Health Bites - Pet Health

Marisa Slabber, a Veterinarian, and Kayla Du Toit, a Veterinary Physiotherapist, run the Holisticare Rehabilitation Clinic in Fourways. With a profound love for animals and a passion for their wellbeing they are firm believers in the success of complimentary holistic healing for both treatment and preventative care and wellbeing of animals. They offer a range of complimentary services from acupuncture, hydrotherapy, natural adjunctive therapies from herbs to botanicals. They share with us the impact cannabis treatment has on pets.

Please note that before commencing any new treatment plans for your pet it is strongly advised that you consult a qualified professional who can assist and guide you through your treatment plan.

 The use of cannabis or hemp as a medicine has been a part of modern human life for quite some time and is slowly starting to take its place in animal medicine as well.  There is still unfortunately a lack of research and regulation relating to products and protocols, but that seems to be changing quite rapidly. Although relatively new to South Africa the prevalence of natural medicines in relation to animal care and treatment is fast becoming common practice among veterinary services nationally.

The basis of the varied reactions to the cannabinoids present in the cannabis plant relates to a complex system within our bodies and that of animals. Varying number of receptors is what differentiates our two systems however only as a difference in the total number of receptors in our brains. It seems our animal friends may react more intensely to the high-level prevalence of specific receptors.

The Endocannabinoid System:

Thanks to pioneering research from the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) was revealed and an understanding of its importance in our lives has become the focus of many studies. Researchers accidentally stumbled upon what we now know as our Endocannabinoid System (ECS) while observing the medicinal applications of cannabis. Through this research, scientists first saw that there are naturally occurring neurotransmitters that respond to a specific chemical component of cannabis. In much the same way animals too have the mechanisms in place to benefit from the varying effects of a number of cannabinoids.

In fact, cannabinoid receptors have since been found throughout the entire body, most notably seen in organs such as the lungs, kidneys, liver and in your immune system. 

Curbing pain with cannabis:

Research has shown that certain cannabinoids and terpenes have anti-inflammation characteristics and have been proven to assist with a number of debilitating animal health issues. Some of these specific cannabinoids included CBD, CBDa ,THCa CBGa CBC, Myrcene, Limonene Humulene, Caryophyllene and Delta 3 Carene just to name a few.

For best results, experts recommend using whole plant applications due to the possible Entourage Effect. The entourage effect is the combined interaction of all the plant constituents, cannabinoids and terpenes, working in unison to increase effectiveness. This also brings about side benefits and fewer adverse effects caused by either increased results or diminished actions of compounds. Cannabis can also assist in reducing the amplitude of varying pain responses within the body. Where receptors present in the human and animal ECS system act in unison to block pain receptors and thereby alleviate or significantly reduce a patients pain levels. Animals suffering with hip dysplasia and other illness associated with aging can often benefit from this.

“When using a whole plant application, less is more, as well. This often leads to positive results at much lower dosages “.

Despite decades of research and efforts in treating chronic pain many pharmaceutical options are sometimes not effective, and many are known to have negative side effects. Some well known painkillers lead to substance dependent cycles, or death. 

Cannabis and hemp are able to help in a couple of ways. Firstly, they reduce the pain and inflammation response, reduce anxiety and have even recently been known to have antibacterial and antiviral effects.  The improved organ function and regulation due to stimulation of the ECS may lead to significant decrease in the use of conventional medication with concomitant decrease in side effects.

In one study, researchers observed a 64-75% reduction in opioids consumption in patients who added medical cannabis to their treatment regime in humans. They also reported the complete discontinuation of opioid use in 32-59.3% of chronic non-cancer pain patients.

There are several direct and indirect ways cannabis and hemp can help improve quality of life for animals (and humans). This, in turn can make a big difference in pain tolerance, and an overall ability to manage the condition. Some examples include:

Mood Elevation

If you are in a good mood, you will naturally have more optimism about overcoming your pain challenges. The same principle applies to your pets and other animals. For example, the relief hemp and cannabis can offer by way of specific cannabinoids can help both humans and animals deal with stress. Likewise, they both can contribute to a reduction or even elimination of anxiety and depression.

Mobility and Exercise

Living a sedentary life is damaging to your health, and inactivity in animals is no different. Unfortunately, when you are in pain the last thing you want to do is exercise and one can imagine how difficult it can be when animals cannot directly communicate their pain. Getting out and about may be very uncomfortable, even impossible but a little goes a long way in terms of benefit to your animal friend.

Better Sleep

Everyone knows how important sleep is both physiologically and physically. When you are in pain, sleep may be a challenge and often the rate of improvement after illness seen in animals pays tribute to this statement.  Not sleeping can lead to or compound health issues that may contribute to pain.


Dosage and Guideline:

If possible, work with your veterinarian and use only trusted complimentary medicines. A product that is recommended by your veterinarian should be considered as this will ensure quality assurance standards are met. Strict control and monitoring should be instituted when initiating treatment schedules using a whole product specifically when an animal is already using other medication in particular phenobarbitone or CNS suppressants.

Cannabis is not a miracle cure, therefore micro dosing before big problems arise with intermittent pulse dosing has always worked well for my patients.

As far as possible use a product that has been tested and is manufactured consistently and safely.  Dilution factors are very important when it comes to animals for the sake of accuracy and consistency in dosing so be sure of the manufacturer details.

The most important aspect is to start on a very low dose and taper the dosage up or down according to your animal’s response.  Like humans, animals have different responses to cannabis, and it is therefore very difficult to predict the effective dose used initially.  I advise a slow taper of dosage up over several days to weeks, keeping it stable according to the condition.

Then taper it down again when a steady state has been reached.  Intolerances occur due to the late activation of the animal’s ECS system, this delayed reaction activated, and the exogenous cannabis may then cause side effects.  Intermittent pulse dosing is then a preferable approach.

Dr Marisa Slabber BVSc, CVA, MSc

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