Can Cannabis Treats Help Pets, Too?

Despite the benefits cited by some animal lovers and veterinarians, CBD faces restrictions imposed by veterinary boards.

Kazu, a chihuahua mix, is often given CBD by his Bay Area owners to help manage his anxiety. (Photo by Bryce Bishari)

Cannabis is going to the dogs, or in Liz Hughston’s case, three particular dogs.

A registered emergency veterinary technician working in San Jose, Hughston says she first became aware of cannabidiol (CBD) being used to treat canines while researching ways to help Augie, her smallest pup, cope with a fear of fireworks.

“The first Fourth of July after we got him, he was about a year old, he had a major meltdown freakout,” Hughston recalls. “The following year, we used the traditional drugs — sedatives and anti-anxiety medications — you get from your veterinarian, but it didn’t help him. He just ran around like a drunk little jerk at a bar.”

Then Hughston discovered Treatibles, a CBD-infused brand of dog biscuits. When the Fourth of July came around again, she tried them on her spooked pooch. She found that Augie not only got his appetite back after refusing to eat during previous episodes, but he was happy to curl up next to Hughston and her husband on the couch while the fireworks raged on.

Quickly, Hughston saw the benefits that a CBD-infused treat for pets might have for her other dogs. The products seemed to help her oldest, a 15-year-old Rhodesian ridgeback/boxer mix, cope better with the aches and pains of old age, while Treatibles helped her middle dog with anxiety issues. As many uses as there were for CBD in the human world, Hughston saw an almost equally wide array of possibilities on the animal front.

“The more I learned about it, the more I got into the science behind it, and so I started pitching a talk to veterinary conferences on using cannabis in our pets,” she says.

Hughston recently presented her findings on CBD and its use in treating canines at the DoveLewis Annual Conference for Veterinary Professionals in Portland, Oregon. She says that while veterinary professionals expressed interest during her presentations, the key obstacles in making CBD more publicly accepted as a medicine for pets are the restrictions currently in place with veterinary regulatory boards.

“We can’t prescribe cannabis for pets, and we can’t even recommend it in California,” she explains. “What that means is that clients have to bring it up with their veterinarians. They have to tell the veterinarian they’re interested.”

Hughston believes that when more people understand that products like Treatibles, which are derived from hemp and contain no THC, are at no risk of harming their furry companions, they will quickly embrace what a major difference CBD can make in the quality of a pet’s life.

Todd Davis, the CEO of Endexx, shares her view. His company, through its CBD Unlimited division, is the maker of Phyto-Bytes, a CBD-infused soft chewable for dogs. Built around a proprietary formula, which properly suspends the CBD in peanut butter oil and has a targeted delivery of 2 mg of CBD per treat, Phyto-Bytes are another player in the exploding market for CBD-infused pet products.

Davis is thrilled with the feedback he’s received so far.

“We’re hearing from the customers that their dogs have stopped having diarrhea after two years of chronic diarrhea, that their dogs with congestive heart failure are breathing and resting better, that their dogs aren’t being bothered by arthritis as much,” he remarks. “These are the really simple things that only pet owners see and understand, but from a quality-of-life standpoint, that’s what we were trying to do.”

It was only a year ago that Davis was getting “major pushback” from veterinarians he spoke with. He says the stigma surrounding cannabis left many in the veterinary profession unwilling to risk the potential backlash of supporting a product infused with CBD. For now, Phyto-Bytes is targeting those who already utilize plants and nutrients as part of their practice. As a hemp-based product, it’s perfectly legal for individuals in all 50 states to order the product online, although Davis is hopeful that one day CBD-infused pet products can be as commonplace as their pharmaceutical counterparts.

The key, he feels, is in education.

“Eighteen months ago, the learning curve was very, very steep,” he says. “It’s not as steep as it was. There are people now asking about it. They want to know, and they’re hearing about it. There is a lot of organic education going on right now where people are actually taking the initiative to find out what’s going on. So there’s been a shift on the education side.”

It’s a rapidly shifting landscape, and as states rush to decide how to implement newly enacted laws, it may be the case that, at least in the short term, the pet side of the cannabis movement may not take top priority.

“It’s like the Wild West right now,” Hughston adds. Cannabis “has just become legalized here in California. It’s been legal in Washington and Oregon for a while, and in Colorado, but the veterinarians have been excluded from prescribing rights in those states.”

Still, with the facts adding up, and three happy dogs as proof, Hughston is ready to see CBD-infused pet treats be embraced by the veterinary science mainstream.

“For a long time, I think that people in the veterinary community didn’t really think there was a therapeutic use [of cannabis] for animals,” she notes. “Of course, the more we discover about the endocannabinoid system — what it does and how it supports overall health — it’s getting harder and harder for the veterinary side to say there isn’t any benefit.”

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