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Pets and CBD: Why Your Veterinarian Can't Talk About It and How to Change That

Author: Dr. Jason Nicholas

Published: June 21, 2019

Updated: November 10, 2022

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CBD cannabidiol for pets

CBD and Pets: A Taboo Topic for Vets

The other day I was walking in town and passed by a pet store that was advertising CBD for pets, making claims about its usefulness in treating a host of ailments: pain, anxiety, arthritis, allergies, inflammation, and more. I went in and had a nice chat with one of the people working in the shop. I spoke with her not as a veterinarian but rather as an owner of an aging dog that’s suffering from arthritis and perhaps the beginnings of canine cognitive dysfunction. Sure enough, she recommended a specific CBD oil and also dog treats that contained CBD. I thanked her for her advice and recommendations, didn't buy anything, and went along my merry way. Well ... perhaps not so "merry." In reality, I was more than just a little bit frustrated — but, as you'll see below, not for the reasons you're likely thinking. 

Now, this post isn’t about whether or not I think CBD can help pets suffering from a variety of ailments. (FYI: I do think it can help some pets in some situations, and that’s not just “guessing” or “gut feeling,” but rather based on a series of early studies and case reports on the very topic. You can see more about those studies and reports in our more comprehensive article on CBD and pets.)

This article also isn’t an implied or tacit recommendation for you to try CBD for your pets, which is important for two very specific reasons:

  1. I don’t know your pets, their existing conditions, and their current medications/supplements, and have never examined your pets. These are the very things that are necessary to establish a valid veterinary-client-patient relationship (VCPR) with you and your pets to be able to safely (and legally) prescribe medications for your pets.

  2. Even if I had a valid VCPR with you and your pets, I’m not technically or legally allowed to recommend, prescribe, or even, in some states, discuss the topic of CBD with you!

The Absurd Situation That NEEDS to Change

And that, my dear readers, is the topic of this post … the fact that an employee in a pet store, a person selling products at a stand in a shopping mall, and even a random person on Facebook can discuss, recommend, and even, (in reality) prescribe a particular CBD product for your pets, yet your veterinarian — the very person who's most qualified and therefore should be providing you with such insight and advice — could get in trouble for doing so. And that’s just absurd! And it can be dangerous, as well.


Why usage of CBD in pets can be problematic or even dangerous 

CBD isn’t always benign or completely safe for pets. Here’s why:

  • CBD can possibly interact with other medications and/or supplements that your pet is currently receiving. Which ones, you might ask? It’s a great question. The honest answer is that we don’t 100% know. Why? Because research into the effects, safety, efficacy, and even drug interactions of CBD has been, shall we say, “stymied” because of the archaic and puritan laws surrounding marijuana, hemp, and its derivative products in this country. In people, there are a few known or suspected drug interactions between CBD and a variety of different classes of drugs, including certain anti-epileptic drugs, blood pressure medications, antidepressants, and others. For pets, though, we sadly just don’t really know for sure.

  • Not all CBD-containing products have truthful labeling. In fact, there have been several studies (those reported by Pediatric Neurology Briefs, NBC New York, and NBC Miami, are just a few examples) that have demonstrated that many CBD-containing products contain either more or less CBD than they state on the label. Furthermore, some even have undeclared and potentially clinically significant levels of THC (the psychoactive component of marijuana, which can cause problems for pets) in them. Not to mention the pesticides, fungicides, and other toxins they may contain.

  • If you choose not to use more traditional medications, with proven efficacy and safety, in favor of CBD to treat your pet's ailment, say a seizure disorder or an anxiety, and it’s not clinically effective — yet you don’t recognize the lack of efficacy or, refuse to believe the lack of efficacy because you want the CBD to work so badly (a well-known situation, called the “caregiver placebo effect”) — then your pet may be subjected to otherwise unnecessary and prolonged suffering with their condition.

  • CBD products for pets ain’t cheap! Many people (understandably) have financial limitations for the care they’re able to provide for their pets. If you buy a CBD product for your pets and it doesn’t work, you’re not likely going to be able to return it. Therefore having wasted some of your discretionary income that could have otherwise been used for proper evaluation, care, treatment, and monitoring for your pet. And, worse still, if the product you try does have negative side effects and makes matters worse, then you’ll be faced with needing to spend even more money with your vet or at the Animal ER to correct the problems that the CBD product has created or worsened.

These are but a few of the potential problems that can arise from using CBD with your pets without proper veterinary evaluation and guidance. There are others. And all of these are part of the reason why the restrictions on vets discussing cannabis with clients need to change.

Why can’t vets discuss, recommend, or prescribe CBD for pets?

Even though the 2018 Farm Bill loosened the restrictions on hemp-derived CBD, removing it from the Schedule I designation (which was ludicrous, to begin with – but that’s a topic for a whole other discussion), restrictions on the ability of veterinarians to discuss, recommend, and prescribe CBD for pets still exist. Or they may exist. We don’t really fully know as the law and regulations, both federally and on a state-by-state basis, aren’t exactly straightforward. And given the fact that “getting it wrong” could leave veterinarians vulnerable to disciplinary or legal action should they discuss cannabis use with their clients, many veterinarians are (understandably) reluctant to do so.

The best scenario exists in California, where in 2018, the legislature there passed, and the Governor signed, Assembly Bill #2215, making it explicitly legal for licensed veterinarians within the state of California to discuss cannabis for medicinal use in pets with their clients. They’re still not allowed to recommend or prescribe it, though. [Note: A bill has been introduced to hopefully make that legal in California, too. However, its fate remains unknown at the time of writing.]

In most other states, though, even in states like Oregon, Colorado, and Massachusetts, where marijuana (for people) is legal both medicinally and recreationally, the practice of a veterinarian discussing, recommending, or prescribing CBD for their patients is still not technically legal, or is murky at best, and could potentially result in board discipline or even license suspension or revocation.

And this, as I hope you’ll agree, is absurd … Your veterinarian, the person who, outside of you, knows your pet best and has the medical, physiologic, pharmacologic, and other knowledge necessary to provide you with the best advice and guidance about using CBD for your pets can be disciplined by their state board or even have their license, and thus their very ability to work and earn a living as a veterinarian, suspended or revoked for discussing, recommending, or prescribing a CBD product for your pet … but the kid (or even adult) working at the local pet store, behind a stand in your local mall, or just commenting on a Facebook post can do so without repercussion. (At least for them. For you and your pets, though, as mentioned above, there can actually be significant repercussions.)

Please tell me how this makes any sense at all?

Help change this absurd (and dangerous) situation: 

If you agree that these draconian and dangerous restrictions on your veterinarian’s ability to provide you with the best knowledge, advice, and guidance on this particular aspect of your pets care need to change, here’s what you can do to help affect this change.

Call, write, and email your Senators and Representatives in both your state legislature and also within the US Senate and House. Here’s a resource to find your State Representatives & Senators, and here’s one to help you find your U.S. Congressional Representatives & Senators.

  • Ask them to improve the current laws that make the proper and safe study of cannabis unnecessarily difficult.
  • Ask them also to change the laws that govern the ability of licensed veterinarians to have these important and necessary discussions and make these recommendations to their clients. They can follow California’s lead and even use Assembly Bill #2215 as a framework for their own legislation in your state.

You can also help encourage Rep. Earl Blumenauer to work on passing these changes by retweeting the tweet embedded below. Rep. Blumenauer is a leading advocate for improving the cannabis laws in the US, and he recently had an important amendment related to cannabis passed in the US House. With any luck, we can piggyback onto that recent success of his to improve the laws and regulations related to pets and cannabis.

cbd cannabis tweetFinally, please share this post with your friends, family, and co-workers, as the more people who are aware of this and making calls, the better. In the meantime, and until these changes to the laws and regulations are made, please understand if your veterinarian is reluctant to discuss the use of cannabis in your pets with you. As you can see, their hands are kind of tied.

OK, rant over. Thank you for taking the time to read this and (hopefully) acting to help correct this absurd situation.


About the author

Profile picture for Dr. Jason Nicholas

Dr. Jason Nicholas

Dr. Nicholas graduated with honors from The Royal Veterinary College in London, England and completed his Internship at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. He currently lives in the Pacific Northwest.

Dr. Nicholas spent many years as an emergency and general practice veterinarian obsessed with keeping pets safe and healthy. He is the author of Preventive Vet’s 101 Essential Tips book series.

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