Caring for a pet suffering from chronic pain or illness is tough and expensive. To most, losing a pet means losing a family member. But according to some pet owners, there's a way to help your elderly or sick pet comfortably live out a longer life - and it's a legal relative of marijuana.
Some pet owners are giving their four-legged friends dog biscuits derived from hemp. Many of these people turn to this alternative as a last resort.
Hemp shares an ancestry with cannabis, a plant which is bred to produce marijuana. Cannabis contains two chemicals: THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). THC is often sought after by human marijuana users for it's psyhoactive effect. It also has the ability to reduce nausea and act as an anti-inflammatory, according to a cannabis law website. However, CBD has no psychoactive effects and many users claim it helps with seizures.
The hemp plant is generally produced for fiber use and contains no THC, so people (or pets) cannot use it to alter their mind. The cannabis plant has been specifically bred to produce high levels of THC so people can get high.
Cannabis is classified as a drug or medicine, depending on who you're talking to. Hemp is not.
Some, like Julianna Carella, the CEO of Auntie Dolores, an Oakland-based company that specializes in selling marijuana-infused gourmet food, said that the presence of CBD and absence of THC in hemp plants is the key for pets. Auntie Dolores sells a line of pet treats, Treatibles, that are derived from hemp.
"For animals, we only use CBD. THC is actually very toxic for animals. Dogs have a very high amount of receptors in their brain. It's a lot more than any other animal and a lot more than humans," Carella said. "There's a lot of people who don't know that. A dog's brain is much more complex."
It's crucial to check the pet treat ingredients to find out what they contain and whether or not they're legal. Many pet treat brands still contain low doses of THC.
However, Carella said CBD can address a variety of issues for pets such as anxiety, separation anxiety, pain, and even cancer. She said the Auntie Dolores pet line sells to people all over the world. Many have sick pets on pharmaceutical drugs that are causing them harm and they're looking for alternative help.
"Many of the people that have turned to us have dogs that have death knocking on their door," she said.
Joanie Erickson is the executive director of a non-profit organization in the Sacramento area. She said, her poodle, Ellie, was diagnosed with bladder cancer in April of 2015 and was given three to six months to live. The vet-recommended drugs Ellie was given as treatment made her very sick. Erickson said, after a friend suggested she give Ellie infused-biscuits, she decided to give Treatibles a shot.
"She's doing great and remains my 'double bouncy super poodle'," said Erickson. "She's needed no other pain control."
It's important to know that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not support giving cannabis to pets. Veterinarians cannot recommend or prescribe the alternative treatment. There are no official government studies on the effects or benefits of cannabis in pets.
Dr. Connor Hoff, Associate Veterinarian at VCA Loomis Basin Veterinary Clinic, said most pet owners who ask about cannabis treatment are looking to improve their pet's end of life situation or hoping to help their pet with pain control. Dr. Hoff said he discourages people from that option.
"I cannot recommend it. I talk to them about how there's no research studies on it or evidence to support [the use]," he said.
However, Hoff didn't shut down the potential in doing some clinical research on cannabis treatment.
"Animals may be the first realm on finding whether the drug may be beneficial," he said. "It could be valid for research."
Pat Bailey, a spokesperson for UC Davis, said she hasn't heard of any clinical studies going on at the moment, but it doesn't mean it couldn't be an idea that's being discussed at the school.
"There's no study in place using marijuana in clinical trials at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at UC Davis right now," Bailey said.
Veterinarians may not be able to prescribe the special treats, but the biscuits are still selling and for some, it's a cheaper option.
Erickson said she keeps Ellie pain-free spending only about $30 to $40 a month on pot treats.
Before taking your pet off any vet-prescribed medication, it's important to go over what the consequences could be to their health and to know if it's the right choice for them. It's also a good idea to take the time to research any alternative treatments and make sure you don't find yourself in hot water with the law.