Is Hemp CBD Safe for My Dog? Is it Legal?
If you haven’t already, you will probably start hearing about Cannabidiol, or CBD, treats for dogs soon.
One of your first questions might be, is CBD safe for my dog? Next, you are probably wondering if it’s legal to buy and posses in your state.
Before I’d heard of them, I discovered “weed cookies” in a local marijuana dispensary (it’s legal here so I decided to check one out).
Ok, they’re not exactly “weed” cookies. CBD dog treats are made with a CBD extract made from industrial hemp (which IS cannabis but different than the “weed” that get’s people high).
I wanted to know more about CBD for dogs so put my scientist hat on and took a deep-dive into the research. I also interviewed several people so they could help me understand all of it.
ARTICLE UPDATED: AUGUST 13, 2018
Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian. You should check with yours if you have any questions about CBD and your dog. It’s always suggested you check with your vet before starting your dog on a new supplement.
What Are the Benefits of CBD Dog Treats?
With medical and recreational marijuana being legal in some states, cannabis has been a hot topic that is getting a closer look.
In recent years, scientists have found REAL BENEFITS of cannabinoids (CBD), the chemical compounds in marijuana and hemp, including pain relief, reduction of inflammation, the ability to lessen anxiety. Some studies suggest that CBD may be helpful in reducing seizures and preventing cancer.
I really want to tell you how CBD works but all of the descriptions I could find were super science-y and confusing. You can either accept “it works” or go read about how it works.
Many people are seeking the same health benefits for their dogs. Enter CBD dog treats.
While there have been more studies on CBD benefits in humans, it does show promise for pets. There have been a lot of positive, first-hand-experience reports from pet owners.
I’ve personally heard from a few people that said it definitely did reduce their dog’s seizures. I’ve given CBD oil and treats to Chester to help with anxiety and I think it does.
Things CBD may be able to help your pet with include:
- Chronic pain
- Inflammation, including things like Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD)
- Digestive Issues, including nausea
- Anxiety, including separation anxiety
- Mental disorders such as dimentia
- Cancer – as a preventative and to help with side effects (view the Science Explains How Cannabis Kills Cancer Cells video)
Is CBD Safe for My Dog?
First, let’s be clear about what CBD is.
Hemp and marijuana are a type of Cannabis Sativa plants, which contain many cannabinoid compounds.
THC is the cannabinoid compound in marijuana that causes the user to feel “high”. CBD, on the other hand, is a cannabinoid that does not cause a high.
CBD and THC levels tend to vary among different plants. Although marijuana is sometimes referred to as hemp, there actually is a clear distinction.
This article does a good job explaining the difference between hemp and cannabis. However, the bottom line is that marijuana is grown for recreational purposes and has been bred to contain high levels of THC. Industrial hemp, a high-growing plant typically bred for industrial uses such as oils, fiber for clothing, fiber for construction, etc., contains CBD but almost no THC when pollinated.
The CBD used in and dog treats you buy should be sourced from hemp.
I know this is confusing so I want to be clear – Even though CBD is derived from hemp, it is not a drug and it will not get your dog high. However, it may help your dog live healthier and more comfortably with behavioral and medical issues.
CBD is considered a dietary supplement by the Food and Drug Administration. That means that it’s not regulated as a drug and doesn’t have to be prescribed by a doctor or veterinarian.
If you think your dog could benefit from CBD, you are free to give it to them. Giving your dog CBD is similar to giving them fish oil or glucosamine.
If you are thinking of trying CBD treats for your dog, there are some things you should know.
What You Need to Know About CBD for Dogs
- Pay close attention to which plant the CBD oil is sourced from. It IS possible to source CBD from marijuana. Because marijuana also contains high levels of THC, which is highly toxic for dogs, stay away from it for sure! I haven’t seen any CBD dog treats yet that say the CBD is sourced from marijuana. However, some human supplements are so you need to make sure to verify the source.
- Be sure to identify to how the CBD oil was extracted. Some processes use ethanol or butane to extract the oil and traces of these petroleum chemicals may be left behind after processing. Look for CBD that has been extracted using the CO2 method. When done well, the end product is safe and potent.
- Choose CBD oil sourced from organic hemp. DO NOT use products with CBD sourced from Chinese-grown hemp. It’s toxic! China is a notoriously polluted country with very few regulations for crop growers, so the presence of pesticides and other contaminants in food products from that country is common. Also good to know – CBD oil is never organic of sourced from marijuana because it takes a lot of pesticides to grow.
- Choose CBD oil that has been created using the whole plant, not just the seeds.It is commonly described as full spectrum, which means the molecules of the “whole plant’ remain intact. This means that the oil contains many types of CBD – cannabinol (CBN), cannabicyclol (CBL), tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), cannabichromevarinic acid (CBCVA), plus many others. Some scientists have found evidence that full spectrum whole hemp CBD oil may offer an “entourage effect,” meaning that a product with all forms of CBD works better because they enhance each other.
- Look for treats that have been lab tested by an independent, third-party to ensure 100% safety and efficacy for your pets.
- While CBD is shown to be non-toxic even at extreme doses (your dog could probably eat a whole bag of treats and be fine, albeit super relaxed) , make sure you give your pet the correct dosage.
- If you are interested CBD in place of your dog’s current prescription, pleaseconsult with your vet first. Some vets are still skeptical about CBD but at least you will be more informed about your choice. There are cases where prescribed drugs are the only sure and effective way to treat something.
If you plan to buy CBD treats for your dog, you MUST read this first
Are CBD Dog Products Legal in My State?
If you don’t live in Washington State or Colorado, is it legal to possess dog treats containing CBD?
The short answer is yes, it is legal in all 50 States to purchase and consume CBD oil as long as it’s sourced from Imported Industrial Hemp.
This kind of hemp oil is considered a supplement by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), not a medication. That means it’s not regulated the same way a drug is.
For a longer explanation on the legalities of CBD oil, read the article Is Cannabidiol Legal? What’s it’s Current Legal Status? from HealthyHempOil.com.
So I did buy a bag of CBD “weed cookies” for Chester and Gretel at the marijuana dispensary. I’ve been giving them the treats for several months now and have tried several different brands. The results were varied, and each can work differently on different pets, so I suggest experimenting with a few to find the right match.
I’ve tried the oil too but found the CBD to have a bigger impact on their anxiety when given in treat form. I’ve been thinking making my own CBD dog treats using one of these recipes using the oil.
Have you or would you try CBD treats for your dog? I know this could still be confusing so please leave any questions you have and I’ll research it.
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About Jessica Rhae
Jessica, aka. The Dachshund Lady, lives and breathes everything Dachshund, hiking and camping with dogs, and blogging. Given her cumulative 25 years of owning Dachshunds, studying the breed, and organizing an 800-member Dachshund club, she’s considered a breed expert by many. Jessica’s dogs have been her best hiking and camping buddies for the last 16 years. She started this blog in 2010 to share what she knows. She’s since won several industry awards and become one of the premier blogging experts in the pet industry.
Having a dog with IVDD who is prone to difficulty walking, crate rest us a big part of our routine. I can see how CBD could be beneficial for keeping a crated active dog calm. I’m looking forward to your update!
Jessica Rhae says
Not only would it help keep them calm but I’ve seen notes here and there about it helping with the pain and inflammation.
Do you think these might help with separation anxiety?
Jessica Rhae says
Thanks for the question. I’ve added more information to the article.
Yes, treating anxiety, and separation anxiety, is one of the main things CBD is used for in pets.
We recently moved into a new house and separation anxiety along with all the repair men and installations… This would really help! Is there a place you recommend to get? I would love some trust worthy places to get some to test out!
Jessica Rhae says
Sounds like it might help then. I purposely did not promote any particular CBD dog treat in this article. I plan to write more about the product we chose later. However, I can “let you in on the secret.” After much research, we decided to go with Pet Releaf. I reached out to them and they provided us with some samples to try. I’ve been really happy with them so far. I’ve even talked to one of the company co-founders and he was awesome.
Thank you so much!! I just feel so bad for Ted lately which I’m sure isn’t helping with his anxiety. Thank you again!
You may want to try a pheromone spray as well? I have heard they can be quite helpful. You can buy them at the pet store
Jessica Rhae says
I know phermone spray had absolutely no effect on Gretel but I’ve heard some people say they had success with it. As with most things like that, it depends on the individual pet.
How can we find this in Seattle?
Jessica Rhae says
Hi Beck. I’m not aware of any Seattle stores that carry PetReleaf. I order ours from their website. You can email them and ask if they have any distributors in Seattle if you don’t want to order online though.
I just saw an article about how CBD might be good for dogs. I’m glad you put a finer point on it–it’s nice to have a non-prescription choice for the doggies.
Jessica Rhae says
I bet you are going to see a lot of articles about CBD for dogs in the future. It’s a hot topic and it appears that CBD is supplement that has potential to help a lot of dogs and people.
Kimberly Gauthier says
I’m going to be trying treats with Sydney. With her partial cruciate tear and occasional back/hip issues, I think this can be beneficial.
This was a fantastic write-up. I think many people think they can give marijuana cookies to their pets, but this isn’t the case. I wouldn’t trust some random person to make treats for my dog. I want to make sure that whoever is creating this product is making something that is safe and beneficial.
Looking forward to the outcome.
Jessica Rhae says
Even though Chester is old, he doesn’t have severe “old man” symptoms (yet). He’s definitely stiffer to walk, more reluctant to help himself to things like the couch, and I suspect he has a touch of doggie dementia that leaves him a bit confused and anxious sometimes. The main reason I’ve been giving him the treats is to help with that anxiety. I want them to help but, honestly, it’s too soon to be sure. I feel like the CBD treats are helping to take the edge off for him though.
I wouldn’t trust a random person to make CBD treats for my dogs either. That’s why buying treats that have been lab tested is important. I guess, technically, the treats we’re trying are made my “random people” (not myself or my Mom. Ha, ha) they have been lab tested to ensure the quantity of CBD in each treat is the same – so the manufacturers of the treats must have some standard procedure they use when making the treats to ensure consistency and safety. I’m not sure how they do it. I think I would be nervous to try making them myself at home…. however, it seems that you can’t really “overdose” your dog on CBD. I just want to know how much they are receiving in each dose so I can better gauge what is effective. CBD oil is an option though if you just wanted to add a measured amount to your dog’s food or something.
Washington State too? Does Colorado know? This is not my high of choice, but I have no issue with any of this. People can make their own choices. Dogs .. well, there are so many ‘healthy’ dog treats out there Truth is, my dog rarely eats anything labelled ‘healthy’ or ‘organic’ or ‘all natural.’ Anxiety, fortunately, is not his issue. Too much confidence might be.
Jessica Rhae says
Yes, Colorado knows I might be misunderstanding you but there is no high involved here. CBD is a dietary supplement, not a drug or anything that makes you, or an animal, feel mentally altered. That’s what is great about CBD – more benefits than marijuana without a high. I normally don’t pay a ton of attention to “organic” or not but when one is taking an extract of something, it’s important. Otherwise you are taking all of the chemical fertilizers and pesticides inside the plant and concentrating them down to a small amount of liquid. Yuck and Yikes! CBD helps so many more things than anxiety. Hopefully your pup is never in a place physically, with pain, cancer, etc, where something like this might be something you would want to try.
Thanks, again for a very informative article, Jessica. I never really understood that THC was a very, very small part of legalized marijuana. Now, with this article, I better understand the differences. I have an older dog with hip dysplasia and many other joint issues. No matter the pain meds and joint supplements, she is in pain. Look forward to your updates as always!
Jessica Rhae says
Sorry for your pup There are no known risks (only a ton of benefits) regarding CBD for pets. If I were you, I might ask my vet about it. It seems like you would have nothing to lose by trying it.
Im cautious about using CBD products for dogs or cats. Since there are compounds in marijuana that are harmful, my concern is the ability of the companies to isolate and extract CBDs. Does Washington State provide any oversight? Are companies required to be transparent? I ask because dietary supplements have no official oversight. They can literally fill capsules with any food based substance.
Jessica Rhae says
Hi Jose. I would be cautious with cats too. I don’t know much about CBD and cats but, as you have, I’ve heard that marijuana can be extra harmful to them. CBD for pets should does not contain any THC from what I understand (because of the source) but I guess there could be very tiny traces and even that small amount might be harmful to cats. As far as I know, all CBD is extracted overseas where the industrial hemp used is grown. Since CBD has found to have no negative effects even when really, really high doses are used, and all CBD for pets (is currently) extracted from industrial hemp which has only traces of THC at best, I would not be too concerned with the “isolation, for safety reasons. It does matter when it comes to quality though. Be sure to avoid CBD that was extracted using Butane. The best extraction method I am aware of is with CO2. Also look to make sure the extract is from both the plant and seeds in order to get all of the nutritional/supplemental benefits. The other thing to pay attention to is how much CBD the company claims is in each dog treat. It can vary. A good company will have the quantity of CBD tested by a third-party lab to ensure consistency. So that’s a long answer to your question. No, Washington state is not involved in the regulation of CBD. It’s considered a supplement by the FDA, and is considered safe even in high quantities, so no regulation is required. Companies are not required to be transparent but a good company will be. The third-party lab testing takes care of the question, “Did they really put any CBD in here?” when it comes to dog treats. I believe the companies that test also test their oil for a guaranteed concentration too. I’ve never seen it in capsules so I can speak to that except to say, whether it’s for you or your pet, the oil has been found to me the most effective. I hope that helps.
This is a very informative post, CBD seems to be very beneficial. Thank you for sharing!
Thank you for sharing this info. As a Colorado resident, we are experiencing a number of emergency room visits with ‘stoners’ who share their product with their pets. Hopefully with more info like this, pet owners will be more responsible with the THC version and its impact on their fur-iends.
Jessica Rhae says
I’ve heard that “marijuana poisoning” had effected more pets in Washington too since it’s been legal. My understanding is that most of those are accidents due to pets getting into a stash. The information out there IS confusing though. I thought that all THC was poison to pets but, while doing my research for this article, I saw some mentions of giving dogs medical marijuana. That might have been extreme cases though where the potential benefit outweighed any risk do to the severity of the situation. I’m definitely going to stay with the safer CBD for Chester and Gretel.
Thank you for this informative article. I have been thinking about trying this but not knowing how or where to get it. My friends vet suggested using it with his dog but it was too late. I have two labs with joint issues, esp the 11year old with Addison’s and lots of lumps and back issues. I have tries aqua pressure, chiropractor adjustments, green muscle lipids and several other supplements. Did July go with these cookies on your own or any other veterinary advice? Thank you again.
Oops, that is supposed to read ….. Did you go with these cookies on your own or other veterinary advice
Jessica Rhae says
I knew what you meant
From my research, it seems that there are no risks to giving CBD a try for pets. However, I am not qualified to give medical advice so I have to say, “always check with your vet before giving your dog a new supplement.” I didn’t discuss it with my vet though. The treats are sold in regular pet food stores around here where any ol’ pet owner can buy them and give them to their pet. In addition, I didn’t find any reason to be cautious in my research. It seems the worst that can happen is that it doesn’t do anything for your pet.
I’d be really interested to try these with Sampson. He’s been having some separation anxiety lately and he has a partial cruciate tear on one leg and has had surgery on the other for a full tear. The poor guy also has arthritis and sometimes shakes whether it’s because he’s in pain or his muscles are weak, I’m not really sure.
Jessica Rhae says
I’m wary of teh “snake oil” pitch but CBD has been proven to be effective for some ailments/diseases. As with any supplement, it might not help all dogs. I’m interested to see how and if it will help Gretel with her IVDD. Before she was diagnosed, I gave it to her for anxiety. It really helped. Not all CBD treats are created equal though. One brand we tried was the most expensive but did nothing. I also saw a “hemp” (what CBD is extracted from) at the Global Pet Expo that contained NO CBD – just help seeds like people eat. They didn’t exactly lie on the package but they were definitely trying to capitalize on the trend. People who don’t understand about CBD and CBD treats could easily be misled. We’ve tried about all of them and our favorites are Pet Releaf and Treatibles. Hope it helps Sampson.
Estella Purkey says
Is it okay to give this even without consulting my vet?
Jessica Rhae says
CBD treats are dietaty suppliments, not drugs. However, common practice is to tecommend you consult with your vet before you give your dog any new suppliments. Most people don’t check and have no issues but I can’t legally tell you that is ok because I am not a veterinarian myself.
With one dog with cancer & arthritis, another with arthritis, and one with fear and anxiety issues (who also has bad knees), this is something I would definitely consider giving my dogs. I appreciate how thorough you were in your research because there certainly seems to be a lot to know about it.
Can you direct me as to where I might look to find the oil or some treats though? I am in NH. I’m just wondering if it’s something I should look for at local pet stores or online? Thanks!
Wow! Really informative! There is so much information listed that I had never thought of. It is always great to learn something new, especially when it comes to the health and protection of our beloved little furries!
Thanks so much for sharing! This article is quite useful in answering questions many have asked without a clear answer- including myself!
This sounds like an awesome treat! If CBD can help rid dogs of their pain and other health problems, I think it’s a great investment! Thanks so much for the info!
A relative of ours, has a small Chihuahua, with Epilepsy.
For 7 years the wee thing was given Phenobarbital to keep the seizures at bay.
Worked well for those 7 years, then a few seizures started under the meds.
On the next visit, the vet told them they will need to increase the dosage, however, the issue was they were already at the uppermost levels of the dosage.
So out of desperation, they asked the vet about CBD’s, would it help, would there be severe health consequences for going that route. He told them outright, if he was mine, I’d try it.
They got some, and what a failure it was… it did not stop the seizures, but they saw a softer side to him.
We made a simple extract with 2 grams of buds, to 8 ounces of Vegetable Glycerine.
For one week, given 1/2 a dropper, 2 times a day, the seizures went from 5-6 down to 3-4, of lesser severity!!
We went to 3 grams/8 ounces of VG, seizures went to 1 small one, but still on the Phenobarbital.
So we used 4 grams/8 ounces of VG, and the he is now free of the Phenobarbital and SEIZURES for over 2 years now!!
He lost the food bowl aggression, he lost the quick temper around small children, never a biter, but a growler. He also lost the desire to run crazy like to the door when visitors would visit, but would come over to be friendly once they were inside.
So do not be so quick to kick THC to the curb just yet, but nor should dogs be give anything to get them high, that is so ignorant.
Jessica Rhae says
That’s so great to hear it “worked” for your pup. As any supplement or medication, it doesn’t work for everyone the same. In my book too, greatly reducing the incident and severity of seizures is a success. To clarify, are you saying that CBD itself did not help but a tincture made with marijuana (that contains THC) did?
Yes, that is correct, the CBD’s, they received, did nothing for seizures, but his mood, softened for lack of a better term.
I also saw this same result with a man 22 years old, born with many complications, and not expected to make it past the age of 6 years old.
Well he is 22 years old now. He also came to that horrible place where the medications have peaked, as his tolerances have built up.
He was at the maximum dosages and still having up to 15 seizures a day. His whole family are NOT marijuana users in any form.
However out of pure desperation, to find some kind of relief, him mom asked if we could made a simple butter. So I just picked a place to start, so from 7 grams of buds, made 2 pans of brownies, in a few days, the seizures went down to around 4-5 a day.
We tried next 8 grams, better results.
Then the magic number for him 10 grams of weed, makes 2 pans of brownies, they measure the pan to cut only 30 pieces, one chunk a day.
His mother told me, it was like God woke him up.
No seizures. He sleeps all night, over pacing hour after hour. He has dinner with his family now. Mom told me, she only wanted to see him smile a bit in his hard life, well he has become the jokester now!
He never spent the night away from home, no sleepovers nothing like that. He went and found work at a charity type company working with other challenged folks. Has a group of friends now.
Then he went to Seattle WA, to visit his biological father, also a non marijuana user, but saw the great change, so he got the young man all set up to get CBD’s from a great source…fail. They tried for 2 weeks, his seizures came back, his sleep left him, his upbeat mood disintegrated.
He left after 2 weeks of a month long planned visit.
Some butter was made while he was in transit, and brownies were waiting for him. In about a week, he back to that place where life is good.
We are now in our 3 year of this. He still takes his medications, and his brownie, and his life is so full of wonder, he is such a joy to be around.
So please let folks know to keep trying, as CBD’s will help, but don’t give up and you do NOT need use very much THC for the medical value, so you do not feel high.
Jessica Rhae says
Thanks for sharing that Doug. I have read some about using marijuana with pets instead of straight CBD but don’t know a lot about that. I figure that CBD is a good place to start if someone is wary of using a “drug” and/or in states where medical marijuana is not legal (CBD still is through a loophole). It’s is important to note, so I am glad you did, that people shouldn’t give up if CBD does not work for them or their pets. It’s worthwhile to explore something “heavier” like medical marijuana.
Robin Rivera says
I have a standard poodle her name is April and she’s 4 yrs old. She was diagnosed with lymphomia last Jan. and went threw 8 rounds of chemo. She as in remission for 4 months and it’s now back. The vets explained that treatment options and said they didn’t recommend chemo again because the cancer would not stay in remission as long and would prob come back faster. With that info and the side effects from the 1st round of chemo we opted not to treat with chemo again. Our only other alternative was giving her an injection of a type of chemo under her skin that attacks the bad cells and not the good along with a regiment of pednisone. I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the benefits of cbd and have ordered some cbd dog treats. Do you really think this could help? Thank you. Robin Rivera
Jessica Rhae says
Hi Robin. I can’t say for sure if it would help or not. However, from what I have learned, CBD is good for helping to PREVENT cancer. Once a dog has it, I’ve heard of many people treating them with medical marijuana (under a vet’s supervision or after very closely researching the proper dose). If your pup already has cancer, I would think that something stronger is in order than what is contained in most CBD treats. It is possible that a very high concentration of CBD could help I guess but you may need to pull out the “bigger guns” for this. I would certainly talk to a veterinarian who is open to this kind of treatment and see what they recommend. You may even have to located one somewhere else in the country and talk to them over the phone.
Hi, I’ve been studying hemp for awhile and was told by a manufacturer of hemp products in Colorado that by law you can only source hemp from seeds, stems and stalks to be purchased nation-wide. You are recommending buying products using the whole plant which would include leaves and flower as well. Maybe this is legal in WA only? Could you clarify?
Jessica Rhae says
Hi Bridget. I am not lawyer, of course, but it’s my understanding that as long as the CBD is sourced from IMPORTED hemp (yes, the whole plant), it is legal in all 50 states. Since this is a new industry, and CBD has only recently become trendy, there is still a lot of confusion around it’s use and distribution. CBD oils to not contain any THC, or only very trace amounts, and it’s the THC that is considered a regulated drug. Now, I’ve heard people from states where recreational marijuana is not legalized claim that it’s still illegal there. However, unless they show me their information came from a high-up/authority source, I don’t believe them. Instead, I believe the companies that have spent years researching the legalities of CBD in order to bring their product to market. They will tell you that CBD extracted from imported industrial hemp is legal in all 50 states. The keywords being IMPORTED and INDUSTRIAL. There are people growing hemp in Colorado, and making CBD from the whole plant, and it’s my understanding that CBD from that source is NOT legal in all 50 states. Does my explanation make sense?
CBD for dogs and cats: Is it safe?
A leading veterinary cannabis researcher explains what experts do and don’t know about giving animals CBD.
Danielle Kosecki is an award-winning journalist who has covered health and fitness for 15 years. She’s written for Glamour, More, Prevention and Bicycling magazines, among others, and is the editor of The Bicycling Big Book of Training. A New York native, Danielle now lives in Oakland where she doesn’t miss winter at all.
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Analysts predict the CBD pet care market will reach $125 million by 2022, making it one of the fastest-growing segments of the CBD sector.
CBD advocates tout a myriad of benefits for humans — but can it help our four-legged friends too? The answer is complicated.
When Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, it wasn’t something veterinarian Stephanie McGrath thought much about day to day. But then the phone calls started coming. Pet owners and family veterinarians wanted to know what she thought about medical marijuana in relation to animals, and whether she was researching it.
This story discusses substances that are legal in some places but not in others and is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You shouldn’t do things that are illegal — this story does not endorse or encourage illegal drug use.
At the time, McGrath had no interest in cannabis and didn’t even know what cannabidiol (CBD) was, so she mostly ignored the topic. But the combination of receiving phone calls and seeing CBD products already lining pet store shelves made her realize she needed to get up to speed.
“Around 2013 or 2014, I started looking into what research was already out there and I realized that there was essentially no real, good scientific literature in the human world, let alone the veterinary research world,” says McGrath, assistant professor of neurology at Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “And so I started investigating whether it would even be plausible for me to conduct any research.”
McGrath went on to become one of the pioneering researchers in the field of veterinary cannabis but even with her early efforts, research (and regulation) has struggled to keep pace with demand, as people increasingly turn to CBD products to treat their pet’s pain, anxiety and seizure disorders.
Thanks in large part to the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp-derived CBD, analysts now predict the CBD pet care market will reach $125 million by 2022, making it one of the fastest-growing segments of the CBD market.
For such a rapidly growing industry, there are still a lot of unknowns. Below, what you need to know if you’re considering CBD for your furry friend.
What is CBD?
Dried hemp flowers, like those shown here, naturally contain higher levels of CBD than other varieties of the Cannabis sativa plant.
Picture Alliance/Getty Images
Cannabidiol is part of the cannabinoid family, a class of chemical compounds naturally found in the cannabis plant. Cannabinoids interact with the human body’s endocannabinoid system, which helps the body maintain homeostasis.
Unlike its cousin delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, CBD doesn’t produce a “high,” but it is psychoactive. In 2018, the US Food and Drug Administration approved Epidiolex, an oral CBD solution, to treat Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, two rare and severe pediatric seizure disorders. CBD is also being investigated as a possible treatment for pain , anxiety and schizophrenia symptoms in humans.
How is CBD administered to animals?
CBD pet care products come in many of the same forms you’re probably used to seeing for humans, including edibles (think: chewable treats and capsules), oils that can be added to food or placed under the tongue and topical creams or balms that are rubbed directly on the skin.
Like the CBD products meant for humans, each of these CBD pet care product types appears to have a different effect on the body — in dogs, anyway.
When McGrath started studying CBD in 2016, one of her first studies analyzed how three different delivery methods — a capsule, an oil and a cream — affected the way CBD moved through the bodies of healthy dogs.
Chewable treats are a popular form of pet care CBD.
Pharma Hemp Complex/Unsplash
“We measured the pharmacokinetics, which basically means you give the dogs a single dose of all three delivery methods and then you measure a bunch of different blood levels over a 12-hour period,” says McGrath. “So how quickly is the CBD absorbed, how high the blood concentration gets at that single dose, and then how fast the CBD is eliminated.”
McGrath found that, out of the three specific formulations they tested, the oil had the best pharmacokinetic profile, meaning it reached the highest concentration in the blood, stayed in the bloodstream the longest, and performed the most consistently across different types of dogs. The capsule also performed well but the cream less so. It performed too inconsistently for McGrath and her team to draw any conclusions.
These results line up with what we know so far about CBD absorption in humans, but the research is too preliminary to be used to make any medical decisions.
How does CBD work in animals?
It’s unclear — and a puzzle researchers are still trying to solve in humans as well. For instance, dogs have an endocannabinoid system but whether CBD interacts with it in the same way experts think it does in humans remains to be seen. For now, all McGrath knows is that in dogs, like in humans, CBD appears to be metabolized by the liver.
Are there any health benefits to giving your pet CBD?
Veterinary CBD research has focused primarily on dogs, leaving a lot of cat owners with unanswered questions.
Research is promising, but it’s still early. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in the journal Pain in 2020 found that “Cannabidiol possesses potent anti-inflammatory properties and significantly improved the mobility of large domestic canines afflicted with osteoarthritis.”
This research follows a 2018 study found that CBD can help increase comfort and activity in dogs with osteoarthritis.
In 2019, McGrath published a study showing CBD may help reduce the number of seizures experienced by epileptic dogs. But although these studies were well-designed and peer-reviewed, they’re still small and very preliminary.
“All we’ve basically done is give this drug to these dogs and said, OK, this is what we’re seeing,” says McGrath. “But whether or not the blood levels achieved are adequate enough to treat certain diseases, we don’t yet know.”
Still, McGrath is optimistic. Veterinarians don’t have a wide variety of drugs available to treat these conditions and some of the ones that do exist often come with debilitating side effects, such as weight gain and lethargy. “If CBD works, then I think it would hit the mark of being both effective and not carrying a lot of side effects,” says McGrath. “So that’s kind of what we’re hoping for.”
McGrath and other researchers nationwide are currently conducting larger studies on CBD’s effectiveness in treating osteoarthritis in dogs and cats, epilepsy in dogs and post-operative pain, but it will be a while before the results are published.
Until more is known, it’s best to talk to your veterinarian before giving your animal CBD.
Is CBD safe for animals?
CBD, in its pure state, appears to be safe and well-tolerated by animals, according to a 2017 World Health Organization report. However, both subsequent 2018 canine studies mentioned above noted an increase in the liver enzyme alkaline phosphatase (ALP) during CBD treatment.
As part of her study, McGrath ran a simultaneous liver function test to make sure the dogs’ livers weren’t failing and everything came back normal, so it’s unclear whether the elevated ALP levels were caused by something completely benign or could develop into a more serious problem long term.
“I would definitely be a little concerned about giving CBD to a dog that has known liver issues,” says McGrath. Similarly, because CBD appears to be metabolized by the liver, McGrath says she’d also be wary about giving CBD to a dog who already takes a medication that’s metabolized by the liver. “We don’t really know how these things interact right now,” she says.
The other big thing pet owners need to be aware of is quality control. Because the CBD market isn’t well regulated yet, CBD products can contain ingredients that aren’t listed on their labels — including THC, which is known to be toxic to cats and dogs.
When shopping for CBD pet care products, look for companies that support research and will provide a certificate of analysis, or COA, for every batch they sell.
One way to avoid potentially harmful ingredients is to only use products that come with a certificate of analysis, or COA (the batch number on the COA should match the number on the product’s label or packaging). A COA is issued when an independent lab tests the product to confirm its ingredients and potency, among other things.
Legally, CBD products must contain no more than 0.3% THC, which should be safe for animals. But there’s no reason to take chances. Whenever possible, stick to CBD pet care products that contain 0.0% THC and be on the lookout for symptoms of THC poisoning such as vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, restlessness and trouble standing.
Bottom line: “We haven’t found anything that’s super alarming about CBD,” says McGrath. “But on the flip side, we still know very little about it, and it’s really important for owners to know that and use it with caution until we have more information.”
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.