Beth Schwartz
Jun 12 2019 . 9 min read
calming-canines-with-cannabis

Calming Canines with Cannabis

Calming Canines with Cannabis

Mellow your dog’s fireworks freak-out with CBD

Mellow your dog’s fireworks freak-out with CBD

It’s nearly on a daily basis that veterinarian Dr. Lukina Burks is having to school her pet patients’ parents about the perils of cannabis. “Almost daily I’m having this conversation, educating people that their animals can’t have THC, but they can, however, have the hemp derivative of CBD,” explains Dr. Burks, DVM, CVA, CCRT, CVMMP, owner of Companion Animal Rehab Plus and a relief veternarian at the Animal Foundation. “Some people don’t know the difference between THC and CBD and are giving their dogs THC. That tends to have a downside and a horrible effect.”

Certified in physical therapy, acupuncture, rehabilitation and chiropractic medicine for animals, Dr. Burks has been a practicing veterinarian for seven years in Southern Nevada and has seen the growing emergence of cannabis as a treatment option for pets, especially in the last two years. “When I first worked here in Las Vegas I did emergency medicine so I would see a lot of that,” she acknowledges of the confusion surrounding THC and CBD. “So, for the last two years I’ve been trying to educate people on which ones to use with regard to safety and dosages because if we don’t say anything, they tend to go and do the wrong thing.”

Dogs are People Too 

Like humans, dogs—or anything with a backbone—have an endocannabinoid system (ECS) that is responsible for creating homeostasis in the body. “Just like in people, animals have this same system and when they stress out it can offset a little bit,” explains Dr. Burks. “So, when we give animals CBD, it acts on the endocannabinoid system we already have, and it helps it to stay balanced.”

The endocannabinoid system regulates a lot of basic functions. “CBD works on the receptors in the body effecting pain, inflammation, moods. CBD triggers on these receptors to calm them down,” says Dr. Burks. “The effects of CBD on the endocannabinoid system tries to clear up any imbalance—working on sleep, neurogenesis, immune system, pain perception, mood, their overall well-being—in other words, the body’s ability to maintain a healthy balance.”

The other connection with the ECS is serotonin. “In the past veterinarians have been using anti-anxiety medications and things that suppress the serotonin uptake, we have discovered CBD does the same thing but in a safer way,” explains Burks, who treats dogs suffering from social anxiety, separation anxiety, stress, and canine noise aversion. “Unlike THC, CBD doesn’t have that psychoactive effect that makes animals high. CBD calms them and works on the endocannabinoid system. It actually helps relieve a lot of those stresses that elevate through these anxieties.”

Holistic wellness coach and reiki master Melinda Bohlmann gives CBD to her Chihuahua for overall health as well as anxiety. “Chihuahuas are typically easily scared so it does help her with loud noises or fireworks,” says Bohlmann. “When the body is under duress there are certain things that are released in the body and CBD, which is produced naturally by the body, goes to where it is needed. If you have a CB1 or CB2 receptor that’s basically misfiring, CBD will go to that location and correct what’s happening. So, a pet under duress, whether it’s fireworks or thunderstorms, have these enzymes in their body preventing it from working correctly. CBD can fix that.”

Beyond stress and anxiety, there are many different conditions and ailments CBD can be used to treat. “Definitely any type of arthritis or inflammation, allergies or if they are recovering from any type of a procedure, even a dental cleaning,” says Bohlmann of CBD’s applications.

“CBD also helps with chronic pain, intestinal inflammation, osteo arthritis, neuropathy,” says Dr. Burks, noting, “there’s a plethora of positive aspects of CBD and what it can do for animals. It’s a natural anti-inflammatory and is used for seizures. Sometimes they even use it to help with chemotherapy’s side effects like nausea.”

A Dose of Happiness

As far as dosing CBD, pet owners should talk to a veterinarian with experience in the field before they give it to their animal, advises Dr. Burks. “When it comes to dosing, labeling is important because you have to see the milligrams per ml. Everybody is trying to figure out what is the proper dosage for a specific animal based on their weight, age and what they are dealing with issue wise. That’s the gray area and that’s why veterinarians are having a hard time tapping into the CBD world because weight, age and the symptoms of the animal don’t always agree with what the dose is,” she explains. “So, there is no set formula yet. There is only us weighing the milligrams per ml based on what we see and what has been shown to work in studies and that’s how we calculate what the animal should have.”

“It’s trial and error a lot of time,” agrees Bohlmann. “CBD is one of those things where you can’t get too much of it necessarily. If you take too much you may get sleepy or it may not work as well. It’s based on weight, so we always say start low and work up from there and see what works best for your pet.

“My 80-lb. dog gets way more than my six-lb. dog,” she notes. “And it depends on the severity of what’s going on. If it’s 4th of July, my little Chihuahua gets a lot more than what she gets on a daily basis just because I know she’s going to be in a stressful situation. I kind of prepare her body for that by giving her a little bit more in the morning and I usually give her some right as the fireworks are starting.”

For administering CBD, Bohlmann recommends tincture as the best method. “I would say 98 percent of them will take tincture because, for some reason, they love the taste of it,” she says. “I would not get treats with CBD in it, the minute you bake the CBD you are changing its property so it’s not as effective. I would just buy regular treats and drop CBD on it.”

THC is Highly Avoidable

As for THC, it’s a no-go says Dr. Burks. “No matter what dosage, THC has a psychoactive effect which causes a ripple effect in an animal, they don’t metabolize it well. So, at this point, I say no to THC in animals. It’s just too harsh of a side effect,” she explains.

But the vet hasn’t completely given up on it. “I think more research will have to be done on how to dilute that down,” she continues of THC’s effects on dogs. “THC is really potent for them. They are unable to focus, they are extremely high, their blood pressure drops, it can almost kill them if they overdo it. A large breed dog can definitely handle some, but they will still have that high effect and it can get really bad for smaller dogs. It’s out of the question, you can almost kill your dog by giving it THC.”

In addition to avoiding THC, there are other ingredients you should definitely not give your pets when shopping for cannabis products. “If they are going to do a treat, they should make sure the ingredients are okay. I would doublecheck with a holistic vet who is familiar with it to make sure the ingredients are okay,” says Dr. Burks, who recommends treats, topicals and tincture containing a hemp derivative of CBD.

“The reason I tell them they need to pay attention to ingredients is because sometimes there are additives that animals are allergic to. It’s the little things they don’t realize they shouldn’t add like artificial flavoring such as grape or the owner tries to make their own treats and puts in Macadamia nuts. Those are things people forget that animals can’t digest properly,” advises Dr. Burks.

Bohlmann adds that you have to also be really careful with essential oils. “Some cats are deathly allergic to essential oils even in a diffuser in your home. So, you have to be really aware of what scents are being put out there,” she says. “Also, Xylitol is toxic to pets. It’s a natural sweetener but it’s toxic to animals and it will shut down their organs.”

Pet parents should also be sure to check that any products they buy are 100 percent natural and lab tested, soy-free and have no GMOs, instructs Dr. Burks, who recommends Therabis and HempRX as two products that are certified and safe for pets.

Preparing for the Main Event

Dr. Burks advises pet owners to be proactive and start preparing for July 4th ahead of time by desensitizing their animals. “If they are going to try a new medication like CBD or thunder jacket or want to try classical music of some sort, they don’t want to do that the week of or day of because it no longer becomes a normal thing,” she advises. “Whenever you want to introduce something new, you want to do it a month out to see how the animal responds. That way the dog or cat will get used to it and understand that it’s normal behavior. If you introduce these things early on, then that day just becomes a normal day.”

As for the day of the event you are preparing for, Dr. Burks recommends having a regular day with your pet

but just do any walks or regular activities early in the day. Later in the day, during the fireworks, create a safe place

for your pet such as a favorite bed or a nice quiet area

where the dog or cat can go and begin the routine you have been practicing.

“Sometimes when the dogs or cats are in the midst of the fireworks their owners tend to want to go to them and cuddle them. That makes the dog or cat feel like something is wrong,” explains Dr. Burks. “It’s very important on that day for the owner to look at the animal’s behavior and determine if it wants to be cuddled or held.” 

In other words, read the body language of your pet and give your dog its day. 

Recommended