Interview with Dr. Sarah Brandon, DVM
Dr. Sarah Brandon is a practicing Veterinarian and CEO of Canna Companion, where she oversees the research, development, and manufacturing of hemp pet supplements.
Dr. Brandon also maintains a small feline only mobile practice in Washington state, focusing on a balanced, holistic approach for her patients which includes nutrition & herbal and essential oil supplementation.
It is her belief that the best healthcare plans incorporate the specific needs of the household, rather than only the patient. During the past two decades, researching herbal therapies in clinical practice became her passion, and the experience and data gained was used to launch a line of supplements designed to support a balanced cannabis receptor system.
Outside of her professional life, Dr. Brandon enjoys backpacking with her two rescued Belgian Malinois, playing fetch and laser tag with her three youngest cats, or curling up with a good book and one of four senior cats. Other hobbies include birdwatching, listening to Blues & Jazz, and making herbal teas from plants grown in her organic garden.
When were you first exposed to cats?
As a toddler, there were always barn cats around who loved to nest in horse blankets. I was allowed to adopt my first stray when I was 5, and they’ve been in my life ever since. We currently have 7 indoor only cats: 3 youngsters and 4 seniors.
What made you want to be a veterinarian?
I’ve never wanted to be anything else. I solemnly informed my mother one day when just 6 years old, then proceeded to spend my educational career pursuing that dream.
What made you want to be a veterinarian that focuses on cats?
As I started understanding the various creatures I wished to help, horses and cats called me the most. My early training was focused on equine surgery and while I adore them to this day, it was not my place in medicine.
In 2003 I was hired at a feline only hospital in Seattle, WA area and fell in love with my patients, their quirks, their ability to teach me, and their semi-neurotic human counterparts.
What have been some of the challenges you have had as a veterinarian?
Breaking out of the Western medicine mode of thinking. In US-based medical schools, we are trained to focus on very specific things, often times at the expense of the patient as a whole.
This became frustrating for me as it was just unacceptable to watch my patients suffer not from their disease condition, but from the therapies themselves. I started researching the basics: behavior/psychology, nutrition, and the areas where organ systems overlap.
This led me on a journey I continue today whereby old and new philosophies blend, helping patients in a more intimate and complete fashion.
Will you please share the timeline of your career so far from vet school to Canna Companion?
As part of the above research, cannabis was one of the plants which called to me the most. This was in part a result of my husband’s success in using it for joint mobility, and in part a fascination with the plant’s history, the cannabis receptor system (ECS), and the extreme sensitivity of that system to minute changes in compounds.
That passion ran in the background during my 12 years as a feline only practitioner, until 2014 when we had a formulation which satisfied our 90% bell curve. I devoted myself full-time to the business in 2015, though maintain a small mobile practice locally and perform weekly telemedicine consultations as part of the business.
Do you miss being a hands on veterinarian?
Yes and no. I miss getting to interact with my patients; I miss surgery, a lot. However, I get to educate a much wider population of pet parents across the nation, helping them assist their fur babies in a more wholistic manner. Not a bad trade off in my opinion!
What made you get into Canna Companion?
There wasn’t a product on the market which adhered to the specific compounds our data indicated was most effective. At that time, even published medical cannabis research wasn’t focused on multicompound therapy, sticking with reports about CBD or THC only products.
Research is now starting to focus on the entourage effect and interactions of the ECS with other bodily systems, like opioid, 5-HT, and COX/LOX.
What are some of the biggest mistakes veterinarians make with cats? (i.e. those that work with dogs, cats, etc. and end up treat a cat like a small dog)
The number one mistake is thinking cats can be treated like dogs. Dogs are pack animals; cats traditionally solitary. Dogs often seek attention with exuberance, and while cats can do so, they generally prefer more subtle forms of communication.
Because of this, bodily signals and responses to illness (psychological or physical) can be vastly different, and require plasticity from veterinarians and pet parents alike. Furthermore, preventative care is often quite different, even if rooted in the same philosophy.
Dogs & cats (for the most part) adore their humans and want to interact on a regular basis. However, rubbing a cat’s belly will often elicit a very different response from a cat. Both are interactive, but you must know and honor the basic differences between the species. They are not right or wrong; they simply are.
If there is something you could change about vet training in school and beyond, what would it be?
Western veterinary medical schools need to drastically broaden their horizons when it comes to topics taught. Many offer introductory electives in the following; I think they should be required for all (examples of why provided):
- Human psychology — Many of my classmates had never lost a personal pet and were at a loss how to help grieving pet parents. In the exam room, the bereaved may become stoic, cry, scream, blame, physically cling to you or storm out; it’s all normal but we are not trained in how to support our clients.
- Basic veterinary business management — Even if one never owns a business, it is helpful to understand how they run. This includes budgeting for specific equipment & understanding the roles of paraprofessional staff; all so the doctor can help lead the way to better patient care.
- Interpersonal communications skills — Building upon the previous points, we do not go to work in a vacuum. Humans bring joy and negativity to the workplace in equal parts, because we are emotional creatures and have lives outside work. Understanding how those emotions interrelate can help doctors navigate the waters ourselves, and teach others to do the same. Health care can be stressful for everyone; learning how to communicate during these times of stress helps all people, no matter how many legs they may have.
- Eastern veterinary medical philosophies — The world is too integrated now to leave out perspectives which the majority of the populace believe. That belief doesn’t have to be your own, but we owe it to our patients and their humans to know different theories exist. We can then surround ourselves with professionals with whom we can entrust the care of our patients. But if we don’t have basic knowledge of such things, we tend to ignore them. That philosophy simply isn’t appropriate and it’s time to at least embrace an integrative mindframe.
- Analytical reading of research — Along similar lines, learning to read research articles should occur with an open but critical mind. It is not enough to just read a summary and make a declarative statement. Let’s take a blanket statement, “THC is bad for cats, but CBD is safe.” Yes, THC can cause temporary dysphoria, ataxia (wobbly gait) and urinary incontinence, when administered in large quantities. However, CBD — nor any compound of which I am aware — is “safe.” CBD can cause profound temporary ataxia, sedation, and diarrhea, even in small amounts. A better statement after an analytical review of research, “Anecdotal reports indicate both THC & CBD can result in adverse effects in the feline population. More species specific (e.g. double blinded) research is warranted to understand how these compounds affect feline patients.”
- Medical professional self-care — Veterinarians and their paraprofessional staff are some of the most empathetic people in the world, often to the detriment of their own health. Most do not take vacation and generally neglect their physical and emotional well-being. Taking care of oneself is vitally important so that we can care for others in a manner which pleases us and heals our patients. Our profession has a higher than average anxiety, depression, drug addiction and suicide rates than most; it’s time we learned as students how to develop healthy habits and drop those rates.
- Not specifically a topic but one I wanted to address … How can these 1-2 hour courses be added to an already heavy workload? Lower the workload of other courses. For example, parasitology courses can be limited to lifecycle, diseased states associated with infection, basic diagnostics, and a list of therapies. We do not need to know the evolutionary history of Dipylidium caninum (tapeworms) in order to treat our patients.
What’s been the most rewarding thing about working with cats for you?
Cats are the BEST teachers. They may be subtle communicators, but you never fail to learn something new with each interaction. It doesn’t matter if that adorable kitten just ripped your earring out, or that Buzzsaw was named appropriately and just tried to eat your pinkie.
One taught me to not wear hoop earrings, and the other helped me gain quick reflexes. I have laughed and cried in the fur of my patients and in the arms of their humans; I have stayed up all night with a sick feline friend and lost sleep wondering how I could have helped more.
I have danced and whooped in joy after a patient recovered. And I look at my own crew every day, and thank them and all the cats before and to come, for helping me be a better person, a better doctor, and a better pet parent.
Join us next week for Dr. Brandon’s interview about Feline Nutrition.
Hi, I’m Jenny Dean, creator of Floppycats! Ever since my Aunt got the first Ragdoll cat in our family, I have loved the breed. Inspired by my childhood Ragdoll cat, Rags, I created Floppycats to connect, share and inspire other Ragdoll cat lovers around the world,
WOW! WOW! WOW! Another SUPER DUPER FABULOUS & PAWESOME interview post, Jenny honey! Great info & the pics are AMAZEBALLS! Dr. Brandon is definitely a DVM Hero in my opinion! Bless her for all the wonderful work she does and her intense respect and love of all the furbabies whom she has come to know and love and help (treat)! Dr. Brandon, YOU ROCK! Jenny, YOU ROCK (you find The Best Interviewees!)! TYSVM to you both for such a lovely interview. 🙂 <3
Big hugs & lots of love & purrs!
Patti & Miss Pink Sugarbelle 🙂 <3 <3 <3