Is CBD a cure-all, snake oil, or something in between?
If you have spent any time researching cannabis for dogs, and specifically cannabidiol (CBD), you have probably found yourself wondering whether these products are safe, and even if they will offer any real benefits for your pained, anxious, or elderly dog.
The simple story about CBD is that there is no simple story about CBD. Though CBD is a non-psychoactive chemical derived from cannabis or hemp that won’t get people or animals high like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), it still falls into both a medical and bureaucratic black hole where it can be nearly impossible to extract definitive information.
But we have done our best to stare into the CBD abyss and pull out as much as possible to help you decide whether it might be good for your dog. As you’ll soon see, vets are placed in a difficult position when talking about these products, but you will hopefully walk away from this article with enough information to help you make a more-informed decision.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol for Dogs — Quick ReferencesIs CBD safe for dogs?
What issues does CBD treat for?
Are vets studying CBD for dogs?
Tips if you’re going to give your dog CBD
Other alternative remedies for dogs
CBD is derived from either hemp (the rope and fabric stuff) or cannabis (usually the recreational stuff). It can be easy to get, is purported to offer many health benefits for pets (and people), and comes in anything from pills and oils to specialty chews and treats. Often, you will find CBD in the form of an oil or soft chew that can be given orally, although there are other products like biscuits and capsules easily found online. Most importantly, unlike THC (CBD's psychoactive cousin), it won’t get your dog high.
Great! Case closed, right? Well … not quite.
There is still a lot we don’t know about CBD. More accurately, we know pretty much nothing definitive about CBD because of the bureaucratic minefield that is the U.S. drug classification system. Under federal law, marijuana is a schedule 1 drug — putting it on the same level as LSD, ecstasy, and heroin. So it's amazingly difficult to even study marijuana, and the THC and CBD it contains, for medical use. Cannabis-derived CBD is still technically illegal under federal law.
“But can't someone just buy CBD products?” you might wonder to yourself.
That’s because the CBD in those products comes from industrial hemp, which is sort-of legal. Hemp-derived CBD became "more legal," and less murky, in the 2018 Farm Bill. Many states allow people to grow (cultivate) industrial hemp, which includes little to no THC. Other states don’t let people grow hemp, but it can still be imported after being grown and/or processed in other states where it is legal to grow, or even from overseas. As you can see, while the 2018 Farm Bill made hemp and hemp-derived CBD "more" legal, it didn't completely remove all restrictions.
To add another wrinkle, there is some debate about the effectiveness of hemp CBD versus CBD that comes from a THC-rich cannabis plant. How accurate that debate is is itself a matter of debate, as studying cannabis-derived CBD is extremely difficult to do because of the legal classification of marijuana (see above). Not to mention that the CBD supplement market, or any supplement market for that matter, isn't exactly standardized and well regulated. So it can be extremely difficult to know exactly what is in a particular product (exactly how much CBD, or even if it contains any traces of THC), how it was made (ensuring that there aren't any impurities or potentially-dangerous solvents left over from the extraction process), or whether it actually even does what it claims. So the whole "CBD for dogs (and cats)" question and market is quite a cloudy one ... but thankfully it is getting better! (See further below for the responsible companies who are leading the charge, doing great clinical research and ensuring the safety, efficacy, and proper dosing of their products.)
Most vets will agree that you should not give your dog an intoxicating amount of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. There are plenty of reasons why, which you can learn about in “Marijuana, Cannabidiol & Dogs: Everything You Want (And Need) to Know.” The quick and dirty version is that dogs will not enjoy THC the same way you might (or do), and it can actually be dangerous. So is CBD better? Maybe. And that’s about the best information you’ll get out of most vets. (See why the proverbial cat will likely have your vet's tongue when it comes to talking about CBD for your pets.)
Because of its cloudy classification and constantly-shifting political winds, CBD creates a legal quagmire for anybody who wants to study or recommend its effectiveness as a medicine for animals. Luckily, there are a few ongoing studies being done at a few different veterinary colleges. The results of some of the clinical studies have now been published, and the results are looking quite encouraging. See the links added below, but note that the studies were done using very specific formulations of CBD and since not all CBD oils/chews/etc. are created the same, it doesn't mean you should just run out and get any old (or even the cheapest) CBD product for your pets. Below the new links, we're also including links to the companies whose CBD products were used in the university clinical trials. This is not an endorsement or recommendation for these products, but just to help point you in the right direction to start your research, should you decide to try CBD with your pets.
Links to Study Results:
- Forbes article on the CBD and Dog Arthritis study done at Cornell University: https://www.forbes.com/sites/julieweed/2018/12/13/cornell-university-research-could-help-hemp-entrepreneurs-and-make-dogs-feel-better/#2f65985783c2
- The actual published Cornell University CBD and Dog Arthritis study: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fvets.2018.00165/full
- Colorado State University release on the preliminary data from the (pilot) study looking at CBD as a treatment for Epilepsy in dogs: https://cvmbs.source.colostate.edu/preliminary-data-from-cbd-clinical-trials-promising/
- CBS News story on the CBD and Epilepsy (pilot) study done at Colorado State University: https://denver.cbslocal.com/2018/07/16/csu-cbd-oil-dogs/
- Here are the two companies that had their products tested in these clinical trials. These would be the two companies to look at first if you're interested in finding CBD products for your pets. ElleVet Sciences is the company whose product was tested in the Cornell (dogs and osteoarthritis study), while Applied Basic Sciences Corporation (ABSC) is the company whose products were tested in the Colorado State University dogs and epilepsy (pilot) study.
What Conditions Does CBD Treat in Dogs?
In humans, THC and/or CBD have been reported to treat things such as:
- Noise phobia
- Loss of appetite
It’s not hard to find stories of pet owners who report similar effects after giving their dogs CBD oil or treats. However, the lack of published double-blind study for animals makes it hard to pull out real facts from the purely anecdotal evidence.
Can CBD Treat Pain in Dogs?
As with other anecdotal evidence about CBD, you don’t have to look hard to find stories of dogs in extreme pain who purportedly found relief through CBD.
Many pet owners who praise the benefits of CBD will say that it helped reduce their dog’s pain and corresponding anxiety or immobility. These claims should not be discounted — nor believed blindly — on face value, but it’s one of the main reasons vets are so eager to study the possible medicinal uses of CBD (and marijuana in general) in pets.
Thanks to the Cornell University study mentioned above, we now have legitimate and valid scientific data to show that, at least the ElleVet Sciences CBD formula tested, does in fact provide significant pain relief to dogs with osteoarthritis.
What Vets Think About CBD for Dogs
First the unsatisfying answer: Vets don’t have anything definitive to say about marijuana or CBD products for dogs because, as mentioned above, they have limited means to study the potential benefits and, more importantly, the potential for harm. Add to that the fact that a vet could face disciplinary action (even loss of license to practice) for discussing, recommending, or prescribing cannabis for their patients, and you can see why vets' lips are collectively sealed on this touchy topic. At best, you might find a vet who will say that CBD probably won’t be harmful to dogs, and it may or may not offer any actual benefit.
In September of 2018 California Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 2215 into law, making it legal now for California veterinarians to DISCUSS cannabis for pets with their clients. They still can't explicitly recommend or prescribe it, but they can at least discuss its use. Read more in about why veterinarians can't talk about CBD and what you can do to change that.
‘I Don’t Care What Anyone Says, I’m Giving My Dog CBD’
It’s understandable that many people are frustrated by the ambiguity surrounding CBD and dogs. It often results in pet owners who go with their gut, especially when they think A) an existing medication isn’t working, or B) there are better, “more natural” alternatives. And this is equally frustrating for vets who can’t definitively say anything about it.
That being said, here are things to keep in mind when you give any unregulated, unstudied supplement to your dog.
Do Your Research: This is especially true if you are buying something online. Avoid falling prey to the marketing hype and unsubstantiated claims. Seek out impartial reviews to see what others are saying (it’s often helpful to read the most negative reviews first).
Conduct a little background research on the company: Have they been sued and, if so, why? Have they been penalized by the FDA for allegedly making false claims? Do they have a veterinarian on staff, or do they work with a veterinary school?
As mentioned above, both ElleVet Sciences and Applied Basic Sciences Corporation have at least had their products undergo double-blinded, placebo-controlled, university-run scientific study to prove efficacy and safety. These two companies would be a good place to start with your CBD for pets research.
Natural Doesn’t Mean Better: First of all, no marijuana or CBD product you might give your dog is natural. Apart from raw, unprocessed marijuana (which you should absolutely NOT give to your dog), anything you get has been processed or altered in some fashion. Second, natural things can be dangerous, too. For example, xylitol is a “natural” sugar-free sweetener, derived from sources like birch bark, but it is highly toxic to dogs.
Medications (either natural or synthetic) prescribed by your vet are prescribed for a reason: they have been studied, vetted, regulated, and well-documented. Your vet can also answer your questions about proper dosages, side effects, and when it might be time to go off a medication or try another.
If It Sounds Too Good to Be True … Ah, the online CBD dog products. Sounds too good to be true, right? The CBD you get online comes from industrial (or “agricultural”) hemp that might have originated in your home state, or it might have come from overseas or another processing facility where the CBD was extracted through less-than ideal processes. There are several ways to extract CBD from hemp, but one of the quickest and cheapest involves using solvents such as butane and hexane, which can leave a toxic residue if not properly handled. That’s not to say all online products should be distrusted, but definitely do your research on the company, how they make their product, their claims, and what unbiased reviewers are saying.
Document It: Keep a journal of your dog before and for several days if you decide to use a CBD product. This will help you decide whether it’s having a positive effect. Better still, record video of your dog to document their progress, or lack thereof (this will help you overcome the flaws of human memory). Or ask your friends/family whether they’ve noticed any difference in your dog without telling them that you’ve been giving your dog CBD (the closest you’ll get to a blinded study).
Know the Warning Signs: As with anything you give to your dog — from chew toys to prescribed medications — it’s important to recognize when something isn’t quite right. If you notice these symptoms in your dog, it might be a good idea to check in with your vet. The following side effects have been reported by humans who took CBD, so do your best to translate them to dogs.
- Dry Mouth: Your dog can’t tell you if they have dry mouth, but it’s safe to say they might increase their water intake. And increased thirst could also be a sign of other serious problems, such as antifreeze or rodenticide poisoning, or conditions like diabetes.
- Tremors: Human patients with Parkinson’s disease have reported increased tremors at high doses of CBD. Tremors of any kind should be cause for concern in a dog.
- Low Blood Pressure: If your vet notices low blood pressure during your next wellness visit, let them know that you have been giving your dog CBD. Until then, check whether your dog seems overly tired or lethargic.
- Lightheadedness: Your dog won’t tell you if they’re feeling lightheaded, but they might seem disoriented or dizzy.
- Drowsiness: Pay attention to your dog’s sleeping patterns to see if there’s any change.
Let your vet know about anything you give your dog. This goes for both legal and illegal substances. Vets aren’t obligated to report illegal drugs, unless they suspect animal abuse.
Alternatives to CBD for Dogs
If you’re thinking about giving your dog CBD because you’re worried about the side effects of a prescribed medication, you might try a few of these alternative remedies — or just discuss your concerns with your vet.
- Anxiety: Focus on training or take up a new doggie sport like agility training, nose training, simple behavior training at home (such as sit, stay), or other fun activities that can help boost your dog’s confidence. You can also try calming dog pheromone sprays or supplements such as Solliquin or Composure from reputable veterinary companies.
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- Pain: If you have an arthritic dog, or dog with other mobility issues, something as simple as no-slip surfaces, even "doggie socks," can go a long way toward helping them. Learn more about this and other pain remedies in “How to Help An Older Dog with Arthritis and Other Mobility Problems.” Don't give your dog a human pain reliever like Tylenol or Aspirin — these are extremely dangerous for pets. Read why in "Lesser Known Pet Toxicities: Human Pain Relievers and Dogs Don't Mix."
- Reduced Appetite: If your dog is losing weight or stops eating for 24 hours or more, you should see a vet. However, if your dog has a slightly reduced appetite, you can try to entice their palate by adding things to their food such as:
- Simple chicken broth with no onion or garlic
- Canned dog food
- Plain Greek yogurt
- Boiled chicken or another lean meat
- A vigorous walk or play session can encourage dogs to scarf down their food
What to Watch Out for If You Give Your Dog CBD
While we can’t tell you if you should give your dog CBD, nor in what dosages, if you decide to do so, there are some things to watch out for.
Keep CBD Safely Locked Away
Like so many other things, a dog that finds a stash of CBD or other marijuana/hemp products will probably eat more than they should. This will be more of an issue for an edible product like a CBD dog biscuit, but to keep your dog safe be sure that you keep any CBD — and definitely any THC products — well out of your dog’s reach and, ideally, behind a locked door.
Separate CBD From Regular Treats
Even if CBD lacks the same psychedelic kick as THC, you should be careful how much you give your dog. Also be careful that an unwitting guest, or even a child, doesn't accidentally lay it on heavy with the CBD treats. Keep these treats separated from your regular treats and let people know if and when it is OK to give one to your dog.
Still have questions? Do you give your dog a CBD product, or are you thinking about it? Share your thoughts in the comments!