CBD Oil for Pets: What Is It and Is It Safe?
The use of cannabidiol (CBD) to treat humans and pets has become very popular and is widely touted as a cure for hundreds of ailments as well as pain management. Like most non-mainstream treatments, however, there is confusion as to what CBD is, how it is used, and whether it actually works. Part of the confusion is because there have been few scientific studies conducted to test the benefits and risks of treating your pet with CBD.
CBD is considered an “alternative medicine,” which is the broad term that refers to non-traditional therapies. In other words, while there are many widely-known types of alternative medicine such as acupuncture and chiropractic care, these methods are not recognized by the scientific community, and therefore are considered alternative. While there is no denying the value to many patients who claim to benefit from these treatments, the debate among doctors is whether the results are due to a placebo effect since science has not proven the remedies to be effective in curing disease or improving overall health. According to the Harvard Medical School, the benefits of CBD has been proven to reduce seizures in humans, and may help with insomnia and reducing pain due to arthritis, 1 but further studies are needed to see if there are other benefits or risks. Fortunately, due to the increased interest, more studies are being conducted to examine the use of CBD for humans and pets.
Lack of CBD Research
For the most part, however, pet care specialists believe that CBD is safe for pets if given proper doses. However, critics argue that because of the lack of regulations and few scientific studies, CBD should not be used to treat pets. 2 Nonetheless, the use of CBD pet products has increased dramatically with an estimated $500 million in 2018 to a projected increase to over 1.1 billion dollars in 2020. 3 This rise in popularity, however, appears to be fueled more by dollars than sense. According to Columbia University neurobiologist Margaret Haney, there is little scientific evidence to support or justify the surging CBD market. 4 As scientists continue to study the effects of cannabidiol, we are learning more about the alleged benefits of CBD in the treatment of humans and pets. The boom in CBD sales is largely due to the legalization of CBD for human use. Since July 2018, 47 states have legalized CBD for human use. This has allowed pet owners to use CBD for their pets even though veterinarians are prohibited from initiating a discussion of using the use of CBD to treat pets. 5
Regulation: CBD vs THC
Currently, the sale of CBD, especially for pets, is largely unregulated and the FDA has not approved any CBD products for pets. As a result, there is confusion. Although CBD is a chemical compound found in cannabis plants, CBD is not the same as marijuana. The cannabis plant has different species of flowering plants including hemp and marijuana. CBD is found in hemp, the non-psychoactive type of cannabis plant, which means your pet won’t get “high” because hemp has a very extremely low level of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the element that is psychoactive. Significantly, THC is toxic to animals, so you should only use CBD pet products that contain no THC or less than 0.3 percent THC. This also means you should never give your pet CBD products made for humans because they may contain additional ingredients that are harmful to pets, including harmful amounts of THC. Needless to say, never give your pet marijuana. Also, always follow dosing instructions.
CBD Uses in Pets
Pet owners use CBD to treat pets for many reasons including anxiety, arthritis, nausea, stress, seizures and pain relief from cancer and other diseases. There are various ways to treat pets including cannabis oil, capsules or edible treats. While CBD oil can be administered topically, it is more commonly administered orally and is often infused with coconut oil. CBD oil can also be mixed with your pet’s food.
Shopping for CBD pet products can be confusing due to the lack of regulation which means the labeling is not always consistent. Also, only veterinarians in California may legally initiate a conversation about CBD treatment for pets, but veterinarians in other states are allowed to answer questions when asked; so definitely start a conversation before using CBD for your pet. Look for products that follow Good Manufacturing Practices or have been approved by the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) to ensure high quality ingredients.
Giving Your Pet CBD
When giving CBD to your pets, start with a low dose and watch for side effects including nausea, upset tummy, vomiting, incontinence or lethargy. According to veterinarian Casara Andre, the founder of Veterinary Cannabis Education & Counseling, the limited research suggests that CBD does not pose significant risks to pets, and few risks have been identified. 6 Significantly, while the lack of studies is a concern, overdosing is the most common ill effect of CBD use in pets. According to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, there has been an increase of calls regarding dogs eating more than recommended dosages of CBD treats. While mild cases can be treated at home, more serious cases will require medical treatment and can result in symptoms similar to an THC overdose. 7 Because THC is toxic to pets, a large dose of THC can be very dangerous and can result in serious medical complications. 8
While sales of CBD pet products continue to surge, the science is catching up to provide evidence of the benefits and risks of CBD. In the meantime, if your pet needs medical attention, you should always consult a pet care specialist and discuss all options, including the use of CBD. The marketing of CBD pet products is very aggressive, and unfortunately not always accurate. Do your homework, talk to your veterinarian, and make informed choices about CBD pet products. If you decide to use CBD pet products, follow instructions and be on alert for side effects.
Does CBD Work for Dogs?
Topper, a 7-year-old Ibizan Hound, could hardly walk after being diagnosed with severe arthritic changes due to Valley fever. “The pain became so debilitating he had to be carried outside to eat, drink, or use the bathroom,” recalls owner Christy Moore. “He was on pain medication but it wasn’t working. A friend recommended pet CBD. Within three days he could walk on all four legs and I was crying tears of joy. It was the miracle we needed.”
Lady Amelthia, a Greyhound, was so petrified of thunderstorms she would destroy a crate to escape. “Holding her only made her claw to get away. A ThunderShirt reduced her from 100 to 90 on the anxiety scale,” recalls owner Jenn Boswell, director of the Alabama Greyhound Adoption Center. “Veterinary-prescribed trazodone took it down to a 50. Tried three drops of CBD oil and it went down to a 5.”
Success stories abound of dogs overcoming anxiety, slowing seizures, and even beating cancer due to cannabidiol (CBD), one of more than 100 cannabinoids found in cannabis plants. But how can one substance help so many unrelated problems? Or can it?
Cannabinoids are substances including CBD and THC that mimic the endocannabinoid chemicals naturally produced in all vertebrates. Receptors for endocannabinoids are found throughout the body. The body’s endocannabinoids act as master regulators that signal other systems when to speed up or slow down, working to stabilize the body and return it to homeostasis. Cannabinoids from the cannabis plant affect these same receptors, each in slightly different ways. For example, THC causes a high, while CBD does not.
Is It Harmful?
Unlike THC, which can cause toxicity and even death in dogs when given at prescribed human dosages, the worst CBD has been documented to do is cause diarrhea and changes in some liver enzyme values after several weeks. The main concern with CBD is that it inhibits a chemical in the body called cytochrome P450 that is responsible for metabolizing most drugs. If a drug’s efficacy depends on its metabolized product, CBD could render it less effective. If a drug’s safety depends on it being cleared from the body within a certain time frame, CBD could cause it to build up to toxic levels. Never give your dog CBD without your veterinarian’s knowledge if your dog is taking other drugs.
Does It Work?
Research with dogs is still scarce, but there’s a huge body of research (about 23,000 published papers!) looking at CBD’s effect on laboratory animals and humans, with encouraging results for pain, especially arthritic pain, itchiness, anxiety, and cancer, all of which have at least one canine study as well. The results in dogs? It depends.
Arthritis: Several studies have looked at CBD’s effectiveness against arthritic pain, all with positive results. A Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine study found dogs given CBD at a rate of 4.4 mg per pound twice daily for a month showed significant improvement in pain relief and quality of life. Lead investigator Joe Wakshlag, DVM, Ph.D., DACVN, said that some dogs were initially so decrepit that their owners considered euthanasia, but that after just days on CBD they were trotting around and even climbing stairs. A Baylor University study found similar improvement, adding that CBD worked better when delivered in a liposomal formulation.
Itchiness: Two recent double-blind, placebo-controlled dog studies report CBD significantly reduces itchiness. An Australian study conducted by the company CannPal found their CBD product reduced itchiness, inflammation, and skin lesions by 51 percent after eight weeks of treatment. An American study conducted by the company ElleVet found their product, which combines CBD with another cannabinoid, CBDA, significantly reduced owners’ reports of itchiness.
Cancer: Cannabinoids are reported to induce cancer-cell death and prevent metastasis. In a Cornell University study of CBD, dogs, and cancer, researchers found CBD along with a standard chemotherapy drug reduced cancer-cell proliferation in vitro more than the chemotherapy drug alone. Anecdotal reports from veterinarians have claimed CBD shrunk cancer cells or put dogs into remission.
Behavior: Anxiety, and especially noise reactivity, is a major reason dog owners seek help using CBD. But despite anecdotal reports of its effectiveness, no controlled study so far has shown it to be particularly effective. A study from the University of Western Australia may show promise for aggressive behavior. Shelter dogs with aggressive tendencies exhibited less aggression toward humans when tested after 15 days of CBD administration. In a study from the University of Kentucky, physiological measurements of anxiety in response to noise were not significantly different for CBD versus placebo, and were worse compared to trazodone (a drug commonly prescribed for anxiety). Note, however, that in this study the CBD was administered four to six hours before testing, which may have been too long a waiting period.
Seizures: Lots of anecdotal reports hail CBD’s success combatting seizures in dogs, but the single controlled study delivered moderate results. In this Colorado State University study, dogs given CBD for 12 weeks had 33 percent fewer seizures than those given a placebo, but it didn’t work for every dog. These researchers are now working on a larger trial using higher CBD doses. Note that THC has been reported to cause seizures, so it should never be included in any CBD product for seizure control. In addition, CBD’s effect on cytochrome P450 could interfere with prescribed anti-seizure drugs, so never use it without your veterinarian’s consent.
Other: There’s also evidence from laboratory animals that CBD is effective in promoting bone healing, fighting infection, treating inflammatory bowel disease, slowing degenerative myelopathy, quelling nausea, and relieving pain, but these have yet to be specifically examined in dogs.
How to Choose CBD For Dogs?
With hundreds of CBD products on the market, and little regulation of them, it’s not easy to know which is best. Look for a product with the National Animal Supplement Counsel (NASC) Seal of Quality Assurance, and one that has a third-party certificate of analysis that includes potency, lists all ingredients, and discloses the possible presence of heavy metals, mycotoxins, or pesticides. Avoid edible products formulated for human consumption, which often contain ingredients such as xylitol that are toxic to pets.
Choose broad-spectrum products, which include other cannabinoids and substances known as terpenes that are also in the cannabis plant. CBD seems to work best when it’s in conjunction with these rather than isolated. But avoid full-spectrum products that include THC.
Aim for about 0.1 to 0.2 mg per kilogram of your dog’s weight, given twice daily by mouth. Work up gradually, but beware that more is not always better with CBD, as sometimes the response is biphasic, meaning that it doesn’t work if you give too little or too much.
Is It Legal?
Many veterinarians are reluctant to suggest CBD, whether because they believe CBD is not yet sufficiently proven helpful or because they fear professional or legal repercussions. CBD products are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for dogs, but neither are common supplements such as glucosamine or fish oil; nor the majority of human-approved prescription drugs routinely prescribed in veterinary practice.
While it is legal to sell hemp-derived products containing less than 0.3 percent THC, until recently the American Veterinary Medical Association did not approve of veterinarians suggesting any cannabis products, including CBD, for patients. Even now, the law is unclear enough that many veterinarians fear repercussions if something went wrong due to their suggestion of CBD.
While some veterinarians are hesitant to suggest CBD, almost all are eager to discuss it once you bring it up. Of course, some veterinarians are more versed in its pros and cons than others. The main concern is its possible interaction with prescribed drugs.
Overall, the evidence is compelling that CBD can help at least some conditions. The endocannabinoid system is the largest system in the body, and the least explored. Every year brings new discoveries—and new claims. It’s the beginning of a brave new world of health, but as with any new path, expect some wrong turns, dead ends, and false hopes. CBD is not a miracle drug, but it may be the miracle your dog needs.
This article originally appeared in the award-winning AKC Family Dog magazine. Subscribe today!
CBD Oil for Dogs: What You Need to Know
CBD and hemp products for dogs have become popular. This trend has led to treats containing CBD oil, a hemp byproduct, that claim to help dogs with a number of ailments from anxiety to chronic pain. But does CBD oil for dogs work? And what do you need to be aware of before starting your dog on this new supplement?
What is CBD Oil for Dogs?
CBD stands for “cannabidiol.” This is a compound found in hemp and cannabis. For the most part, CBD does not contain THC, the psychoactive substance found in marijuana. Indeed, most CBD produced for consumption by both humans and pets are cultivated from hemp and not marijuana plants. Hemp is also used for the production of textiles, rope and other industrial products.
Due to the laws surrounding CBD, your vet might have a hard time providing you with definitive information on the efficacy of CBD for your dog. However, anecdotal evidence from people and pets that use it say there are many benefits to CBD.
The Benefits of CBD Oil and Treats for Dogs
There is not much scientific evidence to support claims for CBD use in dogs because there just haven’t been enough studies. Anecdotal evidence, however, paints a positive picture for people looking to help their dogs relieve symptoms of the following:
Dogs with anxiety may benefit from CBD oil laced dog treats or CBD oil added directly into their bowl of food. With CBD, the dog feels a sense of calm. Dogs with anxiety from noise phobia have also been known to have decreased symptoms when using CBD. While there are alternatives to treating a dog with separation anxiety, like boarding your dog, or doggy daycare with additional fitness activities, when you’re away from home, CBD might be a good alternative when you need to leave the house for short trips.
Nausea or Lack of Appetite
Dogs with stomach issues may experience relief with CBD. There are endocannabinoid receptors all over the body, including the digestive system. This may calm an upset stomach.
There is hope the CBD will be a breakthrough drug for the treatment of epilepsy in dogs. In fact, the AKC Canine Health Foundation and Colorado State University have partnered together to run clinical trials to test just this theory. This large-scale study will be the first of its kind and, hopefully, offer some guidance for pet owners with dogs that suffer from epilepsy.
Some dog owners have reported a relief in symptoms of pain in their dogs when using CBD products. This is one of the main benefits of CBD oil that vets are excited to study. This may innovate the way we treat pain in our pets.
What to Watch Out For
You should never give your dog products containing THC. In fact, it can be dangerous for them to consume. CBD, however, has been shown to assist with symptoms like pain in dogs. Here are the results from a Cornell study on “Pharmacokinetics, Safety, and Clinical Efficacy of Cannabidiol Treatment in Osteoarthritic Dogs”: “Clinically, canine brief pain inventory and Hudson activity scores showed a significant decrease in pain and increase in activity (p < 0.01) with CBD oil. Veterinary assessment showed decreased pain during CBD treatment (p < 0.02). No side effects were reported by owners; however, serum chemistry showed an increase in alkaline phosphatase during CBD treatment (p < 0.01).”
That’s just one study showing how preliminary research is positive for CBD oil for dogs. These should serve as an example of scientific evidence to support your choice to use CBD for your pet.
Possible side effects for dogs using CBD include:
- Drowsiness: The calming effect of CBD might lead to your dog feeling drowsy. The higher the dose, the greater the drowsiness.
- Lower Blood Pressure: CBD may cause a brief drop in blood pressure that might lead to a bit of light-headedness.
- Dry Mouth: Lowered production of saliva has been reported with the use of CBD. It might make your dog thirstier, too. So, be sure their bowl of water is filled.
How to Choose CBD Oil for Dogs
There are plenty of products out there today on the market, but which product is right for your pet? We suggest buying high-quality CBD products for your dog. Some CBD oil for dogs comes in a dropper bottle to be added to food. Then, there are CBD treats that you give your pet. You should look for organic products with analysis results from the manufacturer so you can make sure it’s safe for your pet. There should be little to no THC in any CBD product you give your dog. Lastly, don’t shop for the cheapest products. Some may contain pesticides and herbicides that are dangerous for your pet. Stay safe!