Pet products that contain CBD (cannabidiol) are being developed at the speed of light. You can buy treats and chews, gel capsules, powdered meal supplements, topical skin treatments, oils, and tinctures, which can be mixed into liquid or food or given by droplet in your pet’s mouth.
But how safe are they? How do you choose the right products? And how do you determine what dosages are right for your dog? Here’s a primer on CBD for dogs. We’ll explore current research and tell you what to look for, what it’s used for, how it’s administered, and where to exercise caution.
What is CBD?
CBD is one of the many chemical compounds and active ingredients in cannabis. Cannabidiol comes from the hemp plant, a cousin of the cannabis plant. It is not related to the ingredient in cannabis that can cause psychoactive effects — that ingredient is Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and is not present in CBD. Therefore, CBD can be sold over-the-counter or online.
The 2018 Farm Bill (formally called The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018) took away federal legal restrictions on CBD as long as it is derived from the hemp plant and does not contain more than 0.3 percent THC.
How CBD Works for Pets
Dogs, like humans, have an endocannabinoid system (ECS) in their molecular structure. As signaling molecules, endocannabinoid cells have a role in telling the body’s systems what the brain wants accomplished; they relay instructions to the immune system and major organs when the brain senses an imbalance of some sort, such as anxiety, pain, digestion problems, immune response, stress, or inflammation, among others.
There are two kinds of cannabinoids: endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids are those found in humans and animals; phytocannabinoids are those found in plants, such as cannabis. Science has found that phytocannabinoids found in CBD can mimic the body’s own endocannabinoids by communicating with cannabinoid receptors C1 and C2 (also called CB1 and CB2); this is the basis for much of the optimism about products that contain CBD.
Other researchers believe that CBD encourages the body to produce more of its own endocannabinoids, which in turn helps the body address the imbalance at hand.
For more background on the endocannabinoid system, read our Ultimate Guide to Cannabis Science.
Is CBD Safe for Dogs?
Research into CBD lags behind the consumer enthusiasm over the products. It is a relatively recent effort, good research takes time, and pet owners who want to provide relief for their dogs don’t want to wait years for definitive scientific results. Dr. Jerry Klein, the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) chief veterinary officer, has collected anecdotal evidence from dog owners who say it helped treat pain or control seizures. He lists anxiety, nausea, lack of appetite, cardiac issues, and inflammation as examples of areas in which CBD could help.
Possible side effects of CBD in dogs can include:
- Dry mouth (a decrease in saliva, which would make the dog extra thirsty)
- Lowered blood pressure if a dog receives too high a dose
- Drowsiness, especially at higher doses, caused by CBD’s calming effects when used to treat anxiety
Dog owners are encouraged to consult their veterinarians before starting their pets on any new treatments, especially since there might be contraindications. However, because CBD hasn’t been approved by the FDA for treatment in dogs yet, vets are between a rock and a hard place right now. While they are being asked with increasing frequency by their clients about CBD products, they have been advised against prescribing or recommending them by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). The AVMA cites the lack of evidence-based research and the confusing legal nature of prescribing a cannabis product for animal use, since they may be classified as controlled substances by the DEA. As more evidence-based study is completed, this recommendation may change.
However, the AKC is active in research. The organization’s Canine Health Foundation is sponsoring a major clinical trial through the Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, where scientists hope to establish whether or how CBD can help treatment-resistant epileptic dogs.
“With the changing public perception of cannabis, it is time that we put science behind the stories and claims. We need to know if this drug is safe and if it works. If CBD is effective for treating epilepsy, it has the potential to save the lives of dogs around the world,” said Dr. Stephanie McGrath, a board-certified veterinary neurologist who is leading the study.
Dog Health Conditions Treated with CBD
Anxiety, arthritis, and epilepsy are three of the most common conditions treated with CBD. But there are other possibilities as well. Here’s a partial list of conditions and how CBD is being used or studied.
CBD for dogs with arthritis
In 2018, Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine undertook a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study of whether CBD oil was helpful in dogs with osteoarthritis (OA). The dogs had previously been diagnosed with lameness due to OA.
Dogs were given either 2 mg of CBD oil or 2 mg of placebo oil every 12 hours for two four-week periods that were broken up by two weeks in between. It was a small study, 22 dogs of different breeds, and just 16 finished the study. However, both the dogs’ owners and veterinarians reported a significant decrease in pain and increase in mobility in the dogs who received the CBD oil (though actual lameness seemed unaffected).
CBD for dogs that have seizures
A clinical study by Colorado State University has had promising results. Also a small study of 26 dogs, dogs were either given 2.5 mg of CBD or a placebo twice a day for 12 weeks, in addition to their existing medications. Just 16 dogs completed the study, but 89% of the dogs that received CBD experienced fewer seizures than they had prior to the study.
Researchers at Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine are also undertaking a study of CBD in epileptic dogs. Dr. Dawn Boothe, the leader of the research, accepted funding from a nonprofit organization related to Canna-Pet — a company that sells cannabis products for dogs — after being unable to find private funding due to the government’s position that cannabis products do not have medical benefits. Once published, this research will add valuable information to the conversation.
CBD for dogs with cancer
It seems that no direct research on CBD and cancer in dogs is yet in progress. However, the National Cancer Institute references a 2-year research study on mice and rats that suggests that cannabinoids may protect against certain kinds of cancerous cells and tumors, including some that occur in the liver, mammary glands, uterus, pancreas, pituitary, testes, and lungs.
“Cannabinoids appear to kill tumor cells but do not affect their nontransformed counterparts and may even protect them from cell death,” the report says. That’s a long way from being able to understand the effects on canines and/or understanding optimal dosing, but it’s a start.
CBD for dogs with anxiety
Again, canine-specific research on CBD and anxiety has yet to be undertaken. But pet owners with dogs who are afraid of thunderstorms, for instance, report anecdotal success with CBD oil. And in 2018, the Journal of Affective Disorders summarized a human research study on cannabis and mood-related disorders. It found that medical cannabis users reported reductions in depression, anxiety and stress. But it’s important to note that this was a study where participants used medical cannabis, not CBD.
How to Use CBD for Dogs
As you can see, using CBD in dogs is a new area that offers more questions than specific answers. But here are a few safety guidelines to follow should you choose to use CBD on your canine companions. Be sure to treat it like any other medication, storing it safely out of reach of pets or children.
How to give your dog CBD
With oils or tinctures, you can add drops to your dog’s food or water, or — if your dog is a tolerant sort — simply open his or her mouth and squirt a drop on his tongue.
There are also powders that can be mixed into dog food, or capsules/tablets that can be concealed in treats. If he balks at the taste, there are other products that are flavored with natural ingredients like coconut oil.
For roll-ons or balms, you want to apply to the dog’s skin in areas where it can’t easily be licked off.
CBD dosage for dogs
This depends on three things:
- How much your dog weighs
- The potency of the product you are giving (they come in formulas ranging from 75mg to 600mg, based on the size of the dog)
- What you are treating for
Many manufacturers include dosing instructions with the product. If they don’t, deciding on the dose is a two-step process:
- Calculate how many milligrams of CBD oil to use based on the dog’s weight
- Figure out how many milligrams of CBD are in each milliliter of oil
If, for instance, you want to give a 0.2 mg beginning dose of CBD per pound and your dog weighs 50 pounds, 0.2 x 50 = 10 milligrams of CBD. Now you want to figure out how to measure out 6 milligrams of CBD. If the formula you bought was, for example, the 150 mg bottle, it contains 5mg of CBD per 5 ml of oil. To give your dog 10 mg, you would give him 10 ml.
However, because there is not yet an FDA approval and dosing chart for CBD, dog owners should start at extremely small doses and exercise caution.
Speak to your vet about dosage to get precise instructions.
How long does it take for CBD oil to affect dogs?
The AVMA says most animals experience effects within one to three hours, though it’s possible that an animal can be affected in “as little as five minutes or as long as 96 hours.”
Can you overdose your dog on CBD?
Most toxic cases have occurred in young puppies, according to the AVMA, and also involved items like chocolate, raisins, xylitol or product wrapping, all of which can be toxic on their own.
What happens if you give your dog too much CBD?
The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center says that callers who worried about CBD reactions in their pets report lethargy, ataxia (lack of movement control), loss of urinary control, vomiting, or being unable to get up at all.
How to Pick CBD Products for Your Dog
Use the guide below when comparing CBD products on the market. And as a rule of thumb, don’t use human CBD products on your pets. In some cases the manufacturing processes will be the same, but the labeling will be different. Furthermore, the strengths of the products may be different, and there can be added ingredients that could harm the animal. Gummy treats, for instance, contain the artificial sweetener xylitol, which is toxic to dogs.
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Talk to Your Vet About CBD
Understanding that your veterinarian has limits to what he or she can prescribe or recommend, if you are interested in whether CBD can help your dog, ask them about it. The treatment shows promise in many conditions, most notably arthritis, anxiety, and seizure disorders. But because research is in its infancy, you have to inform yourself by doing research and talking to the medical professional who knows your pet best. Also, check the regulations in your state to see what the policy is around cannabis-derived products for dogs.
For much more information about cannabis and health-related issues, visit our Resources Page. To become a Happy Valley Insider and receive news and updates via email, join our mailing list by entering your email address at the bottom of this page.