The popularity of CBD is skyrocketing, with people especially in the US and Europe using it for various conditions. Increasingly, people are starting to wonder whether it’s also safe (and effective) for pets. We took a look at what the existing science says on the matter.
Cannabidiol, (commonly known as CBD), has taken the world by storm. It’s a kind of chemical naturally found in cannabis, but unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), it doesn’t give you a “high”. There’s also some therapeutic potential to CBD. We’ve looked at various aspects in previous articles, and although everyone loves clear and simple answers, things are not entirely clear when it comes to CBD.
For starters, there is definite therapeutic potential when it comes to some forms of epilepsy — which is why doctors in the UK have already approved the use of CBD for people suffering from these conditions. There is also some evidence suggesting that CBD can relieve pain and anxiety, without the potentially deleterious side effects of the THC, but most of the studies are small-scale and/or based on animal models rather than human populations. At the same time, the benefits of CBD are often exaggerated, with people promoting its use for a number of conditions for which there’s just no reliable evidence.
The bottom line is, we know CBD is good for a few things, we suspect it could be good for more, but it’s probably not good for everything it’s advertised. But that’s for humans, where the use of CBD for anxiety, stress, and other problems is already surging. What about pets?
Is CBD for pets safe?
Even in states where the consumption of medicinal cannabis (or derived products) is legal, the laws only allow human healthcare providers to prescribe it to people. As a result, vets are often reluctant to talk about whether and how they recommend the use of CBD for pets. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t do it.
A recent survey of 2,131 vets in the US found that 63% of them were asked about CBD oil for pets at least once a month. However, in most states, vets can’t technically provide professional advice — they may give you some advice nonetheless, but be aware that they may be in an uncomfortable situation.
A study assessing the safety of CBD on cats and dogs found that over 12-week administration using a hemp-based product in healthy dogs and cats (with two doses a day), there were 15 vomiting events, 29 gagging events, and 16 events that involved salivating, drooling, or foaming.
Cats appear to absorb and eliminate CBD differently than dogs. They are more likely to show adverse effects such as excessive licking and head-shaking during oil administration.
Overall though, data is still scarce. We don’t know if there are any long-term effects, and short-term effects on cats and dogs are also insufficiently studied.
Data for other pets are even scarcer than for cats and dogs (and often non-existent).
Is CBD for pets effective?
There is, unfortunately, very little scientific information about the therapeutic potential of CBD for pets. There are however a few studies that raised interest.
In a small clinical trial, 9 dogs suffering from epilepsy were administered CBD, and 8 of them suffered from fewer seizures, with no reported negative side effects. Stephanie McGrath, a neurologist and researcher at Colorado State University’s (CSU) Veterinary Teaching Hospital believes cannabinoids may be a potential treatment for epilepsy in dogs.
“I think overall, it definitely shows promise,” McGrath said. “However I’m not sure we’re quite at the point where we can say we can have a drug we can put widely out there [to treat] epilepsy. We have a lot more work to do. I think there are still a whole lot of unanswered questions.”
The way it’s administered also seems to matter. A 2018 Colorado State University study on dogs with epilepsy found that CBD oil given orally is more effective than a cream or a gel capsule.
Another small study administered CBD oil to dogs suffering from osteoarthritis. The researchers tested two different dosages: 2 or 8 milligrams (mg) per kilogram (kg) of body weight. The study (funded by a CBD producer) found that the most effective dose was 2 mg per kg of body weight, and 80% of dogs showed improvements in movement and a reduction in pain. But far more research is needed to ensure that CBD is safe for dogs (and in what dose).
The bottom line
CBD research is in its early days. We have virtually no information about the long-term effects of CBD consumption for pets (be them positive or negative), and even short-term information is scarce. The FDA discourages its use for pets, due to concerns about appropriate dosing and long-term effects.
If you do decide to administer CBD to your pet, it’s essential that you consult a veterinarian first — it’s even better if you can get a second opinion. Don’t fall for advertising, look at the existing evidence. If you do end up administering, start with a very small dose and closely monitor your pet’s reactions for several days. If there are any negative effects (panting, lethargy, vomiting, foaming) it’s advisable to stop the treatment. But, for instance, if your dog is suffering from arthritis, and after the administration of CBD, it suddenly seems to be better and there are no negative effects, there’s a good chance CBD is actually helping them.
An advisable practice if you do decide to do this is to select products that have some sort of third-party certification of authenticity. Avoid products that have pesticides and heavy metals and ensure the quality is verifiable.