Originally published on The Georgia Straight.
Dr. Katherine Kramer has seen the headlines about veterinarians in Canada decrying the use of cannabis-derived CBD on pets.
“It’s interesting,” she tells the Straight by phone from her office at Vancouver Animal Wellness Hospital, where she has practised veterinary medicine since 2011.
“A lot of vets are publicly saying, ‘No, there’s not enough research,’ or, ‘We can’t use it, it’s illegal,’ but in private, they are saying something else.”
For the last five years, Dr. Kramer has been speaking about the benefits of CBD with her clients, despite the fact that B.C.’s College of Veterinarians says there isn’t enough research for vets to be prescribing it.
“We are limited by the legalities, and according to the college, we’re not supposed to recommend or prescribe it, which I don’t,” says the vet, who uses a combination of Western medicine, veterinary acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat pets that come to the clinic.
“But considering in Vancouver especially, [cannabis] is so prevalent, most of my clients come in and they have already got something they want to use.”
Kramer says when this happens, she sees it as her job as an advocate for the animals to advise their owners on how to use CBD, which products are ideal, and what the side effects might be.
“I can count on one hand the number of pets who haven’t done well with CBD,” she says. “In the last five years I have had many, many more happy stories than I do toxicities or problems with it. At this point, I can’t imagine practising without it.”
While clinical research on pets and CBD has only just begun, Kramer says there’s no lack of anecdotal evidence to show that the cannabinoid can provide effective relief for dogs and cats suffering from a variety of conditions, including chronic pain, arthritis, cancer, anxiety, and epilepsy.
She also points out that there are a number of conventional medications used by vets that haven’t been studied on domesticated animals, and says in these instances, appropriate doses for pets are simply extrapolated from the recommended human dose.
One reason she says so many pet owners are curious about the compound is because their pets often can’t tolerate the side effects associated with regular medication. In other cases, it can have a synergistic effect, making standard medications more effective.
“If we have a seizure patient that is on three different medications having seizures weekly, we can add the CBD to that and get a reduction in seizures, and hopefully reduce the medication that they’re on,” Kramer says.
Kramer admits that, because the market for cannabis-based pet products is unregulated, quality control is often overlooked by manufacturers, and it can be hard to find out which products are most effective.
“A lot of the treats on the market are probably not harmful, but they may not be helpful,” she says. “There are some local products that I’ve found to be really worthless.”
For the most part, Kramer tells her clients to look for human-grade CBD products, like the ones made by Vancouver-based manufacturer Isodiol, which come in higher concentrations of CBD than most products made for pets.
Smaller animals might benefit from Green Island Naturals’ Medico for Pets tincture, but Kramer says anyone with a 100-lb dog would require a fairly large dose of the diluted product, which contains two milligrams of CBD per milliliter.
While she says infused dog treats are often too low in CBD to be helpful for patients with serious conditions like cancer, she’s a fan of one local company whose line of dog treats cater to conditions like anxiety and arthritis.
“I started working with Creating Brighter Days because I like all of the other ingredients they are putting in their treats—they are doing their due diligence, trying to get quality control and analyses,” she says.
She refrains from suggesting anything that comes in capsule form, after a few cases where budtenders accidently dispensed THC capsules to clients instead of ones containing CBD. (While she says CBD is largely safe for animals, THC can cause pets some serious discomfort.)
“I’ve had a couple patients put into the emergency room because of that,” she says. “If I have that kind of experience with a dispensary once, then I’m done. I can’t in good faith send anybody to you after that.”
Kramer understands she might be the exception among veterinarians, but she says pet owners should always notify their vets if they are thinking about giving their pets CBD—even if they’re afraid their vet might advise against it. If a vet is asked enough questions about CBD treatment, Kramer says, they’ll do the research. She hopes that one day, she can go to her pharmacy shelf and pull down a Health Canada-approved CBD product that is controlled and safe, but says that’s not going to happen if it’s not driven by pet owners.
Despite the controversy around the topic, Kramer’s success stories are enough to bring a tear to the eye of any animal lover. In many instances, she’s watched sick pets get to spend up to a few extra years of quality time with their owners.
Her first patient to use CBD, an 18-year old cat, experienced a return in appetite, was able to stop taking opioids, and lived comfortably for a few more years. In her favourite story, Kramer remembers a Labrador with lymphoma whose owners had already booked the appointment to euthanize him.
“He wasn’t eating, and didn’t want to do anything,” Kramer says. “But one dose of CBD, and the next morning, he woke up, grabbed his leash, and dragged his owners to Stanley Park for a walk. He lived for six more months.”