All dog owners are partial to their four-legged friends, and I’m no exception. I’m pretty sure I own two of the cutest dogs on the planet, and they both bring me more joy than I can express in words. I would do anything for my pups, especially when they’re suffering — which explains why I found myself in the kitchen one day, whipping up a homemade CBD oil tincture for dogs.
This medicine was intended for Jude, my beautiful little Maltese who will turn 15 next January. I’ve had him since he was 8 weeks old, and he radiates pure love. But he’s had a hard life: when he was 6 years old, he began to lose his sight. Veterinarians diagnosed him with a progressive retinal condition. Within a year he’d lost the majority of his sight.
I didn’t want Jude to be alone as the world disappeared before his eyes, and I felt that getting another dog could help us both through the journey. Enter Indi, a “mountain mutt” who I adopted when he was 3 months old — he’s 8 years old now, in case you’re curious. Indi is a mix of shih tzu, datsun, terrier, and poodle (we think). As you might imagine, he’s a sweet but extremely anxious little dog.
It took them a while to bond, but before long they were inseparable. They both had their health issues — Jude was developing arthritis as he got older, Indi sometimes seemed scared of his own shadow — but nothing out of the ordinary. If you’d asked me back then if I thought I’d ever be giving them cannabis medicine I made myself from scratch, I probably would have laughed.
That was about to change, though.
In 2015, Jude’s left eye became abnormally red and swollen. He began seeing a canine eye specialist in Denver, who prescribed special drops for several months in an effort to reduce the pressure in Jude’s eye. According to the specialist, my dog was suffering from a condition similar to glaucoma.
I’d spent nearly two decades as a nurse before founding my cannabis topicals business, Primal Healing, so I knew that many people used cannabis to deal with painful glaucoma symptoms (most states with medical cannabis programs include it as a qualifying condition). I filed that knowledge away for future reference.
One day, we visited the specialist and heard the news we’d been dreading. Jude’s eye needed to be removed. To help him recover from the operation, he was given just a few days’ worth of pain relievers. At that moment, I made the decision to use my own knowledge of cannabis plant medicine to create a high-CBD, low-THC tincture to ease Jude’s pain.
When we went in for Jude’s follow-up appointment after the removal of his eye, I told the surgeon about my tincture. It seemed to be helping him greatly, I said. He didn’t seem to be in pain or distress. I expected the surgeon to be pleased with Jude’s smooth recovery.
Instead, he became furious and threatened to throw me out of his office. There was no science-based information on dosing for canines, he said (and he was right about this). He claimed I was causing more harm than good to my dog.
But I could see with my own eyes that this wasn’t the case. Even my Jude’s arthritis symptoms seemed to be responding well to the CBD. When I gave some to Indi, it appeared to ease his anxiety, too. And so I made the very personal decision to continue treating my dogs with CBD.
Today, I still make my dogs’ tinctures from scratch, but there are a lot more options available when it comes to CBD pet products. If you do a quick Google search for “cbd for pets,” you’ll be bombarded with hundreds if not thousands of choices. Some of these are better than those — single serving-packets of CBD pet food, in particular, seem like more of a marketing gimmick than useful medicine. And while I disagree with the blanket statement “CBD pet products don’t work,” it’s undeniable that many of them are not worth the money.
But you can still find effective treats, tinctures, powders, and capsules if you look hard enough. My dogs love two in particular: Suzies’ CBD Treats (organic biscuits made with full spectrum CBD) and LaLa’s Hemp Treats from Flora Farmer, which are peanut butter-flavored crackers that look tasty enough for humans. When I notice my dogs dealing with elevated levels of pain or anxiety, I’ll often supplement their daily tincture with one of those treats.
While the research behind these products is still scant, that’s starting to change. For example, a 2018 study from researchers at the College of Veterinary Medicine of Cornell University found that CBD oil could significant decrease pain and increase mobility in dogs with osteoarthritis. Most encouragingly, there were no notable side effects from the CBD.
A number of larger, more extensive studies are currently in the works (Dr. Stephanie McGrath at Colorado State University is doing some particularly interesting work, the results of which should be announced in the near future). Like many dog owners, I’m curious to know what researchers will discover about CBD and dogs. For now, all I know is that my almost-15 year old Maltese is playing like a puppy again.
I’m also hoping that the advances in canine CBD research will make it easier to talk about the cannabinoid openly with my vet. Reading the research is wonderful, but sometimes I want to hear advice from a human voice. For years, I’ve been searching for a vet who I could ask honest questions about CBD, with minimal success.
That recently changed, though, when I met Dr. Zac Pilossoph at the International Esthetics Cosmetics and Spa Conference in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He’s one of a growing number of vets who are opening up to the possibility of using plant medicine to help our pets — in fact, he’s created an advisory platform to help CBD-curious pet owners figure out if it’s right for their pets.
Like any responsible medical professional, Dr. Pilossoph is cautious about being swept away by the trendiness of CBD pet products. As he says, “The other ingredients that are going into animal CBD products are not all safe for dogs. Terpenes are being added to some products and that may not be what is best for all breeds.”
Dr. Pilossoph is also cautious about dosing, because right now nobody knows for certain just how much the “ideal dose” for a specific condition might be. The best advice he can give is, “Go with the low and slow approach with anything that you might choose to do for your animal. Document the dose you give, how long it takes to have an effect, and when you need to redose. That goes for humans or animals.”
In the near future, I hope that more vets will take his approach. CBD isn’t a miracle cure, but it’s also not something to be dismissed out of hand. While the research is still in its early stages, and much of the advice out there about using CBD for your pet is anecdotal, there’s still a lot of potential here.
In my own experience, I can tell you that for the last several years, my dogs have been the healthiest they’ve ever been.