Pain Patches for Dogs

Exploring pain-relief potential for pets
By Shea Cox DVM, CVPP, CHPV, March 2012, Updated July 2021
pot patch for dogs

In 2011, a company called Medical Marijuana Delivery Systems, LLC (MMDS) acquired the rights to a patent for a transcutaneous (through the skin) delivery of medical marijuana to humans and animals. Since our pets suffer from many of the same debilitating illnesses that we do, and with many states legalizing the use of medical marijuana, it doesn’t seem like such a stretch to apply this concept of care to our pets. This pain relief patch for pups has been given the trade name Tetracan.

At first blush, the thought of canine cannabis sounded a bit over the top to me. However, current research shows this new marijuana patch is a very reliable delivery system. The maker of this product ensures that only the pain relieving effects are transmitted to the patient and that it will not make your pet “high.” (See my earlier blog post about dogs brought into the ER after eating marijuana.)

This transcutaneous patch is being developed to help patients manage pain, nausea and anxiety but without the psychotropic effect of marijuana. Seattle-based MMDS is also working on topical applications for animals in place of the patch; it would be similar to applying the monthly flea and tick treatment with which many pet parents are familiar.

Of course, to buy the patches or ointment, you’d need to be a medical marijuana patient yourself since dogs can’t get authorization from a veterinarian. That is, at least, not yet. The company is pressing for changes in state laws to permit veterinarians to prescribe medical cannabis for pets.

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What does the American Veterinary Medical Association think of Tetracan? At this time, the association has not released a position statement on the use of medical marijuana on animals, but it has done extensive studies on the use on the fentanyl patch for dogs.

Dispensing fentanyl, a highly controlled substance and potent synthetic narcotic, is well within normal veterinary practice standards. Fentanyl is highly addictive. It is 100 times more potent than morphine and needs to be used cautiously in geriatric, very ill or debilitated pets, especially those with underlying respiratory issues. 

Common fentanyl pain patch side effects includes slow heart rate, severe breathing difficulties, abnormal excitement,  constipation, and difficulty urinating. 

In 2018, FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb commented on the topic, “We recognize that opioids and other pain medications have a legitimate and important role in treating pain in animals – just as they do for people...But just like the opioid medications used in humans, these drugs have potentially serious risks, not just for the animal patients, but also because of their potential to lead to addiction, abuse and overdose in humans who may divert them for their own use.”

This leads the medical devil’s advocate to ask, “Why not try to integrate a more natural, plant-based approach?” Harnessing the pain relieving effects of marijuana may prove to be a safer alternative for these pets.

While the patch does conjure up visions of pups frolicking in fields of poppies and wanting extra helpings of kibble, I have to say that I can see several potential benefits if it is carefully researched and brought to market. It will be interesting to see how the medical and legal aspects of its use develop. It may prove to be a potential alternative to chronic pain in our pets, especially when some chemical pharmaceutical painkillers can be harmful, sometimes even fatal, in weakened pets.

► What do you think about medical marijuana for pets? If it were deemed safe for dogs, and was recommended by your veterinarian, would you consider using a marijuana patch on your dog?

Photo: Kara Eads / Unsplash

Dr. Shea Cox is the founder of BluePearl Pet Hospice and is a global leader in animal hospice and palliative care. With a focus on technology, innovation and education, her efforts are changing the end-of-life landscape in veterinary medicine.

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