California Senate approves bill to allow vets to push pot for pets

Dogs and cats can get stressed and sick too.

Anxiety, inflammation, cancer and seizures can all impact domestic pets. However, despite health issues, dogs and cats are living longer than ever before, possibly because they have better healthcare and more dietary options. Cats live an average of 15 years and dogs have an average lifespan of 12 years. Animal experts say that's twice as long as it was 40 years ago.

Just as people rely on medical marijuana for dealing with everything from arthritis to anxiety to epilepsy, cannabis is becoming increasingly more popular to help pets with their aliments.

Last year, former Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law allowing veterinarians to discuss medical marijuana as a treatment option with pet owners. Now, veterinarians in California could soon be legally recommending medical marijuana for pets.

The California Senate voted 33-0 Thursday to let adult pet owners purchase medical marijuana for their animals if they have a recommendation from a veterinarian who has completed a specific course.

The bill would give veterinarians the same protections as doctors who recommend marijuana for human patients. It would also prevent the Veterinarian Medical Board from disciplining veterinarians who recommend marijuana.

Although marijuana has been legal in California since last year, it is still illegal under federal law, meaning vets who pushed cannabis for pets were acting outside the law. The current bill, which now heads to California Assembly, would change that.

Tom White and Dmitri Belser rescued their dog Barnaby, a large pit bull-boxer mix, from a street when he was a puppy 13 years ago.

"He was the cutest puppy (and) is still the cutest dog,'' said Belser. " (He's) smart, and he likes to sit at the table with us on his own chair."

But when Barnaby was diagnosed with Laryngeal paralysis, which causes the muscles that normally pull the airway open to not function properly, the dog had difficulty breathing.

"He'd pant and try to get more air and then he'd get nervous,'' said White. "He had trouble sleeping."

White said that when a veterinarian talked to him about giving Barnaby CBD dog treats, he bought some online and at the Holistic Hound store in Berkeley.

"For the first month or two there was noticeable improvement,'' said White. "He would just swallow them on down. I think it mellowed him out some and he wasn't quite as anxious and nervous about his condition."

CBD is the non-psychoactive ingredient in marijuana and doesn't produce the "high" (in people or pets), commonly associated with marijuana.

Ultimately, Barnaby had surgery for the condition. Although, he has lost his ability to bark, White said "he's doing a lot better" and credits CBD for helping the dog through a difficult time.

Canine expert Caroline Coile said CBD helps pets similarly to how it seemingly helps people.

"I was pulled into this as a non-believer because I thought it was a bunch of hogwash. But now I am a believer," said Coile, who said she originally began researching CBD use for dogs to debunk its alleged health benefits.

Coile has written 34 books about dogs, including "Cannabis and CBD Science for Dogs." While dogs can take cannabis with the psychoactive ingredient THC, Coile said CBD might be better for canines.

"Dogs might be a little bit more prone to overdose on THC and they don't have this problem with CBD," she said.

She said CBD might also help with mental health challenges in dogs.

"We talk a lot about PTSD in people and how CBD can help them," she said. "What about shelter dogs? A lot of them have been through a lot of stress and that degree of stress may lead to them not getting adopted."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.