For pet owners, there are few things as heartbreaking as watching your fur baby suffer. And as legalization continues to sweep the U.S., many pet owners have started wondering if their companion animals might benefit from the plant and its derivatives’ myriad medicinal properties, too. If your pet struggles with chronic pain, anxiety, or epilepsy — and whether you’ve tried countless medications or are just looking for a more natural way to care for them — CBD may be a life-changing treatment.
CBD stands for cannabidiol, one of the hundred-plus cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. Unlike THC, it’s non-intoxicating, and it’s becoming more widely used to reduce inflammation and pain, calm anxiety, treat gastrointestinal disorders, and more. The CBD market has ballooned over the past couple of years, with CBD oils, supplements, lotions, and, yes, pet treats, popping up in trendy brick-and-mortars and Instagram ads. And thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized the production of industrial hemp, CBD is bound to become even more abundant.
Its sources include hemp, which is high in CBD and contains less than 0.3 percent THC, and cannabis, which has a higher concentration of THC. There’s a possibility that CBD is more effective when paired with some THC — known as the “entourage effect” — though plenty of pet owners see results using strictly CBD products.
No matter where it comes from, CBD interacts with our (and our pets’) bodies through the same biological network: the endocannabinoid system. It’s found in humans and all other vertebrates and comprised of neurotransmitters and receptors throughout the brain, nervous system, and body. The endocannabinoid system is involved in physiological processes ranging from appetite and memory to metabolism and immune function, and it was only discovered in the 1990s, so there’s still much more to learn. So far, though, scientists have found that cannabinoids like THC and CBD connect with CB1 and CB2 receptors to help the system run more efficiently.
Most pet owners use CBD to treat pain, arthritis, anxiety (noise and separation), and seizures. Much of the evidence is anecdotal, thanks to cultural and legal stigma around cannabis, but the few studies and clinical trials in humans and other animals are promising. A study by researchers at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine showed that industrial-hemp oil containing enriched CBD caused “a significant decrease in pain and increase in activity” in arthritic dogs. It was especially notable in dogs who were older or had a harder time moving. Another study from Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences found that 89 percent of dogs with epilepsy who were treated with CBD had fewer seizures. The American Kennel Club is funding a larger follow-up study.
The first step to treating your pet, no matter their condition, is to talk to your veterinarian. This is especially true if your pet is on other medications that may produce negative side effects when combined with CBD. Unfortunately, because of its federal legal status, cannabis can be a taboo subject for vets (they can’t prescribe medical marijuana, and even discussing cannabis as a treatment could threaten their licenses). However, California recently passed a first-of-its-kind bill that protects veterinarians’ conversations with their clients, and the Farm Bill may ease some concerns about hemp-derived CBD products.
CBD isn’t approved by the FDA, so products containing the cannabinoid are potentially less regulated and rigorously tested. That also means that companies can make false claims about their products’ benefits without backing them up. With such little oversight, it’s up to the consumer to choose wisely. Look for products that are tested by independent, licensed, and accredited facilities, and if you can, find out how the CBD is extracted (you don’t want your pet ingesting chemical byproducts). Ask where the ingredients come from, and if the product was developed with a veterinarian. And of course, you never want to give your pet human CBD products that contain potentially toxic additives, like chocolate or xylitol.
If you live in a state where cannabis is legal, you can buy CBD products that contain more THC from dispensaries. These products are sometimes tested more rigorously than hemp-derived products, because producers have to comply with strict state regulations.
Many CBD products include guidelines or serving suggestions for dosing. Start with the least amount possible to see how your pet responds. If the product doesn’t come with guidelines, Dr. Robert Silver, a nationally-renowned holistic vet, offers guidelines based on the product and your pet’s weight. Pay close attention to your pet’s behavior, and if you don’t notice anything, gradually increase the dose. Keep in mind that some pets might not respond to CBD. If you notice anything that seems strange, like increased water intake, lethargy, dizziness, drowsiness, or tremors, stop the CBD and check in with your vet. CBD isn’t toxic, but if the product also contains THC (or a chemical you’re not aware of), there could be a health risk. In case of an emergency, always have a good vet on hand, and don’t be afraid to be explicit about what you gave your pet. The more your vet knows, the better.