More and more people are turning to cannabis for treating various medical conditions. Many have found relief from the therapeutic properties of this plant and they are now starting to discover that cannabis works wonders not just for humans but for our four-legged friends as well.
There has been a lot of talk about using CBD for the treatment of pain and anxiety in veterinary medicine. Physicians who are involved in holistic practice do encourage their clients to try CBD on their pets to keep them calm. If your pet is suffering from social anxiety, separation anxiety, or noise anxiety, CBD hemp oil might help.
Change can make a dog anxious. Did you move to a new house? Did you invite the neighborhood pups over? Did you bring home a new member of the family? These events might stress out your dog – especially if there is a huge age gap between pets. CBD hemp oil might help them control their anxiety and allow them to explore their new surroundings in a calmer manner.
CBD has been found to create balancing effects on all mammals. Pet owners have used CBD for a host of medical and behavioral issues such as arthritis, muscle spasms, seizures, neurological and digestive disorders, cancer pain, anxiety, mood swings, and trauma. In post-operative care, CBD can stimulate poor appetite and speed up healing from surgery. At the end of life, CBD can ease the pain and reduce the fear your pet may be experiencing.
How CBD can help dogs:
- Boost appetite
- Reduce separation anxiety
- Stop excessive barking
- Control nausea during car rides
- Improve vitality and boost energy
- Relax during trips to the vet or groomer
- Control muscle spasms or seizures
- Reduce pain from arthritis or cancer
- Help recover from surgery or illness
- Control pacing or inability to settle or relax
- Control fear of thunderstorms, fireworks or loud noises
- Control grumpiness or aggression towards other animals
How CBD can help cats:
- Adjust behavior in multi-cat households
- Boost appetite
- Prevent constant hiding
- Control fear of the litter box
- Prevent eating inappropriate objects
- Prevent crying for no apparent reason
- Relax during car rides
- Prevent distress from a change in environment
- Control grumpiness or aggression towards other animals
CBD does all these by stimulating the mammalian endocannabinoid system.
What is CBD?
The cannabis plant contains chemical compounds called cannabinoids. Scientists have isolated at least 113 cannabinoids from the three species of cannabis – indica, sativa, and ruderalis.
The two main types of cannabinoids are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). CBD is a therapeutic cannabinoid while THC is the cannabinoid that makes you high.
You may have also heard about these cannabinoids:
- Cannabicitran (CBT)
- Cannabigerol (CBG)
- Cannabichromene (CBC)
- Cannabigerovarin (CBGV)
Hemp CBD vs. marijuana CBD
CBD that is extracted from marijuana is a class 1 substance that contains very high levels of THC. CBD that is extracted from hemp contains virtually no THC.
Hemp-derived CBD is not psychoactive and will not make an animal high. It has no unpleasant side effects and is 100% legal for sale in all 50 states.
The THC content in marijuana is usually between 10 and 15 percent but hemp must contain less than 0.3 percent of THC. At this level, cannabis has no intoxicating effect for people or animals.
Hemp also has more CBD compared to marijuana.
CBD and the mammalian endocannabinoid system
Like humans, animals such as dogs, cats and horses have an endocannabinoid system in their bodies. The system is made up of cannabinoid receptors that are primarily located in the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. The main function of endocannabinoid receptors is to maintain body homeostasis. CBD is a cannabinoid that can help upregulate and downregulate neural transmissions to maintain that homeostasis and keep the body in a balanced and healthy state. [R]
Scientists have identified two dominant receptors in animals: CB1 which is predominantly in the brain, nervous system, glands and organs; and CB2 found mainly in the cells regulating the immune system. Many tissues contain both receptors with each linked to a different action. One key role of the endocannabinoid system is to control inflammation by up-regulating or down-regulating the immune response. An overactive response can lead to allergies and auto-immune issues. An underactive response can make the body susceptible to infections and proliferation of cancer cells.
Most pharmaceuticals only stimulate upregulation or downregulation so they move body systems out of the homeostatic state. Because CBD works towards homeostasis, it does not cause these unwanted side effects.
Like humans, animals can suffer from endocannabinoid deficiencies. Cannabis is able to correct this when the cannabinoid CBD attaches to the mammalian cannabinoid receptors.
So far there has been no published clinical trial on the specific use of CBD for pets. All of the information that is available came from research studies on rat models. Currently, a study is ongoing at Colorado State University on the use of CBD for the treatment of osteoarthritis in dogs but results will not be available in the near future. Therefore, veterinarians who recommend or dispense CBD are doing so based strictly on anecdotal evidence. [R]
How CBD can help your pets
CBD hemp might be able to help treat both acute and chronic diseases. It has shown promise in helping relieve symptoms of arthritis, stress, digestive issues, aggression, and a compromised immune system. There are also studies under way that are looking into how CBD can affect Type 1 diabetes, cancer, and other organ-specific diseases.
Veterinarians are also starting to prescribe hemp CBD oil for treating acute ailments such as sprains, broken bones, torn ligaments, and post-operative pain, swelling and stiffness.
If your pet is already taking conventional medicine for a medical condition, hemp CBD oil may be able to lower the dose of pharmaceutical drugs to minimize side effects while boosting therapeutic effects.
The existing armamentarium of veterinary medicine seems woefully deficient especially when the patient does not respond to approved therapies. This is why CBD may be a treatment worth exploring unless adverse reactions are reported.
What veterinarians are saying about CBD for pets
Dr. Michael Petty, DVM, CVPP, CVMA, CCRT, CAAPM of the Canine Rehabilitation Institute in Florida recommends CBD for the treatment of pain caused by degenerative joint disease and other chronic conditions in pets. Some of his clients have reported a decrease in pain, improved sleep pattern, increased appetite, and better temperament in their pets. While these clinical impressions are not backed by scientific research, they do offer hope for those who are having a difficult time responding to conventional treatment methods.
Dr. Gary Richter, an award-winning veterinarian who has been practicing in the Bay Area for 20 years, applies a combination of Western medicine, alternative care, and emerging therapies to achieve the best possible results. He promotes healing and wellness by incorporating herbal therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic, and hyperbaric oxygen with conventional treatment. Emphasizing how to dose CBD safely and effectively, Dr. Richter recommends CBD for relief of pain, anxiety, gastrointestinal issues, seizures, and as an adjunctive treatment for cancer.
Dr. Edward Bassingthwaighte – popularly known as The Healing Vet – has been practicing veterinary medicine in Australia for 23 years. He often shares these two prominent cases when talking about cannabis:
A senior Staffordshire Bull Terrier had a fast-growing tumor about 6cm in diameter in her mammary gland. Chest x-rays showed there might be mestatasis. Dr. Edward treated her with CBD oil and some other herbal medicines. The tumor totally shrank in just over three months and she is still going strong six months later with no relapse. After so many years of going through multiple surgeries to remove tumors, only CBD oil was able to really help her.
An old Jack Russell with a severe heart murmur and painful arthritis received a whole plant extract containing CBD with a little THC. The mixture was diluted in 10ml of cold pressed hemp seed oil. After a month of treatment, he was more active and much happier, with lots of energy for long walks. The most significant result of the CBD treatment is in the heart murmur.
"I simply can't explain the improved heart murmur. They normally don't get better," said Dr. Edward. With these two cases, he began to discover how CBD oil could be a critical part of his holistic veterinary practice.
CBD for pets with arthritis
Arthritis is a common ailment in senior pets. Like humans, their bones deteriorate with age because of wear and tear. According to Dr. Richter, conventional pharmaceutical medication either has not worked or cannot be administered safely because of underlying condition such as kidney failure. To help humans maintain the quality of life of their senior pet, Dr. Richter recommends CBD oil. With CBD, arthritic pets feel better, move around with ease, and sleep more comfortably.
CBD works so well for pain that scientists are considering it as a new class of drug for the treatment of chronic pain. [R]
Studies also show CBD to be very effective for:
- Decreasing pain (including neuropathy and nerve-related pain) [R]
- Decreasing the impact of inflammation on oxidative stress (which causes degeneration and premature aging) [R]
- Decreasing inflammation in acute pancreatitis [R]
- Reducing intestinal inflammation (associated with irritable bowel disease) [R]
CBD for pets with anxiety or phobia
Much like humans, pets can also suffer from anxiety, stress or even specific phobias. Some common forms of anxiety affecting dogs include separation anxiety, noise anxiety, and travel anxiety.
When humans are anxious, they often bite their nails, pace back and forth, or become a little shaky. In dogs, anxiety can manifest in the following behavior:
- Persistent barking
- Persistent chewing (furniture, shoes, trash)
- Urinating and defecating (usually inside the house or crate)
Does your dog suffer from separation anxiety or noise phobias? Extensive studies have been conducted on how CBD affects stress and anxiety disorders. In humans, CBD has been found to:
- Reduce anxiety during public speaking [R]
- Relieve symptoms in people with anxiety disorders [R]
- Reduce panic disorders and post-traumatic stress disorders [R]
CBD for pets with seizures
Around 5% of dogs are estimated to suffer from seizures. The most common treatment for dog seizures is medication, specifically phenobarbital and potassium bromide. While these may help control seizures in pets, they can be extremely harmful to the liver and other organs.
CBD has been proven to control seizures in drug-resistant epileptic patients. In one study, 7 of 8 patients with drug-resistant epilepsy exhibited a significant improvement within 4 to 5 months of taking CBD. [R]
In one survey of children with treatment-resistant epilepsy, 84% of those who took CBD reported a reduction in the frequency of seizures. [R]
CBD for pets with gastrointestinal issues
Pets suffer from gastrointestinal issues the same way humans do with inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS) or Crohn's disease. The best treatment regimen, according to Dr. Richter, is a combination of dietary changes and medical cannabis. This normalizes their GI system and over time gets them off some of the pharmaceutical medications they are taking.
CBD for pets with appetite and vomiting issues
If you are having trouble getting your dog to eat, CBD may help with appetite. The National Cancer Institute says CBD can help increase appetite in addition to fighting cancer. [R]
CBD for pets with neurodegenerative disease
CBD has shown a lot of promise in helping dogs who are suffering from degenerative myelopathy and other spine and nerve issues. CBD is able to protect brain cells from toxicity in patients who have Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease. [R] [R] [R]
CBD also helps protect the brain from cell death caused by free radicals and toxins – very important in senior dogs. [R]
CBD for pets with cardiovascular disease
Just as Dr. Edward discovered, CBD helps promote cardiovascular health.
CBD for pets with cancer
Perhaps the most important value of CBD in pets is the significant improvement in quality of life of those who are suffering from cancer.
With cancer patients, CBD is able to help control their pain, boost appetite, and allow them to rest comfortably. There are even a few cases where tumors actually shrink after taking CBD.
In a 2011 study conducted at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, CBD caused programmed cell death that inhibited the growth of breast cancer. [R]
Another study the following year, published by researchers from Italy, showed that CBD can stop the development, growth, and spread of malignant tumors leading to colon cancer in rats. [R]
Research from Complutense University in Spain has also revealed how CBD and other cannabinoids can enhance the effect of traditional chemotherapy. It increases the absorption rate of chemotherapy agents in cancer cells while simultaneously protecting healthy cells. [R]
How to administer CBD to your pet
There are a number of CBD formulas available on the market. The most popular CBD products for pets are edible hemp-based CBD treats that you can buy at pet stores.
Veterinarians often recommend CBD extracts or tinctures because they contain more potent cannabidiol. CBD oil can be administered from a dropper bottle squeezed directly into the mouth, added to dog food or a treat, or rubbed into bare skin or inside the ears. You can also put a few drops on the paw for them to lick it off.
Apart from biscuits and oil, CBD for pets is available in capsule, gel caps, and topical ointment.
According to Dr. Richter, many of his patients find relief from taking CBD oil orally. He has also seen a CBD topical spray clear up severe skin allergies in dogs where they stop scratching for 4 to 6 hours.
Another method of delivery that Dr. Richter has yet to see applied to pets is the CBD suppository.
Why CBD oil is the most effective form of CBD for pets
CBD in oil form is absorbed by the body directly through the tissues of the mouth while edible treats have to go through the digestive system first. CBD treats also contain very low doses of CBD. Your vet will probably recommend CBD oil for a much higher dose in smaller amounts.
What are the side effects of CBD for pets
CBD appears to be safe, even when taken in high doses and over extended periods of time. [R]
The most common side effect of CBD in pets is sedation – similar to how they would react to Benadryl. Your pet might also exhibit disorientation, hyperactivity, vomiting, and balance problems (static ataxia in dogs).
CBD can decrease the activity of liver enzymes which could affect how prescription drugs are metabolized in the body. If your dog is currently on medication, check with your vet first before using CBD.
There has been no reported serious side effect of CBD in pets when administered in a proper dosage. The only time that pets experience problems with cannabis is when they have eaten something that they should not have eaten – like dogs rummaging through their human's marijuana stash.
Side effects from marijuana can be quite severe, including dilated pupils, drooling, loss of balance, muscle twitching, vomiting, involuntary urination, and even unconsciousness. If your pet accidentally ate something and you see these symptoms, take them to the vet immediately.
The safest way to use CBD for your dog is to purchase a hemp product that is specifically formulated for pets. If you have THC products at home, store them in a place that is inaccessible to your furry ones.
Will your pet get high with CBD?
Not if it is dosed properly. There is an enormous therapeutic range for CBD before the patient gets high. When you choose the right CBD and dose it correctly, you are never going to see that kind of response in your pet. The only time veterinarians might push that envelope a little bit is when the pet is suffering from cancer and requires a higher dose.
CBD oils contain beneficial CBD without the THC so your pet will get the relaxation without the intoxication.
Is CBD oil legal?
CBD oil for pets is mostly derived from hemp so it contains very small traces of THC.
According to the 2014 Federal Farm Bill, a substance is classified as industrial hemp if it contains less than 0.3 percent of THC.
All 50 states have approved the use of hemp-based CBD for human and animal products.
How to find the right CBD product
Animals are very sensitive to THC so always check the THC content of the oil or edibles you are purchasing.
Those who are new to CBD often buy these products without prior knowledge of the entire manufacturing process – from growing to extraction to testing to bottling. These processes can have a profound effect on the amount of CBD that is bioavailable. Some companies import their hemp from Chinese sources, which are often associated with high concentrations of pesticides and heavy metals. Retailers do not do their own quality control and often rely on what the manufacturer declares.
A study published in JAMA found that more than two thirds of CBD products sold online contained either higher or lower concentrations of the substance than their labels indicated. Some of them even had significant levels of THC. [R]
Here are five things to consider when buying CBD products:
Make sure the product is organic
The hemp CBD oil you are purchasing must be pure, organically grown, and free of pesticides, fungicides or solvents.
Ask how the CBD was extracted
Unrefined, cold-pressed CBD retains the natural value of the hemp plant without the use of any chemicals. CO2 extraction is the cleanest and safest extraction method to ensure that CBD contains full spectrum cannabinoids.
Read the lab report
Ask the vendor for a copy of the lab analysis so you know the exact amount of CBD in the product you are buying. The certificate of analysis will also confirm if there is little or no THC in the extract. To make sure your pet does not get high or experience side effects, choose a CBD product that is derived from hemp and not marijuana.
Do not skimp
Price is the last thing you should consider when looking for a CBD product. The purest and highest quality oils are highly unlikely to be cheap.
Buy CBD tinctures
While CBD treats may be very appealing to your pet, vets recommend that you use CBD in tinctures. CBD in liquid form allows you to adjust dosage drop by drop to make sure your pet gets the most benefit.
The best CBD oils come from companies that are fully transparent. They tell you how much cannabidiol and other cannabinoids are in their formula, they publish third party test results, and they have verified testimonials from real people.
How much CBD should your pet take?
As a general rule, administer the smallest dose possible and gradually work your way up until you find the most effective CBD level for your pet.
One important thing to keep in mind: pets are not small people. You cannot simply convert a human dose to a pet dose by dividing your weight. Do not dose your pet as you would a child. CBD dosages for children are much higher than what an animal could take.
Proper dosage usually depends on the weight of your pet and the severity of the condition. Dr. Robert J Silver, holistic veterinarian from Colorado, shares the chart below for a starting reference point for CBD dosage.
Range of dosing: 0.05 mg of CBD per pound of pet weight to 0.25 mg of CBD per pound of pet weight, administered twice daily.
- Low tier: 0.05 mg of CBD per pound of body weight
- Middle tier: 0.125 mg of CBD per pound of body weight
- High tier: 0.25 mg of CBD per pound of body weight
Dr. Silver recommends that you start at the lowest tier, administering CBD twice daily. Observe your pet for over a week. If you see the effects of CBD, it may not be necessary to move up to the next dosage range.
If necessary, increase the dosage to the middle tier, administer twice daily, and observe your pet for a week.
Again, if necessary, increase the dosage to the highest tier and administer twice daily.
Up to 25lbs / 11kg
up to 1.25 mg – twice daily
25 – 50lb / 11 – 23kg
1.25 to 2.5 mg – twice daily
50 – 75lb / 23 – 34kg
2.5 to 3.75 mg – twice daily
over 75lb / 34kg
3.75 mg+ – twice daily
Talk to your vet before giving your pet CBD. Always start with a low dose. Keep in mind that content may vary according to brand. Not all bottles contain the same milligram of CBD per drop. Depending on the potency of the product and weight of your pet, you might only need one dosage per day instead of two. Do your own computation to figure out the right dosage.
As long as there are no side effects, you can increase the dose every 4 to 5 days until you see the therapeutic benefits.
To control pain, you may give your pet CBD every 8 hours. For other conditions or to break bad behavioral patterns, you may give your pet CBD once or twice a day.
Once the symptoms subside, you may consider lowering the CBD dosage. Do not stop the medication completely. As with increasing dosage, taper off slowly until you find what works best for your pet.
If you prefer to give them CBD treats, start with a quarter of a cookie and increase gradually. Do not exceed the maximum recommended dose for your dog size. Always check the label on the packaging.
Warning: make sure you store the treats where your pets cannot access them, and make sure others don’t hand them out as they would regular treats!
Always observe your pet’s response after taking CBD. The key is to find a dose where you do see results without side effects.
“There are many conditions that can only be treated with Western medicine and surgery,” says Dr. Richter. “But clearly Western medicine is not the solution to every problem. It would be a mistake for us to turn our backs on successful treatment options because they are not mainstream or widely accepted. There are many occasions when alternative therapy or a combination of therapies is the best solution. If optimal health and welfare is the goal, every legitimate option should be considered for every patient.”
If you feel that your pet might benefit from CBD, talk to your vet. Seek advice not from people who work at the pet store or cannabis dispensary but from a real professional who is trained to treat animals.
CBD oil could help treat or even save the life of your pet. More and more pet owners and holistic veterinarians are turning to CBD knowing that this plant-based supplement could help improve quality of life with no serious side effects.