Cannabis

Dogs and cannabis: Some pet owners are using it despite vets’ warnings

For about a year, Kalee Hooghkirk has been giving her dog Bodhi a hemp-based oil to treat situational anxiety that’s typically brought on by thunderstorms or fireworks.

In the past, Hooghkirk’s 5-year-old German shorthaired pointer mix would cry uncontrollably and experience bouts of tremors and rapid breathing in those situations. Now, she simply drops some CBD — or cannabidiol, a non-intoxicating drug compound derived from the cannabis plant — under Bodhi’s tongue when he’s triggered and his anxiety usually fades within minutes.

“It allows your dog to be more comfortable without altering how they feel,” said Hooghkirk, who uses a product that contains CBD and other cannabinoids, including a hint of THC or tetrahydrocannabinol, the mind-altering ingredient in cannabis that’s said to boost the healing effects of CBD.

Kalee Hooghkirk poses for a portrait with Bodhi, a 5-year-old German Shorthaired Pointer mix.| Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Kalee Hooghkirk with Bodhi, a 5-year-old German shorthaired pointer mix. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Hooghkirk runs Entourage Clinical Services, a pair of wellness centers in West Dundee and Mundelein that sell and distribute CBD products for both human and animal consumption. The products — which mostly come from Colorado, Kentucky and California — are tested by a third party before being stocked.

Hooghkirk, who is a medical cannabis patient, has been surprised by how well the pet offerings have sold.

“We started with just one or two dog products and we’re looking to expand,” she said. “We had no idea it was going to be as popular as it is, but it seems that people are more willing to do something for their pets than themselves.”

Dogs are typically given CBD products that are derived from the hemp plant. | AP file photo/Bruce Schreiner

More pet owners like Hooghkirk are beginning to dose their furry loved ones with the trendy cannabis-based treatment despite warnings from veterinarians who fear that it hasn’t been properly researched or regulated.

CBD has become a hot product in recent years, with users claiming the drug compound can help stave off Crohn’s disease and control epileptic seizures, among other things. According to Forbes, the hemp-based CBD industry could top $1 billion by 2020. That projection doesn’t account for sales of CBD products that are derived from the marijuana plant, which tend to have higher amounts of THC.

Much of the debate over CBD hinges on its murky legal status. The Drug Enforcement Administration still lists hemp and marijuana as dangerous Schedule I drugs because they’re derived from the cannabis sativa plant. Meanwhile, the federal Agriculture Act of 2014 permits states and universities to grow hemp with less than 0.3 percent of THC for research purposes. However, the law doesn’t allow for commercial cultivation.

CBD has been widely available in Illinois since pot was legalized under the state’s medical cannabis pilot program in 2015. Marijuana-based CBD is available to medical cannabis patients at dispensaries across the state, while hemp-based CBD products can be bought over-the-counter at various wellness centers and bong shops. The Industrial Hemp Act, which is being considered by Gov. Bruce Rauner, would further regulate the hemp-based CBD industry.

In a move that could lead to the drug compound being federally reclassified, the Food and Drug Administration recently approved a CBD drug for childhood epilepsy that’s derived from the marijuana plant. But the FDA has yet to approve CBD’s use in animals. As a result, the American Veterinary Medical Association has directed curious pet owners to seek out traditional means of treatment instead.

“While companies are creating and marketing CBD products for pets with claims that they may help alleviate a variety of conditions, such as anxiety, seizures, and joint pain, to date the FDA has not approved these products for any therapeutic use in animals,” according to Michael San Filippo, spokesman for the organization.

“If pet owners are concerned that their pet is showing signs of ill health, they should seek the assistance of their veterinarian to obtain a diagnosis and discuss appropriate treatment options,” Filippo added.

Dr. Rae Ann Van Pelt, a veterinarian at Family Pet Animal Hospital in Lincoln Park, fears that some pet owners are relying on unregulated products that are being manufactured and sold by people trying to capitalize on CBD’s popularity.

Dr. Rae Ann Van Pelt, a veterinarian at Family Pet Animal Hospital. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Dr. Rae Ann Van Pelt, a veterinarian at Family Pet Animal Hospital. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

“Instead of believing the big companies with engineers and nutritionists and quality control experts, [consumers] are believing the small businessman who’s making up a concoction in their kitchen,” said Van Pelt, who doesn’t recommend or prescribe CBD to her patients. “I don’t understand why they’re placing their trust in someone without an education or formal training and giving this to their pet, which is their child.”

Van Pelt noted that it’s “dangerous” for people without veterinary licenses to recommend or sell pet medicine, adding that the CBD trend may lead to animals being misdiagnosed or overwhelmed. While the CBD experience is supposed to be devoid of the heady feeling typically associated with THC, some Family Pet patients have reported dogs acting “stoned” and “lethargic” after taking it, Van Pelt said.

“The owners think that their dogs are going to be feeling great and then they see that they’re knocked out,” said Van pelt, adding that she’s also concerned about quality control in products and dosages being set by manufactures instead of veterinary professionals.

But some vets have started holding up CBD as a treatment option for pets. Dr. Natalie Marks, medical director of Blum Animal Hospital in Lake View, recommends a hemp oil that includes CBD, a minimal amount of THC and other cannabinoids.

Dr. Natalie Marks, medical director of Blum Animal Hospital. | Provided

“We’re a traditional veterinary practice, but we’re certainly open or welcome to new research or new options for therapy,” Marks said.

The product she recommends, which is manufactured by Maine-based ElleVet, is used to treat a variety of conditions, including seizures, food allergies and skin sensitivities, according to the company’s website. CBD has also been used to treat dogs who experience anxiety during loud events, like fireworks shows or this weekend’s Chicago Air and Water Show.

Marks, who typically recommends ElleVet for pain and anxiety in pets, said hemp-based products should be used to supplement or modify pets’ treatment plans after other options have been exhausted. Like Van Pelt, Marks is worried about how unregulated CBD products may be affecting animals, noting that some could even be counterfeit.

“I understand the need for a lot of pet parents to see this as a magic bullet, of sorts,” Marks said. “But I think there’s always safer ways to do it, and I would certainly recommend anyone who’s interested in using hemp oil at this time to talk to their current veterinarian and discuss a way to feel comfortable and educated about it and see if it’s right for their pet.”

Both Van Pelt and Marks were encouraged by a recent Cornell University study which found that dogs with osteoarthritis and multiple joint pain exhibited fewer symptoms and more energy after being given the ElleVet oil. In addition, both vets said they would reassess their stances on CBD if more research leads to a shift in FDA policy.

Nancy Wallace, a spa manager who lives in Algonquin, hasn’t been deterred from giving hemp-based CBD to Snoopy, her 14-year-old Cavalier King Charles spaniel. Snoopy, who is deaf and losing his vision, was a spunky, energetic dog until last month, when he started having a hard time standing up.

Nancy Wallace and her son pose with Snoopy, a 14-year-old Cavalier King Charles spaniel. | Provided

On July 4, a neighbor hooked up Wallace with some CBD designated for human use and she gave it to Snoopy. After seeing almost immediate results, Wallace started giving her prized pup a hemp-based oil for dogs that she buys from Hooghkirk and drips on Snoopy’s treats for daily use. The oil contains CBD, a minuscule amount of THC and other cannabinoids.

“I was at work crying, thinking we were going to have to put him down,” Wallace said. “Now he is running and jumping and back to his usual self. While I don’t think it’s a cure-all, I think it’s made him feel more comfortable with whatever was bothering him.”

Wallace said she isn’t bothered by the FDA’s current position on CBD, and she hasn’t told her vet about Snoopy ingesting cannabinoids.

“He had gotten a clean bill of health the week prior at the vet, so it was just upsetting to me,” Wallace said. “He’s 14, and if he’s hurting or in pain, I just wanted to make his quality of life better for him.”

Nevertheless, veterinarian Marks doesn’t want pet owners to abandon their vets if they start seeing success with CBD treatments.

“Having a strong, trust-based relationship with your own veterinarian and veterinary team is so important because we’re giving you information that is the safest and most recommended, most studied and certainly backed by the companies that make these products,” Marks said.

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