Australia: Pot for Pets? What Happened When Terminally-Ill Muttley Took Cannabis Oil
In September last year, Muttley’s human parents Tim* and Tina* got the worst news possible. Their beloved 12 year-old American staffordshire terrier cross was dying.He’d been diagnosed with cancer earlier that year, and after rounds of chemo and five surgeries, the vet said there was nothing more they could do for him.
“He was extremely lethargic. He’d sleep 20, 22 hours a day and wanted to be left alone, didn’t want to go outside. Basically, getting towards the point of he was going to die,” Tim told Hack.”In October we said goodbye to him. We were going away and we didn’t think he’d survive the week,” Tina said. “The only other option would have been putting him down, because he didn’t have any quality of life.”
Chemo was having a terrible effect on Muttley.”He got really sick, he lost ten kilos and started urinating blood and the vet said that’s pretty much it. He probably has weeks to live, if he’s lucky,” Tim said.
To ease Muttley’s discomfort, the vet suggested Tim and Tina try something a little bit controversial – medicinal cannabis oil.The couple was sceptical at first.”But then I thought, if he can’t take traditional medicine, if it makes him feel sick – he was vomiting and he would do this really sad thing where he would bury his nose in his paws and rub his head in the grass,” Tina said.”You could tell he was really in pain and that was a sign that he was nauseous. So I thought, what do we have to lose? We might as well try it.”
They got him some low-dose cannabis oil and noticed a change within days. “He’s put ten kilos back on, he’s pain-free, he’s hyperactive, he’s energetic, he’s loving life, and he has a huge appetite,” Tim said.
In some ways, Muttley’s turned into a typical stoner.”He does tend to get the munchies, even after his second dinner. He follows me to the fridge and he absolutely loves ice-cream,” Tim said.”For some reason, this is a new taste he’s developed after we’ve given him the hemp oil. He absolutely devours an entire bowl of ice-cream.”
“After taking medicinal marijuana, he wants to be around everybody, he wants to play, and sometimes at midnight he gets his toys and he wants to play with his toys even though everybody else wants to go to bed,” Tim laughed.
The thing is, no cannabis products have been approved for use in animals. In fact, the Therapeutic Goods Administration – the regulatory body responsible for giving medicines for humans a tick or a flick – actively warns against cannabis use in pets.”Some substances that are relatively benign in humans can be highly toxic to dogs and/or cats,” a spokeswoman for the TGA told Hack.”Cannabis cultivated and manufactured into medicinal cannabis products is for use in humans only. It should not be provided to pets.”
But veterinarians have the discretion to prescribe human medicines to pets, if they think it’ll help, and certain very-low dose hemp oils, like the ones you may see at market stalls, can legally be sold in Australia.
“The reason they’re legal is that they have such a low concentration to be legal so they can’t be abused. They may well be safe, but we also don’t know that they’re effective,” practicing vet and member of the Australian Veterinary Association, Phil Brain, said.He cautioned pet owners against seeing medicinal cannabis as the silver bullet for their sick pets.”There are many more conventional products that can be used to improve well-being and appetite,” he told Hack.”The AVA remains open to the possibility of these drugs, we welcome further research. It’s probably just at this time, the unquestioning acceptance of the products is premature.”
Phil said he’s much more likely to see pets get sick from accidentally accessing their owner’s stash. “They come in with quite profound signs of toxicity, ranging from being spaced out, but often including seizuring, they’re wobbly and they’re quite neurologically affected.He says the same kind of medicinal cannabis trials that have been conducted on humans should be done on animals. “We keep an open mind I suppose, but veterinary science is a science and accordingly the AVA are advocates for only using products that have been thoroughly tested,” Phil said.
Could we see approved cannabis-based medication for pets on the Australian market soon?Australian-listed company, Creso Pharma, hopes so.Earlier this year, the company got the go-ahead from the European Union to register its cannabis-based anxiety medicine for pets.”The European regulations are a bit more open, so we’re starting in Europe,” David Russell from Creso Pharma told Hack.Next step: getting the product into Australia on a trial basis.”That’s probably the first path for us, to get some product into the country through a TGA approval for research purposes so they can have some experience with it,” David said.
David admitted Australia had been slow off the mark when it comes to utilising medicinal cannabis, but he said it’s “for the right reasons”.”There are about 5 million dogs – that’s about 40 per cent of households in Australia – and they’re part of the family. They’re a very important part of people’s lives, and we want to make sure we give them something safe,” he said.The product will launch in Europe later this year, and there’s still a question mark over when we could see it in Australia.
Tim and Tina didn’t regret their decision for a second.Muttley is a much-loved member of the family, and his human parents would do anything to make his last days bearable.”I mean, his prognosis is terminal and all it’s done is make him comfortable for however long he’s got to live,” Tina said.Tim agreed. “I just think, give it a go if there’s no other option.”Phil’s approach was a bit more cautious.”I would say to those pet owners to see the veterinarian and have a long chat about conventional medication, discuss using alternative medication as an option.”