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Ask the Vet: Should I give perfectly good cannabis to my pet?

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Ask the Vet: Should I give perfectly good cannabis to my pet?

Chris Simmons and his dog Griff.

Special promotional content provided by Simmons Veterinary Clinic. 

Hi everyone! Back for Round 3!

And this time, I have an exciting announcement! Simmons Vet is finally open and accepting appointments. If y’all and your furry family members want to get on the schedule, please book here. Also, we’re offering Happy Pet Visits for those of you that would like to give your pet the opportunity to have a completely stress-free visit (and get a tour of our homey clinic 🙂)

For those new to this segment, I’m a veterinarian and owner of Simmons Veterinary Clinic, a recent business school graduate, and a fellow Decaturite. Given the emerging and escalating Great Veterinary Shortage, some pet parents are finding it harder than ever to ask questions, let alone get answers from their veterinarian. While this column certainly can’t replace that relationship, I’ll do my best to address some of your questions, ranging from the most pressing to the silly. And hopefully, have some fun along the way! 

On to the Questions! 

I see many cannabis-infused pet products being advertised at CBD shops and online. Should I give perfectly good cannabis to my pet? ” – Dan W.

Dan, I appreciate this question as it is certainly on the minds of many folks, particularly given the broadened, legalized use of cannabinoids in recent years. (By the way, “cannabinoids” is such a fun word to say.)

The short answer: Maybe! But try out a reputable veterinary brand rather than your own stuff!

Importantly, these are emerging products in veterinary medicine with sparse research and regulation. With that in mind, 1) I am not an expert in their use, and 2) it’s possible/likely your regular veterinarian isn’t either.

Alright, what are the potential benefits of cannabidiol (CBD) use in pets? In theory, there are lots! Appropriately dosed CBD products may provide pain relief, anxiety relief, and even manage seizure disorders. 

Then, why the hesitation to confidently recommend CBD products? As is the case with many veterinary medications, there is not much in the way of solid research. But really, it’s the regulation component that’s especially problematic. The Food and Drug Administration is “currently not able to regulate CBD products because the hemp- or marijuana-derived ingredient hasn’t been shown to be safe enough for food or supplements.” Said differently: in the absence of regulation, you can’t know for sure what dose of CBD you are buying (or that it even contains CBD!).

That all said, should you want to try out a CBD product for your pet, I would consider ElleVet Sciences. This company is backed by decent research conducted in partnership with reputable academic institutions and has an advisory board of veterinary health professionals. I’m about to try out one of their products for my anxious pup at home, so perhaps I’ll report back with an anecdotal update!

“Our daughter fostered a puppy, whom she and her husband eventually adopted. The pound staff thought he was a mainly beagle mix. Turns out our wonderful Seymour is an Anatolian Shepherd mix and is huge as an adult. (Well over 100 pounds and very tall). He is treasured. But we wonder about the status of the science about predicting dog breeds? Some families probably could not have handled such an unexpectedly large dog. The thought of a dog like him being turned back into the pound is distressing.” – Jeanne L.

Very interesting question here, Jeanne! As veterinarians, we get asked to guess and/or predict dog breeds all the time. Frankly, it’s a difficult ask, particularly without the aid of dog breed genetic tests which are reportedly 95-99% accurate. 

This question can be broken down into two pieces: 1) Should the shelters and rescue organizations do more accurate breed prediction? And/or 2) Should potential adopters consider genetic testing before adopting? 

So, you are correct that using such genetic tests could potentially prevent the adoption of puppies that will ultimately become unexpectedly large doggos. But unfortunately, shelters and rescue organizations just don’t have the financial resources to do this. In fact, many shelters already face dramatic overcapacity problems, which can lead to economic, space-based euthanasia. (😢). 

Further, I recently attended a veterinary conference where a speaker presented a persuasive argument that shelters should avoid breed predictions entirely. The data suggested that dogs are more likely to be adopted if their “breed” is not listed, due to implicit bias toward and against certain dog breeds (poor Pit Bulls 🙁). 

So, ironically, if I were advising an adopting group, I’d recommend avoiding breed prediction altogether.

And if I were advising somebody looking to adopt a puppy, I’d say it’s appropriate to consider dog breed genetic tests while realizing the possibility of a “Seymour situation” remains. 

“What can I do to get my 50-pound dog to not bark so much? He will bark continuously when my lawn service is here, or if someone parks in front of the house, and god forbid someone walk another dog in front of the house.” – Glenn M.

Oh man, this is such a common conundrum with reactive dogs. And it’s not one that’s easily solved. That said, there are definitely a few things you can try!

My favorite recommendation for this situation is a simple one: distraction therapy. First, keep a bowl of “high value” treats nearby and out of reach. Then, when a stimulus occurs (lawn service, some stranger peacefully walking by, etc), immediately toss your dog a treat to “redirect” their attention to you. Keep doing this until you have their attention and then incorporate a basic consistent command such as “go to your bed” or “lay down.” 

(I use distraction therapy to great effect with my reactive dogs in exam rooms, and it can be super effective at calming an animal down!)

Another component to consider is the use of behavioral medications. Trazodone and Sileo can do a pretty good job of situationally calming an animal. And Fluoxetine and Clomicalm are useful daily antidepressants that can reduce a pet’s hypervigilance (which is usually why they’re incessantly barking). 

Finally, especially if this situation is negatively impacting your relationship with your pup, I’d strongly consider reaching out to a behavioral trainer in the area. In my experience, Canine PhD does a great job, but there are many good ones nearby! Just please be cautious with any trainer that emphasizes punishment as a core component of therapy. Reactive dogs need help understanding their world, and their anxieties can be exacerbated with the wrong type of therapy. 

Rapid Fire!

“Are cats dumber than they used to be? I’ve been a cat owner for years, and my household’s two newest furry additions are dumb as rocks. They lock themselves in our bathroom, out of their bathroom, and in the pantry and sometimes think they should ‘bury’ their full water dish under the rug on our kitchen floor. I’m not saying my previous cats could do my taxes or anything, but they were smarter than this. Are you noticing this trend in your line of work? Am I experiencing the cat version of ‘Idiocracy’?” – Dan. W.

Ha, I don’t know, but this hilarious list from 4 years ago suggests that the dumbness has been around quite a while! And perhaps, it’s the dumbness in cats that we seek to add levity to our lives.

“This is likely not very pleasant, but I bet lots of dog owners might want guidance: My dog scoots her butt frequently to relieve what I imagine are itchy anal glands. Is this a procedure you feel pet owners should learn to tackle? My dog hates anyone – including the vet – messing around with her rear quarters – but then she is a blue heeler, so there’s that” – Marcy A.

I’ll be quick here: Please don’t stick your fingers up your pet’s bum! 

We try to avoid this whenever we can at my clinic, too as it is quite stressful for everyone involved for obvious reasons. And generally, only a small percentage of dogs actually need their anal glands expressed (sometimes it’s just a dingleberry!). That said, if the scooting is a consistent issue, bring them for a quick check-up as there are a couple of other potential problems we can rule out.

That’s all for today! Keep the questions coming! And remember to book an appointment at Simmons Vet 🙂

— Dr. Chris