CBD for your P-E-T

An online survey from the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital discovered that pet owners are seeking alternative medications to help curve their pets’ ailments

Molly McGhee’s Australian shepherd, Wall-E, gets relief for his aching kneecap through CBD tinctures.

Molly McGhee’s Australian shepherd, Wall-E, gets relief for his aching kneecap through CBD tinctures.

Photo by Kate Gonzales

Molly McGhee faced certain restrictions while searching for a new dog in early 2016. She and her wife wanted to keep their renting options open, so the dog couldn’t be too big. McGhee had also noticed her allergies worsened around mutts, so they opted for a pure breed and ended up with a miniature Australian shepherd named Wall-E.

“I chose the breed because they’re smart, high-energy breeds,” she said, holding the wiggly, brown-eyed dog in her lap on the patio of a Midtown coffee shop.

Soon after McGhee got Wall-E that spring, she noticed ongoing pain in his leg when he exercised. This was caused by a luxating patella—a kneecap that often slips out of place. McGhee, who previously worked for the cannabis dispensary RCP Sacramento and holds a medical marijuana card, turned to an increasingly popular treatment—CBD—the non-stoney compound to its sister cannabinoid, THC. It’s preferred by people who want the medicinal benefits of cannabis to try to relieve pain, anxiety and seizures without the buzz.

Dr. Jamie Peyton, chief of the Integrative Medicine Service at the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, has seen more patients trying CBD treatments for pets in recent years in the form of treats, tinctures and topicals—all available over the counter. But due to the federal government’s classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug, veterinary research of CBD treatments is limited and vets cannot legally prescribe it. So when a patient starts that conversation, Peyton’s cautiously optimistic response is: “We don’t have a lot of information but I have … clients that have tried it and it looks promising.”

Last year, Peyton and her team took the first steps toward what she hopes to be the future of science-based conversations around animals and CBD. In an anonymous online survey, pet owners who treated their animals’ ailments with over-the-counter CBD products were asked to share details of their experiences.

“It’s sort of the ’it’ topic,” Peyton said. “It’s also important to be part of the group that says we do see there’s potential, but we also need to take a step back and get true scientific evidence and guide owners to do the right thing.”

Survey questions included what types of animals were treated with CBD (mostly dogs and cats), what products do owners use and where do they get them. About 1,700 people responded and while results are tentative, Peyton said a few things stood out. Mirroring the reasons humans use CBD, people are largely trying to alleviate their pets’ physical pain and anxiety. The research also showed that although vets can’t prescribe CBD, people will access it if they think it can help.

“Regardless, they are going to find someone to help them get CBD and cannabis products,” Peyton said.

Some dispensaries like All About Wellness, Abatin Wellness Center and 1841 El Camino, carry CBD products for pets. Along with Western Feed and Pet Supply, which offers over-the-counter biscuits, jerky and oils infused with CBD. In his experience as a sales associate, Ian Powell said he’s seen a rise in customer interest and in manufacturers.

“We’re selling it the most during Fourth of July weekend,” he said. “We sold a ton of it.”

When searching for the right treatment for Wall-E, McGhee first tried doggy edibles at Pet Club Elk Grove. She then discovered the brand Herbal Wellness Journeys during a pop-up medical cannabis show and tried the businesses’ tinctures in Wall-E’s food and said it quickly improved his condition.

“[A luxating patella] can develop into needing surgery, but with the CBD it doesn’t seem like it’s going to continue to get worse,” McGhee said. “His leg doesn’t pop out hardly at all anymore.”

In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 2215, which allows vets to discuss cannabis-related treatments with pet owners without fear of legal repercussions. Still, they can’t prescribe it. Peyton’s hope is that the survey will lead to more open conversations about CBD treatments and, after jumping through federal hoops, more research.

“It’s always exciting to be part of something that I think will really help a lot of animals as long as we get the information and do it the right way,” Peyton said.