Veterinarians weigh risks, rewards of medical pot for pets

Posted: Updated:
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX -- Videos of dogs stumbling around yards and appearing lethargic are all over the Internet.

Some of these pets got into their owners' supply of medical marijuana, but others were actually fed leaves and buds -- a practice many consider animal abuse.

"I think that's really a shame," Scottsdale resident Connie Sloan told 3TV.

Sloan is a leading advocate for using medical marijuana to treat pets for the same ailments faced by their owners. She gave marijuana to her own dog, Maxx, after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer last year.

"I know it gave him a quality of life," she said.

The 4-year-old Rottweiler had cancer in his legs, and the pain made him weak and virtually immobile.

Sloan obtained a bottle of cannabis oil from California, and began putting a few drops into Maxx's food each day.

She and her family noticed a huge difference in Maxx's behavior within days. The dog regained his spirit, strength and appetite, despite having tumors in his legs.

"As soon as we stopped the cannabis, he'd go back to swelling, not eating, and throwing up after his chemo," Sloan recalled.

Arizona voters have approved medical marijuana for people, but it is still illegal for veterinarians to prescribe it to animals.
"I think it only stands to reason that since many of the same diseases are seen on the veterinary side as the human side, that our patients could benefit in much the same way," said Dr. Josh Sosnow, a veterinarian at North Scottsdale Animal Hospital.

Sosnow is eager to see research and trials examining marijuana's effects on pets that suffer from severe pain, arthritis, seizures, anxiety and other medical problems.

"I have to be perfectly honest that many clients ... who themselves have had personal experience with marijuana, feel that it could be beneficial to their pets," Sosnow said.

Even though veterinarians cannot prescribe cannabis, Sosnow does not discourage pet owners from carefully using the drug for treatment.

"We're not going to see dogs on corners with a joint hanging from their lips," he said.  

Instead, the cannabis could be cooked into dog treats, or administered by an oil dropper like the one Sloan used with Maxx.

Still, skeptics worry people will experiment with marijuana on their pets.

"It's not legal. That's the big issue," said Dr. Brian Serbin, a veterinarian at Ingleside Animal Hospital in Phoenix. "I don't want people using things that are illegal in pets. I think it's not appropriate."

Beyond the legal issues, Serbin said the Federal Drug Administration has already approved other medications for treating pain in pets.

"I think it's something we should keep looking at," Sosnow maintains. "Even if the dog only gets a few extra weeks or months, they're good weeks, they're good months."

That was the case with Maxx. Sloan's beloved Rottweiler passed away recently, but she believes cannabis allowed him to live an active life months beyond what was expected.

"He was never in any pain at all," she said. "(I have) no regrets at all."