The therapeutic benefits of cannabis have been well documented in human medicine, from aiding in the control of seizures and management of arthritis, to adjunct treatment for mood disorders and anxiety. As our understanding of this plant and its medicinal and recreational uses expands, so does our desire to share its therapeutic benefits with our canine companions that suffer from similar ailments.

I don’t want to dive too deep into the weeds (pun intended) on the pharmacology, but dog owners need to understand that the cannabis plant contains two major groups of chemicals that deliver its effects: THC and CBD. The former constitutes the psychoactive compound of the plant that delivers the euphoric high.

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a group of non-psychoactive compounds that account for many of marijuana’s healing properties. CBD and its closely-related chemical cousins work synergistically with an entourage of terpenes (the compounds that give weed and hops their characteristic aromas) to stimulate those feel-good cannabinoid receptors found in multiple parts of the body.

Avoid THC in Pets
First, an important disclaimer: Dog owners that wish to use cannabis-based products on their pets should understand that dogs are far more sensitive to THC than humans. Even a mild dose can cause undesirable side effects or overdose. For safety reasons, ensure that any cannabis supplement you give your pet does not contain any THC. Take extra precaution with your own stash of recreational cannabis so your pets don’t sniff out and ingest those goodies.

Pot toxicity in dogs has become increasingly common with easing restrictions in many states, and an unintended ingestion can lead to an expensive vet bill or at least an awkward conversation in the exam room. I’ve been there many times in my veterinary career.

From Snake Oil to Trendy Cure-All
CBD has seen a significant uptick in popularity and availability recently, now nearly as commonplace in Montana gas stations as backroom keno machines. Its rise in popularity has triggered a concurrent uptick in the number of inquiries to veterinarians about the compound’s safety. Up until recently, members of our profession were limited for legal reasons in our ability to officially prescribe CBD.

To complicate veterinarians’ position, much of our early understanding of the way CBD functions in dogs was extrapolated from the human model and numerous anecdotal reports. Now, with the lifting of some regulations and with the help of recent canine-specific studies, veterinarians can point to documented therapeutic benefits of CBD and assist pet owners in administering an appropriate dose.

For years, I skirted those limitations in the exam room with vague innuendo, digging into a repertoire of probing questions designed to entice pet owners to suggest CBD supplementation as their own idea. Often, they had some at home already and understood its documented benefits.

I felt good about this approach because of the considerable volume of anecdotal evidence from my clients as to CBD’s efficacy in helping with chronic problems in pets. Many clients were desperate to provide relief for ailing joints, frequent seizures, or loss of appetite due to illness, and most had exhausted all of the traditional medical therapies from their veterinarian.

In the early years of its availability, I inspired some of my rural clients who, out of love for their pets, put aside their Okie-from-Muskogee disdain for recreational cannabis and ventured into the foreign and overwhelming environment of a Washington pot shop with an off-the-record prescription for CBD. Times have changed.

Not all CBD is created equal
The catch with these supplements is that they are still poorly regulated in terms of purity, so pet owners need to conduct their own research before choosing the cheapest option on the shelf.

Recently, two popular veterinary formulations have come to market, ElleVet and Chroniquin, both of which focus on the purity of their ingredients and guarantee the levels of phytocannabinoids (CBD and its pet-friendly entourage) in their products. These two options are where I now steer clients who inquire about safe and tested, pet-friendly CBD.

I’ve had personal experience with Chroniquin in my bird dogs, particularly in the older male now in his 12th hunting season. While more expensive than a standard anti-inflammatory (around $60 for a 1,200 mg oil tincture), the full spectrum of CBD compounds has noticeably shortened his post-hunt recovery.

I’ve branched out with this product’s use as an anti-anxiety supplement for fireworks and travel as well. While gunfire is music to their ears, the rapport of fireworks is a major stress-inducer in our pack of German shorthairs. They also assume that any road trip involves hunting, even when it doesn’t, and my dogs tend to get amped up when the rest of the family is trying to relax on a camping trip. In both of these scenarios, CBD supplementation helps tremendously.

While CBD has risen to become the trendy supplement du jour, it’s far from a miracle drug. I’ve seen enough benefit to readily offer it up as an option for my patients, but I also counsel pet owners that CBD does not help every patient in the same way. Most clients swear by its therapeutic benefits, but others have noticed no improvement in their pet’s quality of life. In each case, their experiences were forged by the severity of the disease they wished to alleviate and their dog’s own unique amount and function of cannabinoid receptors. Your mileage may vary, but it’s probably a trip worth taking.