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Is CBD Safe For Dogs?

By Dr. Kaitlin Wurtz April 21, 2021

CBD for medicinal purposes has been rapidly growing in popularity as hemp derived products gain legal status and societal acceptance. Many people experience health benefits using CBD themselves and are naturally curious if their pets may benefit too. Unfortunately, little is understood scientifically about CBD’s effectiveness and safety due to it being recently declassified as a Schedule 1 substance (which made it illegal to research). This article will explore what we know about CBD use in dogs along with some guidance on how to use it for your own pets.

What Is CBD?

CBD is short for cannabidiol, a substance derived from the hemp plant. This plant is a cousin of marijuana and does not contain the psychoactive compound called THC that gets you high. Hemp is one of the earliest cultivated crops and was traditionally grown for fiber. However, throughout its history, hemp has been used to treat many medical conditions (Schluttenhofer and Yuan, 2017). Up until recently, regulations have prohibited research on CBD. But as the substance gains legality, research into its therapeutic uses has been growing. Most notably, CBD has shown to be incredibly effective at reducing seizures in patients with epilepsy. Products containing CBD are becoming readily available to the public and are advertised to treat anything from anxiety to chronic pain. As public acceptance and curiosity towards CBD grows, pet product manufacturers have been crafting CBD products specifically for dogs.

Is CBD Safe For Dogs?

In the United States, CBD is federally recognized as a supplement, therefore it is not regulated by the FDA. Furthermore, organizations that regulate supplements for humans may not apply to products developed for pets (Hartsel el al., 2019). This means that the public must trust what is presented on the labels of these products which may not always be accurate. Some product manufacturers overcome this by having their product tested by a third-party company and have these results available to consumers. Generally, CBD is regarded as safe, especially if used in small doses. Some veterinarians are hesitant to recommend CBD for clients due to the lack of knowledge available and because there are typically better understood alternatives available. If you choose to provide CBD to your dog, make sure you consult your veterinarian first to make sure it is not going to have an adverse interaction with any of their other medications. Your veterinarian will also help determine the best dosage for your particular dog.

Is CBD For Dogs Different From CBD For People?

The cannabidiol compound used in human CBD products is the same as what is used in dog CDB products. What might be different between the two are the form of the product (e.g. cookie versus oil), the flavor additives, the concentration, or which carrier oil is used. CBD can be sold in the form of edibles, tablets or capsules, oils or extracts, topical creams, or it may be packaged for smoking. Dog CBD products are most often in pill or biscuit form (Kogan et al., 2018). There are many oils that can be used as carrier oils in CBD products. Most are medium chain triglycerides, such as coconut oil, or they might use grape seed oil or hemp seed oil. Other additives might include flavor components such as essential oils or flavors that dogs may find appealing, such as cod liver oil. Additionally, human grade CBD products may be highly concentrated, therefore dosing should be carefully considered, especially if given to small dogs. When giving any CBD product to your dog, make sure you check all of the ingredients to make sure they are safe for your dog to consume. If you are unsure about any ingredient or proper dosing, check with your veterinarian.

What Benefits Can CBD Have For Your Dog?

Reports of CBD’s therapeutic benefits are abundant. Clinical trials conducted on humans have explored CBD’s effectiveness at treating a wide variety of ailments including pain, nausea, vomiting, inflammation, cancer, asthma, glaucoma, spinal cord injuries, appetite loss, and diseases such as Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s (Grotenhermen and Müller-Vahl, 2012; Landa et al., 2016; Lynch and Ware, 2015).

In dogs, CBD is most commonly used for pain relief (Kogan et al., 2016), reducing inflammation, and for anxiety relief (Kogan et al., 2018). Scientific studies on the effectiveness of CBD for dogs are scarce, however there have been clinical trials showing positive results in pain reduction and reducing seizures (McGrath et al., 2019). When veterinarians were surveyed about CBD success, they noted that clients had the most success with CBD when treating chronic and acute pain, anxiety, and seizure frequency and severity (Kogan et al., 2019). Clients were most likely to approach their veterinarians about CBD for pain management, anxiety, seizures, and for helping with storm or firework phobias (Kogan et al., 2019). While scientific results are lacking, these anecdotal results are promising and warrant further study of CBD as a therapeutic tool.

What Is The Proper Dose Of CBD For Dogs?

Since scientific evidence surrounding CBD use is lacking, we are currently missing critical research on effective therapeutic does of CBD. Recommendations from manufactures are typically around 0.2 mg of CBD per pound of body weight. Most recommend starting with a low dose and slowly increasing it over time until you find the dose that gives the best results for your individual dog. Depending on the ailment, CBD can be given once or twice a day, or even once every 8 hours such as for the treatment of inflammation and pain. If the purpose is to calm a dog during a stressful event such as a storm or fireworks, CBD should be given at least 30 minutes prior to the event for optimal results. In the few studies that examined CBD’s effectiveness in dogs, they utilized doses that were often much higher (often by 4-5 times) than the manufacturer’s recommendations. One clinical study found that when dogs with arthritis were given 2 mg per kg of CBD twice a day they experienced greater comfort and increased activity (Gamble et al., 2018). In another study, it was shown that dogs benefited from CBD at doses of around 1-2 mg per kg of body weight when given every 12 hours (Kogan et al., 2020).

When determining what dose is best for your dog, it is important to consider the form of the CBD product. CBD is the most bioavailable when inhaled as it bypasses metabolism by the liver. When given orally, the bioavailability is reduced. But in spite of this, good responses have been observed. Liquid CBD products are more bioavailable than capsules or cookies, which may have reduced effectiveness due to the manufacturing process (Bartner et al., 2018).

What Are The Signs Of An Adverse Reaction To CBD?

While adverse reactions are rare, there are some behavioral signs to watch out for that could indicate your dog is having an adverse reaction to the product or that their dosing may be too strong. First, the purity of CBD products may vary, and some might contain trace amounts of THC, which dogs are extremely sensitive to.

Signs of THC poising in dogs include (Fitzgerald et al., 2013):

  • Disorientation
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Tremors
  • Depression
  • Dilated pupils
  • Loss of bladder control (dribbling urine)
  • Agitation
  • Seizures or death in extreme cases

Side effects from CBD itself are rare and typically mild. The most commonly reported side effects from CBD include (Kogan et al., 2019; McGrath et al., 2018):

  • Sedation
  • Increased hunger
  • Dry mouth
  • Diarrhea
  • Elevated alkaline phosphatase levels (possible sign of liver damage)

Take your dog to the vet immediately if you suspect they are experiencing THC poisoning. If your dog experiences side effects from a CBD product, you might need to reduce the dose or frequency that you are giving the product, or question whether CBD is the right treatment option for your particular dog.

Conclusion

In summary, there is currently a critical lack of regulation of CBD products and a lack of knowledge about effective CBD doses for treatment of various ailments. Due to this lack of information, many veterinarians are hesitant to recommend CBD for treatment, especially when there are better understood alternatives. With that being said, the scientific studies that have been conducted on CBD appears to show effectiveness at easing pain, reducing seizures, and easing anxiety with a low chance of negative side effects. As always, consult with your veterinarian prior to trying a new treatment option for your dog. Make sure to start treatment with the lowest dose possible and make gradual adjustments to find the treatment that works for your dog and their condition.

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Works Cited

Bartner, Lisa R., Stephanie McGrath, Sangeeta Rao, Linda K. Hyatt, and Luke A. Wittenburg. "Pharmacokinetics of cannabidiol administered by 3 delivery methods at 2 different dosages to healthy dogs." Canadian Journal of Veterinary Research 82, no. 3 (2018): 178-183.

Fitzgerald, Kevin T., Alvin C. Bronstein, and Kristin L. Newquist. "Marijuana poisoning." Topics in companion animal medicine 28, no. 1 (2013): 8-12.

Gamble, Lauri-Jo, Jordyn M. Boesch, Christopher W. Frye, Wayne S. Schwark, Sabine Mann, Lisa Wolfe, Holly Brown, Erin S. Berthelsen, and Joseph J. Wakshlag. "Pharmacokinetics, safety, and clinical efficacy of cannabidiol treatment in osteoarthritic dogs." Frontiers in veterinary science 5 (2018): 165.

Grotenhermen, Franjo, and Kirsten Müller-Vahl. "The therapeutic potential of cannabis and cannabinoids." Deutsches Ärzteblatt International 109, no. 29-30 (2012): 495.

Hartsel, Joshua A., Kyle Boyar, Andrew Pham, Robert J. Silver, and Alexandros Makriyannis. "Cannabis in veterinary medicine: cannabinoid therapies for animals." In Nutraceuticals in Veterinary Medicine, pp. 121-155. Springer, Cham, 2019.

Kogan, L. R., P. W. Hellyer, and R. Schoenfeld-Tacher. "Dog owners’ use and perceptions of cannabis products." J Am Holist Vet Med Assoc 51 (2018): 26-33.

Kogan, Lori R., Peter W. Hellyer, and Narda G. Robinson. "Consumers’ perceptions of hemp products for animals." J Am Holist Vet Med Assoc 42 (2016): 40-8.

Kogan, Lori, Peter Hellyer, and Robin Downing. "The use of Cannabidiol-rich hemp oil extract to treat canine osteoarthritis-related pain: a pilot study." AHVMA J 58 (2020): 1-10.

Kogan, Lori, Regina Schoenfeld-Tacher, Peter Hellyer, and Mark Rishniw. "US veterinarians' knowledge, experience, and perception regarding the use of cannabidiol for canine medical conditions." Frontiers in veterinary science 5 (2019): 338.

Landa, Leoš, A. Sulcova, and Petr Gbelec. "The use of cannabinoids in animals and therapeutic implications for veterinary medicine: a review." Veterinární medicína 61, no. 3 (2016).

Lynch, Mary E., and Mark A. Ware. "Cannabinoids for the treatment of chronic non-cancer pain: an updated systematic review of randomized controlled trials." Journal of neuroimmune pharmacology 10, no. 2 (2015): 293-301.

McGrath, Stephanie, Lisa R. Bartner, Sangeeta Rao, Lori R. Kogan, and Peter W. Hellyer. "A report of adverse effects associated with the administration of cannabidiol in healthy dogs." veterinary medicine 1, no. 2 (2018): 6-8.

McGrath, Stephanie, Lisa R. Bartner, Sangeeta Rao, Rebecca A. Packer, and Daniel L. Gustafson. "Randomized blinded controlled clinical trial to assess the effect of oral cannabidiol administration in addition to conventional antiepileptic treatment on seizure frequency in dogs with intractable idiopathic epilepsy." Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 254, no. 11 (2019): 1301-1308.

Schluttenhofer, Craig, and Ling Yuan. "Challenges towards revitalizing hemp: A multifaceted crop." Trends in plant science 22, no. 11 (2017): 917-929.