SASKATOON -- With growing interest in potential therapeutic uses for cannabis-derived products, researchers at the University of Saskatchewan's Western College of Veterinary Medicine are examining the effects of cannabis extracts in pets.

"What we want to do is administer various doses of cannabis extracts to dogs currently and eventually cats, to see what we find in terms of changes in behaviour or neurological signs or gastral intestinal signs," Dr. Al Chicoine said in an interview.

The department of veterinary biomedical sciences assistant professor is leading the project and a team of three research students and three other veterinarians.

The preliminary portion of the research project started in October.

“Right now we are in the preliminary stages of generating that safety data."

A total of 13 dogs belonging to the college are taking part in the initial testing.

“We start with administering very low doses, we are very protective of our teaching colony of dogs," Chicoine said.

The researchers then monitor the animals, particularly the level of cannabis in the bloodstream.

"Once we generate the data from our experimental animals then we are more sure we have an appropriate dose and will have sufficient safety data to move into client-owned animals from our vet center."

According to Chicoine, cannabis-related testing in animals is difficult to conduct at many universities across Canada.

“The approval process is very rigorous for these trials in veterinary medicine," Chicone said.

"Because people think cannabis is legal now for recreational use and legal for medicinal use for people, so they assume vets can prescribe it as well, but that is not the case.”

Currently, Health Canada has not approved any cannabis products intended for animals.

However, Chicoine said Health Canada has expressed interest in possibly approving products if sufficient evidence of safety is generated by his team.

“It’s something we are trying to get done through this conducted research.”

Chicoine's team has received approval from both Health Canada and the university's animal research ethics board.

“The approval from Health Canada and the university animal research ethics board actually allowed us to acquire the cannabis extract. Without that, we couldn’t do the study or use the dogs, and we needed both of those to start the study," said Chicoine.

Chicoine said he is hoping the research could one day lead to treatments for ailments found in older dogs such as osteoporosis, nausea, and vomiting. 

“We are excited for a number of reasons, we don't know how it will be effective but either way we think it will be valuable information for veterinarians and their clients," said Chicoine. 

Chicoine said he and his team are hopeful clinical research that will include cats along with dogs will begin in January