Vets are being asked more and more by clients about cannabidiol (CBD) oil and whether it may help their fur-babies. Given the recent positive publicity of CBD oil in human medicine it’s a natural progression to want to provide these same benefits for ailing pets; particularly those with painful diseases. So we’ve put together a comprehensive guide about the use of CBD oil for dogs for all the fur-parents out there.
What is CBD oil?
The cannabis plant, Cannabis sativa, has been in documented use for millenia, however cannabidiol (CBD) was only isolated in the early twentieth century. The cannabis plant is probably best known as “marijuana”, however, “hemp” has also been used to produce rope and clothing throughout history. While most of the information about the medicinal benefits of cannabinoid products are anecdotal, there is increasing scientific evidence of these products’ efficacy in managing medical and behavioral disorders in dogs.
CBD oil is a non-psychoactive substance in the cannabis plant while tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the constituent that provides the “high” we attribute to marijuana. Strictly speaking, marijuana contains more than 0.3% THC while hemp must contain less than 0.3% THC. Both CBD and THC are cannabinoids that work on the endogenous cannabinoid receptor system, which is responsible for helping the body to recover from stress and to regulate blood pressure, muscle tension, and other physiological processes. CBD also has the advantage of not causing intoxication while giving relief from pain, inflammation, epileptic seizures and anxiety. Most CBD products are derived from hemp and contain little to no THC which is toxic to our fur-babies. (1)
What is CBD oil? & Why your veterinarian may not be interested in discussing CBD oil with you
Many vets have experience with treating our canine buddies for marijuana toxicity which can give us cause for concern about using the cannabis plant in our pets. Couple these experiences with lack of familiarity with CBD and the legal issues that surrounds cannabis-derived products; some veterinarians may not feel comfortable advising you about the use of CBD for your pup’s pain. A study published just this year surveyed 2,130 veterinarians and found that 61.5% of respondents felt they could discuss the use of CBD with other veterinary colleagues, yet only 45.5% felt comfortable discussing its use with clients. Clients most commonly ask about using CBD products for pain relief, anxiety and seizures in their pets, yet there is little empirical research on their use in veterinary patients and there are currently no FDA approved products available.
How does CBD affect dogs?
Human studies have shown that cannabidiol can help reduce inflammation, pain and even tumor size while also reducing seizure frequency and severity. Cannabidiol influences many physiological and neurological processes within the central nervous system of mammals through the endocannabinoid system. This system is important in maintaining healthy processes within the body by regulating pain, inflammation and our pups’ immune systems. While studies into how CBD affects dogs are lacking, both ourselves and our best fur-friends have the same endocannabinoid system, though dogs may have more receptors making them more sensitive to CBD than us humanoids. (2)
Is CBD safe for dogs?
CBD is hailed by many as a wonder-drug but how safe is it for dogs? Nothing in the world is completely safe! Having said that, CBD is generally considered safe in both humans and animals8 and pets respond in a similar way to humans. Initial veterinary studies have suggested that CBD is safe though further studies are required to firmly establish this fact. Dogs can be more sensitive to the effects of cannabidiol so you should start with low doses and speak with your veterinarian first. As CBD is derived from hemp there is minimal or even no THC, thus your pet won’t get “buzzed”. (3)
What to watch out for when you give your dog CBD!
CBD is natural and in humans, high doses have been shown to be safe. There are still some negative side effects that may affect your pooch. These include:
Of course, vomiting and diarrhea are some of the most common side effects you might expect to see. If your dog has a sensitive tummy, use a tiny dose at first to see how they cope.
Some pets may have ‘the shakes’ or tremors after taking CBD, you should consult your vet if you see these signs especially if you are using CBD to try control your pup’s seizures.
CBD has been shown to reduce saliva production. You might find you need to top up your fur-baby’s water bowl more frequently.
Low blood pressure
Human CBD users have reported light-headedness so your pet may seem a little dizzy.
Lethargy or drowsiness
Some pet parents using CBD to sooth anxious dogs have found that at higher doses, their pooches seem sleepy.
Interactions with other medications
You should always speak with your veterinarian if your pet is taking other medications as CBD may interfere with their liver’s ability to metabolise some other drugs.
Risks of Using CBD
So what are the risks of giving CBD to your dog? As yet, there have been no studies with conclusive proof of the safety of CBD in our furry friends. However, in 2016 a study suggested that CBD may be safe enough for further research in clinical populations. In this study, CBD was given in capsules, tinctures or topical creams with the best absorption and bioavailability seen with tinctures. There are as yet no FDA approved CBD products so what doses are toxic is unknown. Start out with small doses in consultation with your veterinarian and increase if no ill effects are seen.
Hemp Oil vs Marijuana – Your dog won’t get “High” from CBD oil
The fear on every fur-parent’s mind, will my pet get “high” if I give CBD oil? The short answer is no! As mentioned before, CBD is derived from hemp plants that contains tiny amounts of THC. High concentrations of THC is what gives the “high” when taking marijuana and is potentially fatal to our canine friends. Hemp contains less than 0.3% THC while most marijuana strains contain at least 15% THC6. CBD acts more as a relaxant and doesn’t have the same psychotropic properties as THC, to be completely sure you can purchase CBD products that have all of the THC removed. These are hard to find though so a product’s “Certificate of Analysis” should never be over 0.3%.
What Medical Conditions can be helped with CBD for dogs?
So now we’ve broken down the basics about CBD, it’s time to find out what conditions can CBD be used for in our furry friends. While studies into CBD as a treatment for our canine companions is limited, there are numerous benefits that may possibly be extrapolated from human research. CBD is not yet approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) due to the lack of supporting, scientific studies but anecdotally CBD has had some strong positive results. Colorado State University are leading a number of studies into the potential uses of CBD for dogs.
The most common ailments CBD has been used to treat are seizures and chronic pain such as that caused by arthritis or cancer. CBD is also reported to help pups cope with stressful situations such as fireworks or in cases of separation anxiety. (4), (5)
CBD can treat Seizures and Epilepsy
Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders vets see in dogs and seizures are distressing for both dog and fur-parent alike. In 2017, the American Kennel Club (AKC) Canine Health Foundation (CHF) launched a CBD research drive to improve knowledge in this area. CBD has been shown to reduce seizure frequency and in some cases, epilepsy sufferers have entered remission from seizures while taking CBD7. One research group is currently investigating the use of CBD oil in epileptic dogs with positive initial results. In children with treatment-resistant epilepsy, one study found an 84% reduction in seizures after taking CBD. Unfortunately for many pets with treatment-resistant seizures or those dogs that have such terrible side-effects from traditional medications the sad reality is euthanasia may be their only option, but with these initial results, there are promising implications for the quality of life of epileptic dogs and their owners. (6) , (7), (8)
CBD relieves Pain
One of the most lauded uses for medical marijuana has been for its pain-relieving properties. CBD is an active component in suppression of inflammation and thus pain. Human studies have not provided conclusive proof of pain-relief in clinical cases as yet. Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas and can be a potentially fatal illness for our fur-babies, one component of treatment is adequate pain control, which, can be challenging in severe cases. CBD may provide another pain-relief modality for veterinarians. One study in mice has shown that treatment with CBD, reduced enzyme activity in cases of experimental, acute pancreatic inflammation coupled with reduced pathological changes due to CBD’s anti-inflammatory action. Despite the less enthusiastic clinical evidence supporting CBD, preclinical trials have had some promising results, in both animals and humans.
CBD can prevent & fight cancer
Cancer, another terrible disease that proponents of medicinal marijuana claim can be treated, but is this true? The answer is not quite so simple, a 2016 study into cervical cancer therapy revealed that purified cannabidiol can cause increased death of cervical cancer cells over extract of the whole Cannabis sativa plant. These results are encouraging for our furry friends as cannabidiol doesn’t have the same levels of THC as the whole plant extract which would be toxic to our pets. Coupled with the results of a 2014 study that showed cannabinoids can increase the destruction of lung cancer cells are suggestive of possible anti-tumorigenic effects of cannabinoids.
CBD and Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Another relatively common disease manifestation seen in pets and humans alike is gut inflammation and often, NSAIDs are used to help reduce the associated pain and inflammation. I’m sure many reading this are aware that a nasty side effect of NSAID use in pets can be an upset stomach or diarrhea which is counter-intuitive. Part of what provides the pain-relief is the actual anti-inflammatory properties of these medications, which cannabidiol has also been shown to possess. In a 2008 study, cannabidiol was shown to selectively reduce inflammation in mouse intestines which may indicate another possible use for CBD in pets.
CBD and Chronic Inflammation – Auto-Immune Disorders
While research has yielded some of the positive actions of CBD in cases of chronic inflammation or pain in cancer patients, more recent investigations have shown that CBD may even be useful in auto-immune diseases such as multiple sclerosis in people. These studies are in their infancy, and all have been investigated on experimental models, but there are some promising results being published which could give hope to many sufferers of these diseases including our fur-babies.
CBD protects the nervous system
As our knowledge expands, our canine companions are living longer than their ancestors and as a vet, I’m seeing more cases of possible senility or neuro-degenerative disorders in our aging pets. Management and prevention of such disorders require much more extensive investigations in dogs, however, there are some promising indications for using CBD in human research. Alzheimer’s disease has been extensively studied in human medicine and some studies have shown cannabidiol to have a protective activity on neuronal tissue.
CBD’s role in Cardiovascular Health
As you can probably tell at this point, CBD has diversely positive pharmacological activities and has been shown to protect against damage to blood vessels in diabetic patients. In rat studies, CBD can be effective in reducing acute damage caused during a heart attack. Further work is ongoing and more results are required before we can determine if and how CBD could help our pups.
CBD oil for Arthritis or Stiffness in dogs
Arthritis is one of the most common and painful diseases I see in aging pets and so many of the recommended medications can have nasty side effects or not suit those with liver or kidney disease. Arthritis is a general term used to describe joint inflammation and degeneration. A recent study by Cornell University researchers has found that CBD given twice per day can improve comfort and mobility in dogs that have naturally occurring osteoarthritis3. In the same paper, in 55% of other studies involving non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) the patients had adverse effects. In this study, no side effects were reported when patients were given CBD3. Some of these results show that CBD may be an alternative treatment option for pet parents.
CBD oil and anxiety
Our fur-babies don’t understand why we have to leave them, usually to earn enough money to keep them in the lap of luxury. Every pet copes differently and some dogs have severe separation anxiety, causing them distress when left alone and may present in destruction of their beds or your home. Human research into social anxiety disorder has shown that CBD does have some anxiolytic properties and patients reported lower anxiety levels following treatment with CBD oil. There are treats available commercially with CBD that claim to have these same effects in our canine sidekicks but conclusive research has yet to be published.
How to choose the best and safest CBD oil for your dog?
Cannabis oil is derived from the Cannabis sativa plant. You want to select a product that contains little or no THC (less than 0.3% at most), these products will not get your pooch “high”. If you suspect your pet has been overdosed with THC, you should take them to the vet immediately. Remember, cannabis oil is not a cure-all and even though the risks are low, it may still be possible for your pet to develop a toxicity. Before selecting a product or starting to give our fur-baby a CBD supplement, I always advise that you speak with your veterinarian first.
Here’s some top tips for selecting CBD supplements for your pet:
- Choose Organic: Where possible, choose organic CBD oil to ensure there’s no herbicides or pesticides that may harm your pets. If you can’t find an organic product then ensure there are no additives to minimize the risks to your pet.
- Price and potency: CBD supplements are not products to price shop. Higher quality products will be more pure and naturally, more expensive. Cheaper products may contain toxic substances or heavy metals which may impact negatively on your pooch’s health. CBD tincture is probably the best form to provide your pet with as you can control the dosage by each drop.
- Analysis and verification: To ensure you’re giving your pet the highest quality product, ingredients should be listed and you can check the manufacturing site for the certificate stating how much CBD is in the product. Third party, independent testing results may be available also.
- Palatability: Finding a good quality product that your pup will enjoy can be a mammoth task. Commercially available treats may have a lot of additives and very little CBD contained within. CBD tincture may be a way around this for you if your pet is a picky eater; tinctures are potent, concentrated forms of CBD and thus not much is required and may be mixed with food or added to your pet’s favourite treats.
How to introduce CBD to your dog ?
Once you’ve found your preferred dosing medium for your pooch, be it oil, tincture, treats or capsules the next step is introducing this to your fur-baby’s daily routine. Always start with low doses, CBD can cause some gastrointestinal upset and dogs can be more sensitive to these side effects than humans. Most products will provide a basic dosing guide, but you should always discuss this with your vet first as your vet knows your pet better than the package instructions can.
Ensure your purchase a low/no THC containing oil for your pet. You could add a small amount to your pet’s meal, mixing it in with kibble or wet food to ensure they eat it.
These can be trickier to manipulate the doses, particularly for small pooches, and breaking capsules open can create quite a mess and waste of contents. You could consider this approach for larger breeds and for dogs that will eat medications mixed with food. The capsule forms however, as with many medications may be difficult to get your pet to take and may require actually putting it into your dog’s mouth which can be stressful for both involved.
Commercial treats may offer you a convenient and easily administered method of providing CBD oil to your fur-baby. Treats are by definition, tasty morsels that our pup’s love and will often do anything to receive. If your pooch is fussy, these treats could help entice them to try CBD and you can start with one per day depending on their size and your dog’s weight. One concern with treats however, is that they can be highly calorific and if your pet is prone to weight gain, your pet’s diet may need a little adjustment to allow these daily tidbits.
Potent tinctures can allow you to control the dose by a single drop for your pup and with such small volumes required your fur-baby probably won’t even notice the addition to their food or even water bowl.
These creams and massage oils can be more difficult to dose for your pet and can be time consuming to administer as they will need to be massaged onto the skin or area affected. If you choose one of the topical options, ensure all the ingredients are safe as most likely your pooch will try get a taste of what your rubbing onto their body if they can.
Benefits of CBD Dog Treats
Possibly the top benefit of commercially available CBD treats is that they’re designed for your pooch’s taste buds and these biscuits will have your pup attempting all sorts of tricks to win a yummy tidbit. These treats are also packaged in a range of doses for dogs of all sizes and most will provide an easy to interpret dosing guide on the package.
One concern about commercially available products is the veracity of their claims. The FDA have not approved any form of cannabis for animals and have even investigated some companies for false claims of having CBD in their products7. You can check out a list of FDA warnings that expose some fraudulently claimed products on their website. (9)
CBD oil Dosage for Dogs
The entirety of this article is meant to provide a guide for you and should not be taken as veterinary advice. I always advise that you speak with your veterinarian before starting any CBD containing treatments for your pet. You may find some vets resistant to the use of CBD oil but this can often be due to how little research has been performed in this area.
Research performed to date has shown that our canine companions have more CBD receptors in their central nervous system than we humans have; which makes our pets more susceptible to the effects of CBD. This means accurate and careful dosing is even more important for your pooch’s safety.
My advice is to always start at the lowest possible dose and work up to the dose that provides the desired effects. Similar to humans, our furry friends are all individuals and can react in a variety of ways to CBD so your pup’s weight will give you a guide to how much CBD may be required but if your pooch is sensitive you may find that they don’t even need this much, so starting at a lower dose is a good idea. Slowly increase the dose you’re providing over a couple of weeks and if you notice any negative effects you can either stop or reduce the dose provided. One company recommends giving your pet 1-5mg per 10lbs body weight for the first week. If your pet has never received any CBD containing products then start at the low end of this range. If there are no ill effects after a week, then dosing can be increased. (10),(11)
How long does it take for CBD oil to work for dogs?
It will take approximately 30 minutes for you to see the effects of CBD on your pet and if you’re pet is receiving CBD for painful conditions then they may need to receive CBD up to three times per day but always start with once a day dosing, it may take a number of weeks to reach therapeutic doses for these pets.
Dangers of a CBD Oil Overdose
There are many claims that it is impossible to overdose on CBD, however it’s possible to overdose on anything, including water! More research is needed into this aspect of CBD administration and we recommend you only use a non-THC containing CBD oil for your pup.
The FDA state that if you suspect your dog has overdosed on marijuana that you should contact a vet immediately as THC can cause fatal toxicities in our pets. We’ve listed some signs to watch out for in pets that may indicate overdose:
- Lethargy or depression
- Increased drooling
- Agitation or restless
- Strange behaviors such as unusual aggression, staring at walls etc.
Is it legal to give your dog CBD oil?
The answer to this question depends on your individual state’s laws, and your veterinarian will be able to advise you about this point. The 2018 Agriculture Improvement Act was passed by the Senate Agriculture Committee and seeks to relax the legal bindings surrounding hemp production and use. (12), (13)
A recent online survey performed through the Veterinary Information Network has revealed that two thirds of respondents said clients ask about the use of cannabis for pets at least once a month. The executive director of California’s Veterinary Medical Association explained the importance of inclusion of veterinary professionals in this area to minimize the distribution of misinformation. Californian veterinarians are no longer under threat of prosecution from discussing cannabis with pet owners. (14)
There is quite the mystery around cannabis products and their possible uses in animal therapy, largely due to cannabis being a federally illegal drug. Funding and access to cannabis has been limited for research due to the legal minefield surrounding it. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) cannot take a firm stance on cannabinoid use in pets without such research and some vets may even risk their medical license by just discussing it’s possible therapeutic indications for pets.
In February 2019, however, the AVMA did publish a document titled “Cannabis: What Veterinarians Need to Know” to help vets advise clients if asked about cannabis for pets. The document also contains some more information about treating patients who may have marijuana exposure or intoxication. The document provides some explanations about cannabis, cannabinoids (THC and CBD) and high-CBD/low-THC hemp plants. Recommendations are limited to results from veterinary-treated cases of marijuana toxicosis. The evidence to date indicates that pets will typically experience the effects within 3 hours but these signs could occur in as little as just 5 minutes or as long as 96 hours after exposure. This notice also noted that most cases of toxicities occurred in young puppies and often also coincided with other toxicities including raisin or chocolate ingestion. (15)
So, where do we stand on the use of CBD oil in our pets?
Unfortunately, there’s not enough conclusive evidence to prove safety and efficacy of cannabinoids in treating ailments in our pets. Having said that, some early indications are positive and there is anecdotal evidence of CBD’s efficacy in both humans and our canine companions. Further research is needed to provide more accurate information for veterinary professionals to advise clients about their pups health and what role CBD may be able to play in treating a variety of conditions.
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