When I met my neighbor's dog Luna, I was happy to dog-sit her. A social, affectionate 10-year-old German shepherd-wolf mix, she was one of those dogs that try to cuddle in your lap despite their large size.
Then we went outside our downtown apartment building for a walk.
The second the doors to the elevator opened, she became a different, anxious dog. Amid the tumult of the sidewalks, Luna strained at the leash, lunging at random strangers on the street, and I had to use a muzzle just in case.
It was enough to make Jackie, Luna's dog-mom, worry she might have to move to a less-congested neighborhood.
Then again, Jackie had her own experience with anxiety. She'd been able to treat it with a legal, over-the-counter remedy that has helped millions nationwide: CBD. Maybe, she thought, it could help Luna too.
CBD is the therapeutic, non-intoxicating agent found in cannabis, and if it's news to you that people give CBD to their animals, don't blame your veterinarian.
In Oregon, vets risk their licenses if they even suggest it. This is not just because it's a Schedule I controlled substance. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has also sent warning letters to two Washington companies that make CBD for pets, Canna-Pet and Canna Companion, for selling unapproved animal drugs.
Very little research has been conducted into the effects of THC and CBD on domestic animals. But all mammals have endocannabinoid systems with receptors that respond to these compounds. Based on low health risk and massive potential for health benefits, some clinicians have come to believe that dogs and cats can also experience physical and emotional relief using CBD.
One fearless local vet clinic is embracing the issue. The Hawthorne Veterinary Clinic has a resources page at hawthornevet.com that talks about medicinal cannabis and pets. Hawthorne posts the most recent research on its website, primarily from Colorado veterinarian Dr. Robert J. Silver's studies on cannabis.
"We recommend hemp products primarily for mobility issues, like arthritis in older pets," says Dr. Cornelia Wagner at Hawthorne Vet Clinic. "It won't be effective for every pet, but we've seen some good responses. Start with a low dose of 0.1 mg per kilo, eventually increasing if the animal seems to develop a tolerance."
When she decided to treat Luna with a CBD tincture, Jackie started with about a fraction of what would be a normal dose for a human.
"About three days into CBD treatment, it'd worked wonders," Jackie says. "Luna stopped trying to pull me back home on our walks and became much more friendly with strangers, to the point of approaching them for affection again. She was more attentive and displayed little to no anxiety."
It's gone well for several months now, but Jackie emphasizes consistency. "Now it's very obvious when she doesn't get her CBD on any given day," she says. "She reverts back to her displays of neurotic and panicky behavior."
Silver's research indicates that it's important to begin with CBD formulations that have zero or as little THC as possible, because dogs are more sensitive to THC than other mammals.
"In dogs in particular," Silver writes, "the high-CBD, low-THC hemp plant is much safer to use in pets than the high-THC marijuana strains."
Emma Chasen, the millennial Bill Nye of Portland's cannabis scene and education director at the Sativa Science Club, also treats her cats with a high-CBD, low-THC tincture when symptoms of anxiety arise or there's a stressful visit to the vet on the horizon.
"We usually give them high-CBD tinctures that include 1 to 3 milligrams THC," she says.
"Just remember to start small," advises Toomey. "You're aiming to enhance your pet's life, not sedate them."