“I felt like I was being a deviant parent,” says Heather Johnson, recalling the time she first added CBD or cannabidiol oil — a compound found in the cannabis plant — to her cat Mandarin’s treats.
Mandarin, a rescue cat, licks her forelegs when she gets anxious. That tends to happen when Johnson leaves town, or when she has house guests. Two years ago, the licking got so bad that Mandarin developed bald spots. When changing the cat’s diet didn’t help, Johnson decided to try CBD oil, which she ordered online from a legal cannabis dispensary in Vancouver.
“We saw an immediate response. Within a couple of days, Mandarin chilled out and soon we were seeing regrowth. She still licks a bit, but we’re thrilled with the results,” said Johnson, who still adds the oil to Mandarin’s treats.
Johnson is not alone. An increasing number of pet owners are treating their cats and dogs, especially those suffering from anxiety or joint pain or who are palliative, with CBD oil. Many, like Johnson, purchase the products online; others buy CBD products at pet stores that carry them; and there are even those who concoct CBD remedies in their own kitchens. What remains unclear is how Canada’s upcoming Cannabis Act will affect the sale of these pet products, which have not yet been approved by Health Canada. According to Rebecca Purdy, media relations adviser with Health Canada, “no products containing cannabis have been authorized for veterinary use in Canada.”
What is clear, however, is that pet owners are interested in learning more about treating their pets with CBD products. “More and more patients are asking me about using CBD oil for their pets,” said veterinarian James Drooker, who owns the Pointe St-Charles Veterinary Clinic.
But Johnson, who works as a real estate agent, is convinced that CBD oil is helping Mandarin. Johnson first heard about medicinal CBD from a friend’s daughter in Vancouver who used it to treat headaches and anxiety following a concussion. The young woman mentioned a product she’d seen in Vancouver called Petz Oil, which contains hemp seed and cannabis oil and is made for pets. Johnson ordered some online from Vancouver’s Medicinal Cannabis Dispensary. She had to send a copy of her ID and a photo of herself in order to set up an account.
Mia Lebaron is co-owner of Animalerie Too Zoo on St-Laurent Blvd. She is looking into ordering CBD products for her store. In the meantime, Lebaron recently began testing CBD oil on her 12-year-old mutt, Bender. For most of his life, Bender has come to work with Lebaron. “A little over a year ago, he started getting very anxious. He started hiding in the bathroom and shaking and panting,” said Lebaron. So she decided to order a sample of CBD oil from Mary’s Whole Pet, a Colorado-based company with Canadian distribution. Lebaron rubbed a pinprick of the CBD oil inside Bender’s ear. “Almost immediately he was calmer, happier, not hiding and staying beside me,” said Lebaron.
Steve Pontarelli’s boxer, Apollo, died in December 2017. The previous summer Apollo began having frequent seizures, some of which left him unable to walk for two weeks. The veterinarian diagnosed a brain tumour and predicted Apollo would not survive for more than a few weeks. Anti-seizure medication was making the dog lethargic. Then an acquaintance of Pontarelli who had a license to use medicinal cannabis offered to produce an oil for the dog. He extracted the oil from cannabis flowers by baking them, then added coconut oil and heated the mixture for five hours.
“Apollo was relaxed and calm. And his seizures decreased dramatically. Also, when he had a seizure, there were fewer after-effects. He could walk within a day. The oil does help — that’s for sure,” said Pontarelli.
Many local pet stores carry treats made with hemp seed oil, which has been approved by the federal government because it contains no CBD. In Montreal, most pet stores are wary about selling products containing CBD. One exception is Little Bear, a Westmount pet store where a variety of supplements, including CBD products that include tinctures, sprays and even a gel pen, are on display behind the cash.
“The CBD products bring out the most conversation,” said Charles Altman, who owns Little Bear. “It’s wonderful to see how people treat their animals. If it’s available for people, we’ve got it for pets too. Besides, it’s widely available online,” said Altman.
An important concern regarding the use of CBD oil for pets is dosage. Lebaron has been giving Bender one tenth the dosage recommended on her sample of Mary’s Whole Pet CBD oil. When an employee in Lebaron’s store gave the recommended dosage to her dog, the dog did not respond well. “That dosage was too much. The dog wasn’t all there; he was too quiet,” said Lebaron.
Drooker agrees that the dosage of CBD products for pets also needs more study. “Toxicity is a major concern,” Drooker said.
Although as far as Drooker knows, he has not treated any animals who have been given too big a dose of CBD pet products, he says that he regularly treats pets who have eaten their owners’ cannabis. “These animals have been very sedate, zonked, twitchy and hyper-responsive to stimuli. The condition usually passes with time, but in severe cases, these animals have needed hospitalization for supportive care such as intravenous fluids,” he said.
Darcy Bomford is CEO of True Leaf Pet, a company based in Vernon, B.C., which produces hemp-seed-based supplements and treats for pets. The company’s bestseller is a product called Calming Chews, which account for 50 per cent of its business. Five years ago, Bomford’s company applied for a license to produce CBD pet products. The company is still awaiting that license. “There is some indication,” said Bomford, “that CBD products for pets work for more acute cases, especially those involving anxiety and joint pain,” he said.
Bomford is hopeful that by this time next year, True Leaf Pet will have the legal right to produce and sell a line of CBD products for pets. Like others in the pet industry, Bomford is waiting to see what will happen when the Cannabis Act comes into effect later this month.
“The government’s slowness in approving licenses for cannabis dispensaries and producers may be causing pet owners to go underground,” he said.
Drooker expects that after the Cannabis Act takes effect, he hopes to get a clearer picture regarding the sale of CBD products for pets. “It’s still going to be a long time till these products are setting on a vet’s shelf,” he said.