Coming to a Pet Store Near You, Cannabis-Enhanced Pet Food - For Their Health, Of Course

With marijuana now legal in four states and the nation's capital; low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oils for medicinal use legal in 15 states; and medical marijuana now legal in 23 states, pot is well on the way to acceptance and medical marijuana has gone mainstream. Now, the increasingly lucrative and competitive cannabis industry has a new target market: pets.

Reefer for Rover it's not, but a number of cannabis companies are already making low-THC, high-CBD products aimed at ailing animal companions, and with eyes on the $15 billion-a-year pet supplies and supplements market, more are on the way. The products are being marketed to owners of elderly or unwell pets as anti-inflammatory compounds, natural pain relievers and mood enhancers.

San Francisco edible's manufacturer Auntie Dolores is one of the pioneers, with a line of dog biscuits called Treatibles, which cost $22 for a bag of 40. Each treat contains one milligram of CBD—the company's recommended dose for a 20-pound animal. 

"The cannabis plant has many compounds in it," said Matthew J. Cote, brand manager for Auntie Dolores. "Most people breed cannabis for the euphoric experience of THC. But they've been overlooking cannabidiol— commonly known as CBD — which is non-psychoactive."

"What we've seen is that some of these dogs respond very rapidly," said Cote. "One woman from Fort Bragg was ready to put down her dog due to how sick and in pain he was, but the day before he was scheduled to go under, she administered our treats and just like that the dog was up, walking around and acting normally again."

Up in Sultan, Washington, Canna Companion, which sells capsules that contain dried, powdered hemp, is garnering similar testimonials for its product. 

"Just want to say how much this product has helped my animals," one pet owner posted on the brand's Facebook page. "Bug, [my] 18-year-old cat, is playing, sleeping next to me at night, being curious and exploring...her back pain is nearly gone. I can pet her all over and she purrs! She has NEVER, until being on hemp, enjoyed being petted."

"It's one more tool in our tool belt and we firmly believe that veterinarians and pet parents should have it available to them if they should choose to use it," Canna Companion co-owner and licensed veterinarian Sarah Brandon told KCNC-TV.

The US Food and Drug Administration isn't so sure. In February, the FDA sent Canna Companion a warning letter saying the capsules were an "unapproved new animal drug and your marketing of it violates the [Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic] Act." Other companies marketing CBD products to humans or animals received similar letters.

Part of the reason for the FDA action was the lack of research on cannabis products for pets in the US; part of it was to police claims about medical efficacy.

"We initially marketed our product using medical terminology," Brandon said. "[My husband] and I are both licensed veterinarians and were trained to use such verbiage... Our intent was to market an over-the-counter supplement which would help improve the quality of life of dogs and cats. Since that letter, we have taken great steps to correct the issues brought to our attention."

Tina Wismer, medical director of the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center, warned that pets could be harmed by consuming marijuana or high-THC edibles, but conceded that CBD products could be helpful.

"We get quite a few marijuana calls at Poison Control," Wismer said. "Cats like the plant material better, whereas dogs like to get into the edibles. Depending on how much they get into will determine how aggressive we need to be. Most of the time they’re wobbly like they’re drunk, they dribble urine," she said. "But 25% of them become extremely agitated, which certainly is not something I would want to put my elderly pet through. In fact, dogs that get into the really large amounts of THC, often need to be put on fluids and have their heart rate monitored."

While pot is bad for pets, CBD supplements have potential, she said.

"Most of these treats have very low levels of CBD, so they are much safer [than when an animal accidentally eats a product intended for humans]. It looks like these certainly could be helpful products in some cases, but right now we don’t have enough information," Wismer said. "Whether it’s THC or other cannabinoids, the problem is we have no therapeutic dose. We don't know, are you underdosing your animal or overdosing your animal? These are the things we need to determine."

Such concerns aren't stopping new entries in the market. One of the latest, from Colorado-based edibles giant Dixie Brands, will launch later this fall. Its pet product, Therabis, was developed jointly by the company and veterinarian Stephen M. Katz and will come in three formulations: one for separation anxiety, one for itching and one for joint mobility and flexibility. Like the other pet products, Therabis is low-THC.

"Anything we sell that has any elements of CBD in it will be well below the most aggressive state limits, .3 percent, for THC,” said Dixie marketing director Joe Hodas. "It's trace, a minimal amount, and it wouldn’t have an effect on any human being or pet."

Veterinarian Katz waxed positively rhapsodic in the press release announcing Therabis.

"While it may sound lofty, we truly believe that the simple but beautiful bond of love between a pet and its owner, actually has the power to make us better as people and to improve the human condition," Katz said. "It is that unique relationship which drives most pet owners to do anything they can to help their pets when they suffer. We developed the Therabis formulations with that very much in mind as we hope to provide pet owners with a healthy, natural way to make every day the best day possible for their pet. It is an honor and privilege to share our 10 years of research with a broader audience; and it is our hope that Therabis can play a role in elevating the health and wellness of pets and their owners."

Therabis should be available online by November and then move into specialty stores. Dixie Brands would very much like it to be the first cannabis pet product to make it onto the shelves of industry retail giants PetSmart and Petco.

Can pot for pets help ailing animals? The jury is still out on that, but it is very likely that it can help the animals' owners feel better about trying to help them. 


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