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The CBD industry has exploded in recent years, with many claiming that it can help remedy a variety of illnesses and diseases in people. But what about pets? Research has shown that cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid receptors located in the central and peripheral nervous systems. This helps maintain balance in the body and keep it in a healthy state. Let’s dive into more details about what CBD is and what to expect when giving it to your pet.

What is CBD?

CBD, or cannabidiol, is a compound found in cannabis and hemp. It’s important to note that CBD does not contain delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound that gives marijuana its psychoactive properties.

It’s a popular supplement for humans and has been increasingly common for pets, too. CBD is known to help with pain, anxiety, and even symptom management during cancer treatments. But, there’s a lot more to know before deciding to give it to your pet.

Terms to know 

  • Cannabis. This refers to plants that are defined as either “hemp” or “marijuana,” depending on their THC concentration.
  • Marijuana. Marijuana is defined as cannabis that has a THC concentration greater than 0.3%.
  • Hemp. Hemp is cannabis with a THC concentration of less than 0.3%.
  • THC. THC is considered the most active cannabinoid and main psychoactive agent in marijuana. The concentration varies between 1% and 8%.
  • CBD. While CBD is an essential component of medical marijuana, it doesn’t cause a “high” by itself. It’s derived directly from the hemp plant (a cousin of marijuana) or manufactured in a laboratory.

Forms of CBD

Dog CBD products can come in many different forms, including capsules, oils, treats, and salves.

  • Oil tinctures: Easily drizzle CBD oil over your dog’s food with a dropper, which can help with dosage.
  • Capsules: These are filled with a predetermined dose of CBD and look similar to fish oil capsules.
  • Treats and chews: CBD-infused treats and soft chews are an easy way to give your dog a dose. It can be difficult to guarantee an exact measurement of CBD, though, especially if the treats vary at all in size.
  • Salves: Like lotion, a CBD salve can be used topically to help with aches and pains.

Potential risks of CBD for dogs

Like with any medicine or supplement, there’s the possibility of side effects when giving your pup CBD. Below are some of the most worrisome risks to be aware of:

Lack of regulation. The FDA hasn’t given official guidance or recommendations yet for CBD. While some states allow the usage, others have banned it completely. This lack of regulation leads CBD businesses and distributors to determine safety standards largely on their own.

Lack of research. So far there’s limited research about CBD’s effectiveness in humans — and even less about how it might affect pets.

Drug interactions. CBD has strong effects on a variety of metabolic enzymes. This could potentially cause side effects, especially when combined with other drugs or medications.

Adverse side effects. The main side effects of CBD usage in dogs include nausea and fatigue. In humans, it can increase blood thinning and affect other medicines in your blood by competing for the liver enzymes that break them down.

Liver problems. Some research has pointed to the potential implications of CBD for a pet’s liver, suggesting it may cause elevated liver enzymes.

Marijuana poisoning. While CBD might be safe for pets, marijuana is not. Anything that contains THC is highly toxic to pets. Symptoms of marijuana poisoning include:

  • Stumbling
  • Lethargy
  • Dilated pupils
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Vomiting
  • Tremors and shaking

Potential benefits of CBD

There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that CBD can help dogs and cats, but there isn't a lot of safety or dosing data available.

Dr. Erica Irish

CBD use might come with health benefits for both people and pet owners. However, per the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), few studies have evaluated the long-term clinical effects of CBD use in dogs. Some of the suspected benefits include the following:

Anxiety. Studies and clinical trials are exploring the common report that CBD can reduce anxiety in both humans and animals.

Osteoarthritis pain. One recent clinical trial proved the efficacy of CBD when used to manage joint pain in dogs with arthritis. 80% of dogs in the trial experienced an improvement in pain and mobility.

Seizures. While some early studies are promising, there’s a lot that isn’t yet known. The AKC Canine Health Foundation is currently sponsoring an ongoing study about this.

Pain management during cancer treatments. Investigative trials are currently underway to determine the effects CBD has on cancer and chemotherapy treatment.

Itchiness. A few recent studies have indicated that cannabinoids may help dogs suffering from various skin conditions, such as minor wounds, rashes, and hair loss.

What does our vet think? 

According to our vet, Dr. Erica Irish, more information is needed. “There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that CBD can help dogs and cats, but there isn’t a lot of safety or dosing data available.”

Currently, many vets can’t legally recommend CBD products for their patients. New research might be able to change this.

What to look for in CBD products

The FDA hasn’t approved the use of CBD in pets. If you decide to move forward with CBD products anyway, here’s what to look for:

  • Certificates of analysis (COA). These show the product in question has been tested by external (and therefore unbiased) companies. They see if the ingredient list is correct, including but not limited to the actual ingredients used and the percentage of each compound. Most products will offer a unique barcode that can provide you with the COA.
  • National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) Approval. The NASC Seal of Quality Assurance ensures the product adheres to rigorous quality standards. If you’re going to give your pet CBD, look for an option with this seal.
  • Broad-spectrum options. CBD tends to work best in combination with terpenes, a naturally occurring substance in the cannabis plant.
  • Dosage recommendations. You should always start slow and work up gradually. General recommendations are 0.1 to 0.2 milligrams for every kilogram your pup weighs. You can give your pup the resulting amount twice per day — but no more or less.
  • Pet-grade CBD. Always avoid CBD products for humans, which may contain xylitol and other ingredients that are highly toxic to dogs.
  • Organic options. Look for organic options, which are more likely to be free of dangerous fungicides, pesticides, and more.

An unofficial CBD timeline

CBD legalization has had a unique history since its first recorded use in 1400 BC.

  • 1937: The Marihuana Tax Act brought about a tax on the sale and distribution of marijuana — then spelled “marihuana.”
  • 1940: Robert S. Cahn discovered cannabinol.
  • 1942: Roger Adams discovered CBD.
  • 1964: Raphael Mechoulam discovered CBD had no mind-altering effects.
  • 1969: The original Marihuana Tax Act was overturned.
  • 1970: The Controlled Substances Act regulated the manufacture, importation, possession, use, and distribution of marijuana.
  • 1978: The Controlled Substances Therapeutic Research Act accepted marijuana as a therapeutic substance for certain ailments. Guidelines for marijuana research were also outlined.
  • 1990: The Solomon-Lautenberg amendment applied a driver’s license suspension for a period of six months for anyone caught driving under the influence of drugs. Some states opted out while others excluded cannabis.
  • 1996: California Proposition 215 — also called the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 — legalized the use of medical cannabis.
  • 2014: The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment prohibited the U.S. Department of Justice from using funds to interfere with state-legal cannabis programs.
  • 2018: The Farm Bill allowed for the production of hemp as long as it was regulated.

CBD alternatives for your dog’s pain and stress 

Keep up your daily exercise — Responding to routine commands distracts the dog and provides a sense of normalcy. Plus, physical activities like walking or playing fetch help both you and your dog release tension.

Use a calming coat or t-shirt Calming coats fit snugly around your dog’s torso to help calm them when they’re anxious.

Pet-safe pain relievers — Never give your dog over-the-counter human-grade pain pills. If necessary, your vet can prescribe your pet a safe prescription medication for their pain.

Try music therapy — Turning on music can help your dog feel calmer and encourage them to relax. There are even certain genres that have been proven to be more soothing, such as reggae, soft rock, and classical music.

Give them a safe space to relax — Everyone wants a safe place to retreat when feeling overwhelmed, including your pup. Make sure they have a spot they can go to when they need to decompress.

Frequently asked questions

Can CBD be toxic to dogs?

Hemp can legally contain up to 0.3% THC, so if your dog ingests a large amount of a CBD product, mild THC toxicity can occur.

Do vets recommend CBD oil for dogs?

While there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest it has some potential benefits, veterinarians are currently unable to legally recommend CBD products to their patients.

Can too much CBD hurt my dog?

If your dog ingests too much CBD at one time, it’s possible to have a mild THC toxicity reaction. This can potentially lead to vomiting, lethargy, stumbling, and body tremors.

Can CBD help calm my dog down?

Yes, it’s been shown that CBD can help calm an anxious or stressed dog, just like in humans. That said, more research is needed to determine whether or not CBD is safe for dogs.