The Cat and the Cannabinoids

VetCBD is taking pet pain seriously

By Meg Wall-Wild

Years ago, a black kitten hitched a ride on a farm truck to the parking lot where we found her. Luna, as we named her, had leukemia, which in humans is a personal enemy, striking you and you alone. Not so with cats. Feline leukemia has become viral. And it is a beast. Unstoppable, it follows paw prints between the cornrows as it spreads from farm to farm, barn to barn, and from Luna to our other cat. While writing this article, my mind kept going back to my lost friends. VetCBD would have made their rough journey easier to bear. Mine, too.

When Dr. Tim Shu looked at a crowded veterinary ER waiting room that probably included a Luna or two, not one patient stood out. They all stood out. Dr. Shu, like many of us, noticed pain management options for animals were sorely lacking. He combined his experience as a practicing veterinarian and a love of research to create cannabis tinctures to treat dogs and cats in pain.

“It’s not so much that there was one particular patient, it’s more so the reality of animals’ lifespans. They live such short lives, always shorter than what we’d like, and I want their lives to be full of happiness and free of pain.”

Dr. Shu uses the acronym PAINS to explain how VetCBD can help: pain, anxiety, inflammation, nausea and seizures. Our furry family members age along with us, sharing a lot of the same aches and pains, and, unfortunately, diseases. Dogs with hip dysplasia, cats stressing out, arthritis or cancer — they suffer as we do. As the number of people who successfully treat these same problems with cannabis increases, it is a logical progression that pets can benefit, too.

Local dispensaries Humboldt Patient Resource Center (Eureka and Aracta, and Satori Wellness (McKinleyville, carry VetCBD, so I asked both about pet CBDs. Budtenders are some of the best people to consult when looking for advice and this time was no exception. Even though CBD is available in pet treats, they said it is easier to regulate dosage and adjust for pain with a tincture like VetCBD. I remember trying to coat many a pill with butter for a little sick kitty who quickly turned into an angry cat armed with needle sharp claws. Putting a drop on her favorite food would have been a lot easier.  

One budtender was genuinely excited to speak about VetCBD, having seen a noticeable difference when it’s used to treat elderly dogs. The organic extra virgin olive oil-based tincture is very popular, and the only CBD formula for pets they carry — some people treat their pets with CBDs formulated for humans. Many loyal customers come back for a reliable way to ease their pets’ pain. The clear weight chart for dosage and the dropper are also a hit. An independent lab tests VetCBD tinctures not just for cannabinoid levels, but heavy metals, pesticides and other nasties I would not want my cat to ingest.  

Your pet may need more potent pain management as their illness progresses. When pet owners asked budtenders for a stronger dosage than Vet CBD’s 20:1 formula (20 parts CBD to 1 part THC), Dr. Shu responded quickly. He created a 10:1 formula (10 parts CBD to 1 part THC). Budtenders also pointed out that even though the tincture is full-spectrum (meaning it includes THC and other cannabinoids), it is formulated to medicate without intoxicating your dog or cat. Still, if your pet has not been treated with CBD before, the budtenders advise starting at a lower dose than recommended.

Patient education is the cornerstone of proper pet CBD use, and provides, answering fundamental questions such as: Should I give my dog CBD with food? (yes); Have there been any reported cases of allergic reactions? (no); And is it safe to give my cat CBD? (yes). The dosage chart illustrates the benefits of using pet CBD instead of the human formulas — it was created with pet sizes in mind. The post reminds us to keep an eye on all animals after administering any medication. Like humans, dogs with a low tolerance for CBD can experience sleepiness, vomiting or diarrhea. If you’ve still got questions, you can call VetCBD veterinary nurses (if you purchase through the company’s website).  

In the five years since starting VetCBD, Dr. Shu’s work has expanded from medical marijuana to include hemp. The differences between marijuana and hemp lie in their components, not CBD. Growers are improving genetics of hemp cultivars and the quality of its cannabinoid profiles, catching up on its THC-laden relative. 

“Humboldt is world-renowned for a reason and produces excellent smokeable flower,” said Dr. Shu. But with a tincture, the best results do not come from only one strain and there is difficulty in standardizing those strains. One grower’s Ringo’s Gift may have small variatins from another’s, although they share genetics. Phytochemical makeup (the chemical compounds in any given plant) of cannabis includes cannabinoids CBD and TCH, plus some 400+ other compounds. These numbers may change as research comes to light. Dr. Shu looks for cannabigerol (CBG) the parent molecule for cannabinoids, and cannabichromene (CBC), thought to act as an anti-inflammatory and painkiller.

Cannabis as a treatment for animals has been rediscovered through the efforts of animal lovers, including Dr. Shu. His research delves into history as well as science, like the use of cannabis in traditional Chinese medicine. “There are very few anecdotes for cannabis treatment for animals but the ancient Greeks used it. It was a fairly common ingredient in US large animal veterinary medicine in the 1800 and 1900s.” Hemp was widely grown to supply a hungry rope industry back then, and Thomas Jefferson used it to feed cattle noting it was superior to tobacco, which provided no nourishment.  

Although use of CBD is legal in California, veterinarians are barred from prescribing or even discussing CBDs with pet owners. The bill SB-627 aims to change that by allowing veterinarians to prescribe but not dispense cannabis treatments. This passed bill is in committee and if all goes well, your vet should be able to discuss CBD treatment options with you sometime in 2021.

Dr. Shu’s care for suffering animals extends well beyond his doorway. His charity One Fur One donates one unit of tincture for every unit purchased through directly to animal rescue organizations and the site has information on how you can help VetCBD provide aid to pets displaced by horrific wildfires. Dr. Shu has not forgotten that evacuated animals need relief, too.

In the meantime, Dr. Shu continues to research and refine formulations, always looking to improve the quality of life of pets like Luna. Currently, he is working on treatment options for horses and other species. 


Meg Wall-Wild (she/her) is a freelance writer and photographer, former editor and grant writer who loves books, the dunes of Humboldt and her husband, not necessarily in that order.