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 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.
10 Potential Side Effects of CBD Oil for Dogs: Read This First!
In case you’ve been living under a rock, CBD has become one of the biggest wellness crazes in recent memory. Cannabis compounds were illegal until only recently, and CBD was the first to receive the praise and attention that helped to catapult it to its current popularity. It was only a matter of time until this wellness craze spread to our pets, and that time has come.
Today, you can find all manner of CBD products created specifically for pets, including treats, tinctures, and even toys. CBD is touted as a safe and natural compound for any adult to take, but is it the same for our dogs? Let’s take a closer look at CBD for dogs and the potential side effects that it may cause before you go and start offering CBD treats to your favorite canine compadre.
What is CBD Oil?
CBD is the abbreviation for cannabidiol; a compound that’s found in cannabis and hemp. Cannabis is quite famous for its psychoactive effects, but cannabidiol is a non-psychoactive compound. This means that CBD doesn’t produce any high like other cannabis products that contain tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC.
Within cannabis, THC is the main component that produces the psychoactive sensations, but CBD provides many of the other positive effects that the cannabis plant is known to provide, such as a host of medical benefits.
Image Credit: iAmMrBenjamin, Shutterstock
Is CBD Oil Safe for Dogs?
CBD has been proven to provide positive benefits for people. For instance, it’s used to treat epilepsy, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. According to the World Health Organization, “CBD is generally well tolerated with a good safety profile.” But this is in regards to humans, which leaves us to wonder how safe CBD is for our dogs.
Currently, testing is ongoing. Groups like the AKC Canine Health Foundation are sponsoring studies about CBD’s effect on dogs, though there’s no definitive answer yet as to its efficacy or safety. However, according to PubMed, CBD has not been shown to be detrimental in healthy dogs.
10 Potential Side Effects of CBD for Dogs
Despite CBD’s purported benefits for people and relative safety, there are some side effects that your dog might suffer as a result of this compound; particularly if given too much.
1. Dry Mouth
Many people are aware that cannabis can cause cottonmouth in people, but CBD can also have a similar effect on your dog. While it might be gross that your dog drools everywhere, that slobber is actually important for their health. If CBD causes your dog’s mouth to become dry, it can result in poor dental health, bad breath, and even cause pain when swallowing.
Another common side effect of cannabis use in people is drowsiness or laziness. Though CBD doesn’t contain any THC, your dog could still show signs of lethargy when dosed with CBD. Generally, this is due to a dose that’s too large, so if your dog gets drowsy after a dose of CBD, you might want to reduce the dosage size.
Image Credit: Pixabay
CBD can also cause dizziness in your dog. You’ll have to look for signs that indicate your dog is dizzy, such as trouble standing up or repeated falling over. This can easily occur if the CBD you’re using isn’t pure and contains trace amounts of THC, the psychoactive substance in cannabis that causes the “high” that users experience. While this might be pleasurable for some people, it might not be such a thrill for your pup.
4. Increased Tremors
One of the main reasons people administer CBD to themselves or their pets is to treat epileptic seizures. As such, you might think that it’s a good compound to help with Parkinson’s disease. Unfortunately, CBD has the potential to increase the tremors associated with Parkinson’s, in both humans and canines.
You might notice that your dog tends to scratch, bite, and itch a lot after being dosed with CBD. If so, then you’ll either want to reduce the dosage or cease it altogether. While this isn’t a particularly common side effect, it’s certainly possible, and it’s something you should be on the lookout for.
Image Credit: Zivica Kerkez, Shutterstock
6. Low Blood Pressure
CBD has been shown to cause temporary drops in blood pressure when administered in high doses. This can cause light-headedness, which your dog won’t appreciate. Since this is usually dose-dependent, reducing the amount you’re giving to your dog should help to eliminate this side effect.
7. Upset Stomach
Anything your dog isn’t used to consuming can cause an upset stomach. Even switching dog foods will wreak havoc on many dogs’ stomachs. CBD is no different, and especially in high doses, it can cause quite a lot of discomfort for your canine.
When stomach discomfort is taken to the extreme, it can often induce vomiting. This could be as a result of the compound itself, or it might just be from the taste. CBD is a rather bitter substance and your dog may not like the taste of it. But if the CBD upsets your dog’s stomach enough, they’ll likely throw it back up.
Image Credit: Mumemories, Shutterstock
It can be hard to pinpoint CBD as the culprit when your dog has diarrhea since so many things can cause diarrhea in dogs. But if you’ve removed all other variables and narrowed your dog’s diarrhea down to the CBD you’ve given them, then you’ll either need to reduce the dosage or refrain from giving your dog CBD.
10. Inhibited Production of Liver Enzymes
CBD can affect the way your body metabolizes other drugs because it inhibits the production of liver enzymes. As a result, other drugs can become several times more potent, which can lead to accidental overdose; a deadly occurrence that you’ll need to take care to avoid. If your dog is currently taking other medications, be sure to get veterinary approval before adding CBD to its regimen.
Though CBD is considered safe for humans and even for dogs in most cases, it can have side effects for both of us. While we can decide if the possibility of side effects is worth the potential benefits we could see from taking CBD, your dog can’t make that decision. You have to decide what’s best for your dog. So, keep in mind all of the potential side effects your dog might suffer before you decide to dose them with CBD. And it’s always a good idea to get your vet’s professional opinion first.
- You may also want to read: Relievet CBD Dog Treats Review 2022: Our Expert’s Opinion
Featured Image Credit: Erin Stone, Pixabay
Lead Pet Expert & Pet-ditor in Chief
Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts’ knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.