Hemp and Cannabis Oil for Pets: What Every Pet Parent Needs to Know

LAST UPDATED 6 JANUARY 2020

This article is written by our veterinarian, Dr Teagan Lever, BVSc (Hons)

Note: The information contained in this article is general in nature should not taken as recommendation or advice to treat your pet. Human cannabis oil products should not be given to pets as they can cause severe illness or death.

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Cannabis (Cannabis sativa) has recently seen a rise in the popularity of using cannabis products to treat a number of medical conditions in humans, so it is only natural pet owners may consider using it to treat a variety of illnesses in their pets such as epilepsy, cancer and arthritis.

The two most studied active components of Cannabis sativa are the cannabinoids delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is primarily responsible for the 'high' of marijuana use, along with other potentially desirable effects such as relaxation and improved appetite. CBD is non psychoactive so does not cause a 'high' but may have many benefits and applications such as use as an anti inflammatory, treatment for pain, nausea, epilepsy and many other conditions.

Studies performed on dogs in the 1970s demonstrated that they have more THC receptor brains than humans and any other animal studied, making them extremely sensitive to cannabis products containing THC. This means that dogs are at a greater risk of adverse effects caused by cannabis including neurological depression and even death.

What is the difference between hemp oil and cannabis oil?

Hemp is a strain of Cannabis sativa used mainly for its fibre. Hemp is very low in both CBD and THC compared to Cannabis. Hemp oil is low in CBD both THC, making adverse (or positive) effects from these unlikely. Quality of hemp oil is unregulated so there could be any number of contaminants or other harmful byproducts of extraction present.

Cannabis oil is produced from Cannabis sativa plants and contains both THC and CBD.CBD oil contains only the CBD active ingredient, without THC and its psychoactive effects. When manufactured legally cannabis or CBD oil should be pharmaceutical grade, tested for consistency. and labelled with the concentration of active ingredients within. Medicinal cannabis products such as CBD oil are classed as scheduled drugs in Australia and can currently only be legally used by humans if prescribed by a doctor.

Use of cannabis products in pet treats

Hemp (a form of very low THC cannabis) used in dog treats does not contain enough THC to cause adverse reactions and is therefore considered relatively safe. A very large amount of hemp is required to produce even small amounts of CBD, so there is unlikely to be enough CBD in hemp based pet treats to have a therapeutic effect.

Aside from CBD, hemp seeds included in pet treats can be a good source of protein and essential fatty acids, particularly omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. While omega fatty acids can have a whole host of benefits for pets including supporting skin and coat condition, joint function and cardiovascular health, it's important to be aware that omega fatty acids from marine sources such as fish oil or green lipped mussel powder are more readily utilised by pets than those from plant based sources such as hemp seeds or flaxseeds.

Use of cannabis or hemp oil as medicine for pets

While pet owners in areas where cannabis oil is legal and accessible may report positive responses, currently there is not sufficient evidence to support the use of cannabis oil for use as a first line therapy. A small number of trials using cannabis oil to treat conditions such as seizures and arthritis have been completed and while results look promising more research into its safety and efficacy in pets needs to be done.

In California veterinarians are currently permitted to discuss the use of cannabis to treat medical conditions in pets, however a bill before the state legislature this year may provide protection for veterinarians who wish to recommend the use of cannabis in pets.

In Australia vets have the discretion to prescribe human medication for pets for off label use if they believe it may have some benefit however caution should be used as pets have an increased sensitivity to THC and are at a high risk of adverse effects, including death, from overdose. Some hemp oil products are available for sale online however these products have such low levels of active ingredients making them legal.

Before cannabis oil can be considered as a treatment option for pets safety trials and additional research to prove its efficacy is required. Currently the TGA actively discourages pet owners from using human cannabis oil products in their pets.

References

  • Pope, K (2018) Herbs and Dietary Supplements in Cancer Care. Southwest Veterinary Symposium
  • Medhora, S (2017, June, 21) Pot for pets? What happened when terminally-ill Muttley took cannabis oil. Retrieved from: https://www.abc.net.au/triplej/programs/hack/could-cannabis-oil-work-for-pets/8638256

Further Reading

Premium pet food: Is it worth it?

Does your dog have a food allergy?

How diet can help your senior pet

What's in your pet's food?

How to read the label on a bag of pet food

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