Most cat owners would do just about anything for their pet. So if they see their animal suffering, some are exploring the use of cannabis products to try to relieve their companion’s pain.
As more states make cannabis (marijuana and hemp) available for human medical and recreational use, some veterinarians and pet owners are also choosing it for animal care.
But this treatment is more complicated than other medicines you and your vet might consider. That’s because of a patchwork of state and federal laws about its legality and the long, messy political history tied to any use of cannabis – both marijuana, and hemp. Some states have even stopped veterinarians from talking about cannabis with their clients. But such restrictions are easing.
In 2021, Nevada became the first state to legalize the use of cannabinoids as a veterinary treatment. Michigan, Utah, and California are the only other states with laws specifically saying vets can discuss and recommend CBD. CBD, or cannabidiol, is the part of the cannabis plant often used to treat cat illnesses. It is different from THC, (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) the psychoactive compound that causes the high in humans.
Veterinarians’ Concerns About Giving Cannabis to Your Cat
“The regulations are a mess. They are evolving. They will hopefully let reason drive the laws rather than emotion. We're just not there yet,” said Dawn Boothe, DVM, a board-certified veterinary clinical pharmacologist and a professor emeritus at Auburn University.
Boothe says that along with confusing laws, other issues make the choice of cannabis more uncertain. Vast numbers of hemp-based CBD products are legally available online. But the products out there sold as supplements don’t have regulatory oversight, in human or veterinary medicine. They’re not tested by the FDA. That means, right now, you can’t go to one trusted source to get answers to critical questions like:
- Is this a good-quality product?
- Does it work?
- Is it safe for my cat?
Which Cat Illnesses Might CBD Help With?
Even though not all those issues are resolved, Boothe says enough information is out there to know that CBD may be able to help your cat with several troubling conditions. Those include:
- Pain from arthritis
- Pain from cancer
- Keeping cats eating when they are sick
- Possible behavior disorders
- Chronic vomiting
- Gastrointestinal upset, especially in older cats
“We haven't really seen controlled clinical trials in cats, and that's what we need. Just like in people: Well-designed, controlled clinical trials,” Boothe said.
CBD Often Is Used Along With Traditional Veterinary Care
Trina Hazzah, DVM, is a board-certified veterinary oncologist who is also credentialed in Chinese herbal medicine. Her clients wanted alternative, holistic options to help their cats. Hazzah found cannabis is one good choice.
“Cannabis has over 700 compounds within the plant, and many of those compounds have physiologic and medicinal benefits. If you look at the literature, just on CBD and THC alone, there's over a hundred publications on the anti-cancer effect,” she said.
She says cannabis can also help make a sick cat comfortable and aid their quality of life. It is often used along with long-accepted, traditional veterinary care.
“Quality-of-life improvement measures, things like appetite, reduction in nausea, reduction in pain. So you have a happier cat, a cat that's not hiding, that feels just much better, that's coming out to socialize. These are the things that you might see when using cannabis in cats. They just feel better overall. So they may have a cancer diagnosis and feel like crap. They're off to go get their chemotherapy. You dose them [with cannabis]. They feel much better. They're not as stressed. Their pain level is down. They're not as nauseous. Now you have a cat that has a much better quality of life while undergoing some sort of therapy,” Hazzah said.
In 2020 Hazzah co-founded The Veterinary Cannabis Society, a U.S.-based nonprofit that builds awareness about using cannabis as medicine for pets. She works with veterinarians and state licensing boards on legal issues to make it easier to advise pet owners.
CBD Buyer Beware
If you and your vet believe CBD may help ease your cat’s symptoms, there are a few steps you can take to try to make sure you are getting the safest, highest-quality product. Ask your vet if they can recommend treatments that have successfully been through clinical trials or have scientific papers written about them. If a manufacturer is transparent, its products should have certificates of analysis that say there are no pesticides or impurities in them.
It’s also possible to get some data on products from the National Animal Supplement Council.
But there are a lot of fakes out there. Some recent research showed many cannabis products were not properly labeled about their active ingredients.
The Veterinary Cannabis Society is working on a plan to set up a seal-of-approval program that would have standards for veterinary CBD products. That is still a couple of years away.
If I Get CBD for My Cat, How Do I Use It?
Most cat owners have the scratches to prove that giving their pet any kind of medicine can be a challenge. That’s true for CBD as well. There are all kinds of chews, oils, treats, and tinctures advertised for pets on the internet. Those different forms all have different ways that the CBD is absorbed. Sometimes it’s hard to know how much of the CBD is really getting into your cat.
Tinctures – a mixture of CBD in an oil solution – may be the best way to give CBD. (Tinctures are usually alcohol-based, so check the ingredients to make sure it doesn’t contain alcohol, which can harm cats.) That lets you figure out your pet's perfect dose, drop by drop. When you know the right dose is, say, 2 milligrams, you might also choose a chew or a treat with that same dosage. Whatever form you can successfully get into your cat is what you should use.
Is It Getting Easier to Get CBD Help for My Cat?
Experts at recent American Veterinary Medical Association conferences have talked about therapeutic possibilities in some cannabis-related compounds. Many association members have clients who are eager for answers for their pets. Their influence could help cat owners even in states with serious restrictions on cannabis.
CBD Is Not a Do-It-Yourself Prescription
It can be dangerous for cat owners to try to diagnose and prescribe CBD or any treatments on their own. Certain cannabis compounds can interfere if your cat has heart problems, for example.
Boothe says: “I think that these [CBD] products are safe enough. So I'm not worried about doing harm. But what I don't want to happen is everybody gets so caught up with this new thing that they forget about the traditional therapies and they put their pets at risk, because they're so convinced this new thing's going to work. That's why I try and emphasize: I think these products will work best when used in combination with our other therapies. But I do think they hold great promise.”
Photo Credit: quantum40 / Getty Images
The Humane Society of the United States: “Cannabis for cats and dogs.”
American Veterinary Medicine Association: “Cannabis use and pets.”
JAVMA News: “Nevada veterinarians can treat patients with certain cannabis products.”
American Veterinary Medical Association: “FDA issues warnings over CBD for animals,” “AVMA weighs in at cannabis hearing.”
Dawn Boothe, DVM, board-certified veterinary clinical pharmacologist; professor emeritus, Auburn University.
Trina Hazzah, DVM; founder, Green Nile Inc.; co-founder, Veterinary Cannabis Society.