Many pet owners are looking for holistic, alternative treatments outside of traditional medicine for their four-legged family members. As with all pharmaceuticals, the medication prescribed to your pet could be accompanied by side effects, may not work effectively, or may even cancel out the function of another medication your pet is taking. Is CBD the solution for those with pets suffering from conditions like epilepsy, arthritis, chronic pain, or anxiety?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a chemical compound in a group known as cannabinoids, which are derived from cannabis and hemp plants. Although some pet parents refrain from using CBD products on the premise that they may get their pets high, this fear is unwarranted. While CBD is technically a psychoactive compound, its effects are not intoxicating like those of the cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). To learn more, check out our complete guide to CBD.
Let’s explore whether CBD has the potential to improve the quality of our pets’ lives. In this article, we’ll break down your pet’s endocannabinoid system, existing research on CBD and animals, what vets think about CBD, CBD dosing standards for dogs and cats, and how to find good CBD oil for your pet.
Pets and the Endocannabinoid System
The same endocannabinoid system (ECS) that is present in the human body is present in all vertebrates, or all animals possessing backbones, as well as most invertebrates. Having an endocannabinoid system is the reason we are able to experience the benefits of cannabinoids. The cannabinoids bind to the receptors of the ECS that are located throughout our bodies, namely the type 1 and 2 cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2).
Most popular pets—including cats, dogs, rabbits, birds, and reptiles—have backbones, meaning they have an ECS. In other words, the medical benefits of cannabis for humans can also be delivered to most animals. Unfortunately, pets that aren’t vertebrates may not have an ECS, meaning that cannabis wouldn’t work for them. In this guide, we will mainly discuss the use of CBD for cats and dogs.
The ECS is responsible for maintaining a healthy and natural balance in the body. Your pet’s ECS communicates with the cannabinoid receptors using the endocannabinoids produced in the body. When CBD is consumed, the endocannabinoids produced by the body are stimulated, leading to an interaction between (1) the ECS, (2) the ECS endocannabinoids found in the body, and (3) the cannabis cannabinoids. But what does the research have to say about the possible benefits of CBD for pets?
Health Benefits of CBD for Pets
Plenty of anecdotal evidence exists from pet owners who have found success giving CBD to their pets. A 2018 survey led by veterinary researchers found that 87% of respondents would recommend CBD for their friends’ dogs. However, we have to turn to the research to investigate the true health benefits of CBD for animals. Fortunately, scientists have already spearheaded some studies to assess the interaction of CBD with animals’ bodies, showing significant promise for the cannabinoid in veterinary healthcare.
What the Research Has to Say
A 2018 study aimed to understand the effectiveness of CBD as a treatment for osteoarthritis, a condition often treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). After giving the canine subjects either CBD oil or placebo oil for four weeks, results showed significantly reduced pain and no side effects in the dogs that received CBD. In contrast, NSAIDs are associated with numerous negative effects. Despite the small sample size (16 dogs), the study concluded that CBD is an effective treatment to mitigate pain and increase mobility in dogs with osteoarthritis.
A 2013 study that assessed the role of CBD in alleviating pancreatitis had promising results as well. After inducing acute pancreatitis in a group of mice using cerulein, researchers injected the mice with CBD and evaluated their enzyme levels. Results showed that the CBD significantly improved pathological changes and decreased enzyme activities as well as the tumor necrosis factor, a protein that causes inflammation. The study ultimately backed CBD’s efficacy as an anti-inflammatory product, though further research is needed to generalize these findings to other animals.
Researchers have also delved into the potential of using CBD to treat dogs with idiopathic epilepsy, the most common canine neurologic condition. A clinical trial conducted at Colorado State University (CSU) from 2016 to 2017—the first of its kind—explored the effects of CBD on seizure frequency in dogs. Among a group of 16 epileptic dogs, nine were given CBD oil and seven were given a placebo oil twice daily for 12 weeks. The researchers found that 89% of the dogs given CBD had a significant reduction in seizure frequency—an encouraging statistic despite the small sample size.
General Benefits of CBD
More scientific studies are needed to pinpoint the specific and guaranteed benefits provided by CBD for animals, but experts have enough literature and accounts to speculate on the cannabinoid’s general medical uses. Dr. Trina Hazzah, DVM, wrote for Great Pet Care that CBD products can potentially offer animals the following benefits:
Immune system support (i.e. autoimmune disease, cancer)
Nervous system support
Cardiovascular system support
Reduction in anxiety
CBD Products May Not Always Work
The CBD brands catering to pets may suggest that their products help animals with all kinds of problems, such as hypertension and behavior issues. While many pet owners find success in the therapeutic properties of CBD, some notice absolutely no difference in their fur baby’s symptoms.
As previously mentioned, CBD will not work for organisms that do not have an ECS. Since this doesn’t apply to cats and dogs, the issue may be the products being used. Unfortunately, some CBD products marketed for pets have been found to contain little to no CBD, making them ineffective. Cornell University veterinary researcher Joseph Wakshlag told High Times, “You’d be astounded by the analysis we’ve seen of products on the shelf with virtually no CBD in them, or products with 2 milligrams per milliliter, when an effective concentration would be between 25 and 75 milligrams per milliliter.”
Products might also be ineffective because they contain isolated cannabinoids as opposed to being full- or broad-spectrum, the recommended form for accessing the complete benefits of CBD. Full- or broad-spectrum CBD contains multiple cannabinoids, with CBD quantity being the highest. When combined, cannabinoids work more efficiently than they would on their own, creating what is known as the entourage effect. While full-spectrum products may contain 0.3% or less THC, it’s important to note that this amount is not enough to cause adverse effects in your pet.
What Do Vets Think About CBD?
Veterinarians do and don’t recommend CBD as pet medication—it ultimately depends on the vet’s background and experience. Vets who don’t support CBD products may be unaware of the benefits or hesitant to recommend a product that was previously illegal. Others may be uncomfortable venturing outside of the conventional pharmaceutical medicine they learned about in school. Still, an increasing number of vets who have witnessed the medical benefits of CBD are recommending it to pet owners.
Veterinarian Paul Rowan at the Center of Animal Healing told Green Entrepreneur, “We were sold on CBD products after a long-time client of ours whose doggie is always full of strange wart-like spots that we have never truly been able to get rid of began using CBD salve.” After just a few weeks of continued use, the spots vanished. Dr. Rowan also claims CBD helps reduce seizure activity and tumor growth and now implements the cannabinoid into all his clients’ treatment plans.
Dr. Lauren Beaird, DVM, was skeptical about dabbling in medication outside of standard western medical practice at the beginning of her career, but she slowly educated herself on CBD in response to inquiries from pet owners. While Dr. Beaird refrains from referring to hemp as a cure-all, she now includes CBD in all treatment plans for pets with chronic illness or inflammatory disorders. “I have several pets that benefit from full-spectrum hemp oil that are suffering from arthritis, cognitive decline, anxiety, and even cancer,” the vet stated.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, vets are forbidden under federal and state law from administering, dispensing, prescribing, or recommending cannabis products for animals. However, pet owners are free to discuss with their veterinarian the potential risks and benefits of creating their own treatment plan with CBD oil, which is legal to buy and use in all 50 states. Laws like California’s AB-2215, which protects the state’s vets from disciplinary action for discussing cannabis treatments, are paving the way for CBD’s permanent spot in veterinary medicine.
Pet Size and Dosing Standards
CBD pet products come in three main forms: tinctures, capsules, and edible treats. Tinctures come in a dropper bottle and allow for the most accurate and customized dosing, while capsules and treats are pre-measured and less messy. CBD generally takes effect about 45 minutes after consumption and can last up to eight hours, so most pets should receive one to two doses a day. Keep in mind that it might take a couple of weeks of consistent use to see the full benefits of CBD in your pet.
The amount of CBD your pet needs could vary depending on their condition, so start with a low dose and work up to a stronger dose in small increments. The general recommendation for administering CBD to an animal is 1-5 milligrams for every 10 pounds of body weight. Whatever form of CBD you decide to give your pet, refer to the chart below from All The Best Pet Care to ensure you’re giving them the right amount of CBD for their body weight.
CBD for Dogs
Looking for alternative medicine for your canine pal? You’re in luck. More CBD research has been conducted on dogs than any other animal, so there’s mounting evidence that CBD can relieve the symptoms of some of the most common conditions seen in dogs, including:
Fleas and ticks
How to Give CBD Oil to Dogs
Many dogs love food and treats, but they might not be so keen on taking their medicine. Here are a few tricks for administering CBD oil to your pup:
Apply it directly to the inside of your dog’s mouth (near the back) using a dropper.
Put the oil onto a porous dog treat, such as a biscuit, that will absorb the oil.
Mix the oil into something delicious such as peanut butter.
Mix the oil into their regular food; they’re unlikely to notice a difference.
Use the oil in a recipe for homemade dog treats.
Can CBD Kill My Dog?
The short answer is no—CBD is not inherently toxic for dogs. A 2020 study in which 20 adult dogs were administered CBD oil, THC oil, or placebo oil found that the CBD oil was as safe as the placebo. Even dogs that were given higher doses of CBD did not experience serious adverse effects like those seen in the dogs that received substantial doses of THC, such as lethargy, hypothermia, and ataxia (lack of muscle control). If you stick with quality CBD products, your furry friend will be just fine.
CBD for Cats
Although less CBD research has been done on cats than dogs, small studies have demonstrated the cannabinoid’s potential to soothe medical conditions in felines. Some of the most common conditions seen in cats that could possibly be alleviated by CBD treatment include:
Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)
Feline leukemia virus (FeLV)
Upper respiratory infections
How to Give CBD Oil to Cats
Cats are notoriously picky eaters, so giving them any kind of medicine can sometimes be a challenge. Here are some tried-and-tested ways to administer CBD oil to your kitty:
Put the oil in your cat’s mouth using a dropper; make sure to let them smell it first.
Pour a mix of fish oil and CBD oil onto their dry food.
Put the oil onto a porous cat treat, such as a biscuit, that will absorb the oil.
Mix the CBD oil into wet food or tuna.
Put the oil on their paws for them to lick off. This method should work for the fussiest of cats, but it tends to be messy and a little wasteful.
Can CBD Kill My Cat?
CBD is not toxic for cats, so even an overdose of the cannabinoid will have little effect on your kitty. A 2019 study found CBD to be safe but slightly less effective for cats than dogs—however, more research is needed to support this. After eight dogs and eight cats were given CBD oil for 12 weeks, results showed that the cats absorbed the CBD less efficiently than the dogs but had no serious adverse effects. To avoid complications, start your cat out with low doses of CBD and stick to high-quality products.
How to Find Good CBD for Pets
As with anything, faulty CBD products exist. Fortunately, there are certain indicators pet parents can look for to ensure the CBD products they’re buying are effective. One of the easiest precautions owners can take is closely inspecting product labels before purchasing. As mentioned previously, products should ideally be full- or broad-spectrum (containing small amounts of other cannabinoids) to increase the effectiveness of the product. Ideally, CBD pet products should be:
Derived from hemp or cannabis (not synthetic)
Certificates of Analysis
Upon request, reputable companies can provide a product’s Certificate of Analysis (COA), an in-depth laboratory report that identifies the product’s exact cannabinoid quantities. For example, HolistaPet has a page on its website that presents the most up-to-date COAs for each of its products. These analyses should always be conducted by a third-party laboratory to ensure objectivity. On top of confirming that the product is indeed lab-certified, the COA will verify that the product is free of harmful amounts of THC and holds the CBD it promises.
Seals of Approval
Another sign to look for on quality CBD pet products is a seal of approval from a credible organization. One of the most widely recognized seals of approval comes from the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC), a nonprofit that regulates products sold for animals. You can also check for a company’s approval by the U.S. Hemp Authority® Certification Program, which involves a rigorous process to ensure the company is adhering to industry standards and best practices.
If your pet’s prescribed pills and powders aren’t doing the trick, CBD might be the holistic remedy you’ve been looking for. With the reported low risk and high potential backed by science, experimenting with CBD shouldn’t hurt your pet and could very well improve their overall quality of life. This guide should be enough to get you started with pet CBD products, but always talk to your veterinarian about specific concerns.
Note: The content on this page is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be professional medical advice. Do not attempt to diagnose or prescribe treatment based on the information provided. Always consult a veterinarian before making any decision on medical treatment for your pets.
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