Ask a Vet: Can CBD Be Toxic to Your Pet?

Is CBD toxic for your pet? An expert weighs in

Why are people worrying about CBD toxicity in their pets? This new fear may be simply the result of misinformation and gossip. Image Credit: By Image Alleviation on shutterstock

As a cannabis educator who tackles issues for both people and their pets, I often field questions on a wide range of cannabis related topics. Nevertheless, I was recently asked about a topic that struck me by surprise: That is, the growing concern among some pet owners regarding the question of toxicity of CBD (cannabidiol).

This was shocking to me, because those of us in the cannabis industry largely regard CBD as being relatively safe. However, if the concern exists, there must be a reason. So what gives? Do pet owners really need to worry? Is CBD toxicity a thing? While many pet parents are using CBD products for their pets without issue, others are wondering “could CBD cause toxicity in my pet?”

Allow me to address this issue and alleviate some of these concerns.

But first, why are people worrying about CBD toxicity in their pets at all? This new fear may be simply the result of misinformation and gossip, or it may be related to the frenzy surrounding a Forbes article from last June. This article cited a controversial, much debated, and heavily criticized piece of research published in early 2019. This article claimed liver toxicity was discovered in mice given ultra-high doses of CBD. All the hoopla over this publication sparked a great deal of discussion — but eventually the results, as well as the study itself, were largely debunked.

Regardless, new fears were created and old ones were re-ignited.

What We Know About CBD and the Potential for Toxicity in Pets

There are numerous publications in scientific journals indicating that overall, CBD is generally well tolerated and has a good safety profile. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) critical review on CBD states “In general, CBD has been found to have relatively low toxicity, although not all potential effects have been explored.”

Of course, there are always caveats. In people, the most commonly reported side effects are tiredness, diarrhea, and changes in appetite or weight.

From several recent veterinary studies, we know that adverse effects from CBD in pets also tend to be mild. In fact, a recent search of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) poison control website listed no results when searching for cannabidiol, and the singular search result for CBD listed signs of THC toxicity in pets, which are quite different.

Signs of CBD-Related Side Effects in Pets

Adverse signs most often reported from CBD-dominant products used in dogs and cats are:

  • Gastrointestinal upset (diarrhea and/or vomiting)
  • Sedation
  • Increases in some liver enzymes
  • Redness of the ear, most noted in topically applied products
  • Excessive licking and head shaking after oral administration (cats)

In these studies, the CBD formulations were well tolerated. Despite the elevation of liver enzymes, no evidence of short-term liver toxicity was noted based on liver function testing at the time, as reported in JAHVMA (Journal of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association).

A similar report from a study published in the journal Animals suggested that increased liver enzymes while using CBD in dogs seems to be more prominent in older pets, those with other conditions, or those on other medications, and we do not yet know the significance of these results, CBD’s ability to potentially interfere with the metabolism of other drugs in the body is well documented.

How to Relieve CBD-Related Side Effects in Pets

The potential exists for mild adverse effects in our pets using CBD. Therefore, it is important to closely monitor them, which includes periodic blood testing. If any negative signs develop, they may be mitigated by:

  • Decreasing the dose
  • Changing the formulation 
  • If necessary, discontinuing use of the product

It is generally agreed upon by the veterinary community that more comprehensive, longer-term studies are warranted to further determine the significance and long-term impact of chronic CBD use in pets.

The Real Problem With CBD Pet Products (Hint: It’s Not the CBD)

I would argue that the biggest issue regarding toxicity of CBD products in pets has more to do with the product itself, rather that the CBD in it. This is because the current popularity of “CBD for pets” has led to a huge influx of companies trying to capitalize on this rapidly growing market.

Many manufacturers are rushing to make their products available to consumers. However, the current lack of regulation in the hemp-based CBD product market has led to some very serious problems. Most concerning is the preponderance of inferior, ineffective, and in some cases, dangerous products being sold to an unsuspecting public. Well-meaning pet parents are lured into purchasing products without having all the information.

In fact, a recent survey by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) shockingly reports that 76 percent of American shoppers falsely presume that the federal government regulates the CBD products they can buy over the counter and online. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Numerous studies and reports have shown a disturbing trend of inaccuracy and mislabeling when it comes to CBD products.

Therefore, the real concern for adverse effects and toxicity comes not from CBD, but from potential contamination of products with pesticides, solvent residues, chemicals, and/or from unknown amounts of THC that may be present.

How Can Pet Parents Avoid These Risks?

Pet parents can avoid CBD-related issues by doing their homework and thoroughly researching the product they intend to give to their pet. It is imperative that consumers ask questions and seek confirmation to determine whether their product contains what is advertised, is free of contaminants, and has confirmed levels and types of all cannabinoids present, including THC. For more detailed information, consult this informative guide for pet parents.

It’s clear that the pet CBD market is rapidly growing with no sign of slowing down in the foreseeable future. Pet parents will continue to utilize these products (regardless of whether or not they work). At this point the available research suggests that CBD is relatively safe, but there is still much we need to learn. On the bright side, it looks as if CBD-focused research is finally getting the attention (and funding) it needs and deserves.

In the meantime, though, I caution pet parents to use these products judiciously and under the supervision of their pet’s veterinarian. Until federal regulatory standards are put in place, it is up to the consumer to insist on quality products and exercise good judgement and informed decision-making in order to minimize any risks to their furry family members.

As always, there are resources to help veterinarians and pet parents in navigating the CBD pet product marketplace. To get started, talk to an experienced veterinary cannabis counselor at www.veterinarycannabis.org.

“All information provided on cannabisMD is intended to be educational only and does not represent veterinary medical advice.  Please see your pet’s regular medical provider with whom you have a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship for discussion and treatment. Any discussion of dosing or how to use medical cannabis products is not a legal prescription, recommendation or endorsement.  Use of medical cannabis products in an animal species should only be done after a full examination and discussion with a licensed veterinarian in compliance with all applicable laws.”

Dr. Elizabeth Mironchik-Frankenberg
Dr. Elizabeth Mironchik-Frankenberg
Dr. Elizabeth Mironchik-Frankenberg is a veterinarian and a passionate cannabis advocate, consultant, educator and writer. She is dedicated to providing the veterinary and cannabis industries with resources promoting education and safe practices regarding cannabis use in pets. To learn more, visit her website here.

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