels that many veterinarians have misconceptions about what they can and can not say about CBD. His advice is to check with state laws regarding hemp and then checking the state’s veterinary practice act for statements about CBD. Dr. Montgomery advises his clients to wait until there are approved and regulated CBD products when they ask about CBD. Since the science of CBD is still to come regarding animals, Dr. Nesin cautions her clients who want to try CBD to find a quality company, start with a low dose and work up, and report any abnormal symptoms or behaviors to your vet.
Many veterinarians are wary of recommending CBD because they are unsure of dosing amounts, legal status of hemp, sound research, and common standards in the CBD industry. Casara Andre, DVM, CVMA founded Veterinary Cannabis Education and Consulting to fill the gap between pet owners and veterinarians. Their mission is to be the voice for animals, as they advocate for fair access and species specific research into cannabis for animals. Furthermore, they push for sound policy and a framework for common standards and practices for animal health. Regarding dosing,Dr. Andre says , “rather than worry about hitting the ‘sweet spot’ for dosing, we can adjust the dose based on clinical presentation and increase if we’re not quite seeing the effect that is desired. The ‘start low, go slow’ motto is strongly supported by this—in contrast to having a milligram/kilogram dose that we start an animal at immediately.3 Recent veterinary conferences have included the endocannabinoid system and CBD as topics, additionally, there are now certifications available for veterinarians and technicians looking to include cannabis in their practice. The veterinary technician at Chester Animal Hospital, Amanda, became so interested in CBD after attending an all day conference, she is currently becoming certified to field calls from other veterinary hospitals regarding CBD standards, practices, dosing, toxicity, and other topics.
All veterinarians agree there needs to be education, guidelines, best practices, and research regarding CBD and animals. Last year during a hearing with the FDA regarding CBD, Dr. Ashley Morgan testified for the AMVA. She stated that “we ultimately desire products for use in animals that come with the assurance veterinarians need that they are of good and consistent quality, and that they are efficacious and safe for use in our patients".4
While there are still barriers regarding cannabis such as stigma, lack of official research, unclear guidelines, and murky legal boundaries, the future of cannabis in veterinary science has a lot of potential. Dr. McGrath, MS, DVM thinks, “on the scientific and legal side, things are moving in a positive direction, although slowly, unfortunately”.5
Bobbie Stormann, Square One, LLC, All Rights Reserved 2020