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Pets, Anxiety and Wellness – How To Help Your Best Friend Feel Better

The Australian Psychological Society describes anxiety as “a natural and usually short-lived reaction to a stressful situation, associated with feelings of worry, nervousness or apprehension. It typically occurs in new, unfamiliar or challenging situations, where the person might not feel up to the task, or where the outcome is uncertain”. Everyone experiences anxiety at certain points, and so do animals – but what do we do when it becomes a regular or constant occurrence?

When chronic anxiety goes untreated, it can be one of the worst conditions to effect a human or animal. Symptoms can become so severe that sometimes you don't want to get out of bed or even have contact with anyone. Despite the fact that pets can't talk, but there is no difference in symptoms between humans and animals, and anyone whose pet suffers from anxiety will let you know how hard it can be. 

My Best Friend

A recent study has demonstrated that people living with conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder felt they were more stable and had a deep sense of ontological security by having pets inside the home. Another study reported that parents who encouraged their kids to get a pet such as a dog successfully reduced anxiety and contributed to a lower body mass index in their child (BMI). 

Why is this? Pets provide no judgements, give unconditional support, provide distractions from mental health issues and are always there when you need them. What’s more, they need us just as much as we need them, and that’s important – people need to feel needed. But while humans can seek relief from anxiety or mental health disorders by taking medication, changing diets, exercising more or by taking a holiday, pets are dependent on their owners. 

What do we do when our pets have anxiety? 

Cannabis and hemp can help. Last month, a Canadian company named Canopy Animal Health received the green light from the Ministry of Health to conduct clinical trials with CBD for anxiety in pets. There are over 22,000 studies in the world that show cannabis is good for human health, some of which are gold standard clinical trials. If cannabis, hemp and cannabinoids are good for human health, then why not for our pets? 

What does anxiety in animals look like? 

Anxious Doggy :(

In dogs, anxiety can present as the feeling and anticipation of future dangers from imagined or unknown origins. This results in normal physiologic reactions such as urination or bowel movements, destruction of things inside or outside your home and excessive vocalisation such as barking or crying. Separation anxiety can occur when the dog is left alone for an extended period, such as going to work or on holiday. Once alone the dog will become anxious and display extreme distress behaviours. Cats also inhibit anxiety symptoms similarly and may hide, display aggression or become agitated. Cats are known to be vocal with their owners if they are in stress or want something. Pets need help from their owners to overcome their fears. This can be in the form of compassion, patience and understanding to nurture the situation. Providing a relaxed surrounding and calming presence when a stressful situations arise will definitely help…but in some cases this may not be enough. Here are some of the currently existing options:

  • specially designed medications such as supplements and anxiolytics
  • training or a behavioural modification programs to reduce anxiety in pets

    Your veterinarian can also give advice. Aside from these treatments, there is a plant-based alternative which is proving successful in many cases: cannabis. Worldwide, the cannabis plant is going through a resurgence, and in many countries, it is now legal in some form. 

    Treating Pets with Hemp and CBD

    Firstly, we know that giving THC to pets would harm them. The THC molecule can cause mental disorders in people and produces a psychoactive effect which would not be suitable for pets as a treatment.

    However, CBD and other cannabinoids are an option to help treat chronic conditions such as stress responses, aggression, digestive issues and arthritis. Cannabinoids work on the Endocannabinoid system that is found in every living thing with vertebrae. The Endocannabinoid system is a network of thousands of receptors all over the body, including the brain and central nervous system. It regulates various functions such as sleep, moods and pain. All animals have highly developed endocannabinoid systems, and treating symptoms with a plant-based solution such as cannabis is increasingly popular with pet owners.

    Treating pets with cannabis is simple, easy and mess free. It requires a few drops of hemp oil to be placed directly on their tongue or mixed in with their food. The larger the pet, the bigger the portion, but generally speaking a large sized dog would need around 1/2 to one full dropper per day. One of the great things about using hemp is that it can be applied externally, which in the case of dogs will help with any skin conditions they may have – and as a bonus, if it's licked off it's no problem!

    Start Low, Slowly Increase

    Because hemp is plant-based, it's tough to overdose. It is nevertheless recommended that you start slowly and increase the dose as symptoms persist. Positive results can usually be seen in the first two weeks; the early signs are a bright and healthy coat, stronger nails and white clear eyes. After two weeks the bad breath can subside, and any anxiety, limb joint and muscles pain should be improving. Over more extended periods owners should notice a significant improvement in their pet's physical behaviour right across to their mental state. This is especially noticeable in elderly pets. The science and clinical evidence from cannabis research demonstrates that the non-psychoactive cannabinoids, polyphenols and terpenes extracted from the hemp plant have potent healing properties. Being responsible pet owners ourselves we do hope this information is helpful in determining if your pet could receive the benefits from the cannabis plant. 

    Credit: Cannabis Co