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Cannabis for K9s? Vets and Pet Owners Talk Marijuana and Animal Health

In California, pot-infused pet products are a growing business, but veterinarians still can’t legally talk about marijuana with their clients. A new bill could change that.

Tito, a Chihuahua whose arthritis is treated with cannabis products; photo by Rikki Wright

Whether it’s during the 4th of July to ease their dog’s fireworks-induced anxiety, or to regularly treat the chronic pain that comes with a cat’s arthritis, animal owners are increasingly using cannabis-based products to treat their pets for a menagerie of ailments. Yet, as California state law currently stands, veterinarians are unable to legally discuss marijuana treatments for pets with their clients without risking losing their license to practice veterinary medicine entirely — even despite pot being legal for everyone else but minors in the Golden State. This leaves product selection, dosing, and other health considerations mostly up to the owner’s best guess, creating potential problems for veterinarians, pet owners, and their animals alike.

However newly proposed legislation is seeking to end this tricky predicament: Assembly Bill (AB) 2215 — sponsored by California Veterinary Medical Associationand currently being considered in the state legislature — would “protect state-licensed veterinarians from disciplinary action for discussing the use of cannabis on animal patient clients.” In short, vets in California would no longer risk losing their profession for discussing pot products as an option for pet patients.

MERRY JANE spoke with pet owners using cannabis to treat their animals’ health conditions, as well as with veterinarians Drs. Gary Richter and Tim Shu, about how the passage of AB 2215 would positively benefit pets, their human companions, and the animal health experts who treat them.

These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

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Dr. Gary Richter

Dr. Richter is a veterinarian who specializes in integrative healthcare, and is the owner and medical director of Montclair Veterinary Hospital and Holistic Veterinary Care in Oakland, California. I spoke with Dr. Richter, a passionate advocate for treating animals with integrative therapies, about how AB 2215 would affect his patients, and the importance of being able to speak with pet owners about safely using cannabis.

MERRY JANE: How would the passage of AB 2215 positively affect pet owners and your practice?

Dr. Richter: Well, that’s a really great question, because the answer to that question has evolved over the past three months because [the language of] AB 2215 has evolved. What used to say that veterinarians can recommend cannabis for veterinary patients has since been changed — “recommend” has been changed to the word “discuss”, which clearly is a bit more vague. If it were to pass, veterinarians would be able to discuss the use of cannabis for veterinary patients, but there would actually be no legally available pet-specific products for [animal doctors to prescribe].

How has your inability to speak about cannabis with patients negatively impacted the health of the pets?

The entire current situation as it pertains to cannabis and veterinarians is greatly to the detriment of animals, because we are not legally allowed to tell you as a pet owner what would be a safe way to use cannabis for your pet. So it would almost be tantamount to somebody telling me, “Well there is this medication that can really help your patients, but you’re not allowed to use it, and you’re not even allowed to talk about it.” I have had people come into my office with pets that are in pain, or pets that have cancer, or pets that have various diseases — or conversely, I’ve had people come into my office that are self-medicating their pets with cannabis in ways that are potentially harmful. And the state would tell me that basically my job is to sit on my hands and say nothing.

You mentioned that some people are dosing their pets with cannabis in ways that are harmful. Could you expand on that a little bit?

Sure. Months ago, I had somebody come in with a dog that had cancer. They decided they were going to treat their dog with cannabis, and they went out and got an extremely concentrated high-THC product. And when I saw this dog, it was so stoned that the client had to carry the dog in because he couldn’t walk, which is ridiculous.

Currently, without AB 2215, what are you legally allowed to do in that situation?

As a veterinarian, I have two options. I can just say, “You should just stop giving this medication altogether, and don’t give your dog cannabis, because the veterinary medical board says it’s bad.” And mind you, this dog has cancer. Or, I could risk my license and try to give these people with some guidance in such a way that might give this dog a better quality of life; help him feel a little bit better for however much time he has left. That’s the position that the veterinary medical board has put us in.

What are some of the side effects of traditional pet medications versus any side effects of giving a cannabis based-product to your animal?

The side effects of [pharmaceuticals] could be excessive sedation; potential complications as far as liver and kidney health; gastrointestinal upsets. There’s a lot of potential complications there. That’s certainly not to say that every animal that goes on these medications has these complications, but they are sitting out there. Whereas conversely, when dosed appropriately, cannabis has few, if any, side effects. And certainly nothing from the standpoint of any kind of permanent damage.

To Read The Rest Of This Article By Emily Berkey on Merry Jane

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Published: September 13, 2018

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