Whether your pooch gets anxiety on car rides or your cat can’t stand fireworks, using CBD for pets seems like it could be an effective treatment. But is it safe? Here’s what a veterinarian wants you to know.
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Much like the protective mother of a newborn child, every proud pet parent would do whatever it takes to ensure their fur babies are healthy, both physically and mentally. And nowadays, those options include CBD products for pets, thanks to their soaring popularity among humans and potential to help alleviate pain and anxiety. After all, anyone with a weighted blanket could understand that getting a dog to wear a Thundershirt might not be a realistic solution, so a few CBD treats might be the next logical step.
But just because the trendy new health product might be beneficial for those with two legs (the jury's still out on some of these claims) doesn't guarantee it offers perks — or is even safe — for your cat or dog.
Here, a veterinarian technician specialist shares all the need-to-know info on the benefits of CBD for pets, the best dosage for your dog or cat, and the key features to look for in any CBD pet product.
The State of CBD In the Veterinary World
First, a quick botany lesson. CBD is a cannabidiol, a type of compound found predominantly in Cannabis sativa plants, including marijuana plants — which contain upwards of 10 percent of the mind-altering compound THC — and industrial hemp — which contains very little THC (less than 0.3 percent), according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. In humans, CBD has shown promise in relieving pain, preventing or reducing the severity of epileptic seizures, relaxing muscles, and curbing anxiety, per the National Library of Medicine. (BTW, here's your comprehensive list of all of its perks.)
But despite all of these benefits, the Food and Drug Administration has so far approved only one CBD-containing drug called Epidiolex, which is used to treat seizures associated with two severe forms of epilepsy. That means that just like doctors, veterinarians can prescribe only Epidiolex to their animal patients, says veterinarian technician specialist Stephen Cital, R.V.T., who researches the effects of cannabis on animals. “All this CBD stuff on the market is considered an animal supplement, and you don’t need a prescription for it,” he explains, so you'll need to do your own research on its ingredients and be wary of any medical claims.
Within this CBD market, there are three different varieties of products, all typically made from industrial hemp: isolate formulas that contain only CBD; full-spectrum products that also contain a tiny amount of THC, other cannabinoids, terpenes (the compounds that give the plant its skunky smell), and flavonoids (compounds that have anti-inflammatory effects); and broad-spectrum products that have all of the above except for THC, so there's no "high" effect, according to the journal Proceedings.
“Taken together, [all these compounds, including THC] create this thing called the entourage effect,” explains Cital. "They help each other work better. Oftentimes, if you have a full-spectrum product, you can use much lower dosages and maybe even fewer doses." This teamwork between compounds in full- and broad-spectrum products has been shown to be beneficial in both CBD for humans and animals, according to Frontiers in Plant Science.
Nonetheless, vets have mixed feelings about the CBD craze. “A lot of vets are very hesitant to discuss or even recommend some of these products just because the American Veterinary Medical Association has put out some language that is unclear, and I would say confusing, with regards to how to use or talk to clients about CBD,” explains Cital. As a result, there’s no universal school of thought among vets on how to handle it.
So Does CBD for Pets Work?
Just because the CBD products don't have the backing of all veterinarians and aren’t specifically regulated by the FDA doesn’t mean they’re completely useless — or unsafe. A handful of published studies have shown that CBD is effective at reducing pain scores in dogs with osteoarthritis, says Cital. One of which, a small Cornell University study on 16 pooches with osteoarthritis, showed that a dose of CBD oil twice daily helped minimize pain and increase activity. Other research shows that giving pups with epilepsy CBD oil reduced the frequency of their seizures. The majority of research has used single-compound, CBD-only formulas, not full- or broad-spectrum options.
As for using CBD to curb anxiety in dogs and cats, there haven’t yet been any randomized, controlled clinical trials that looked at these markers, but anecdotal accounts show promise. When asked about the effectiveness of CBD products on dogs with anxiety — either based on their own personal observations or client reports — nearly 22 percent of 833 vets surveyed said they were “very helpful” in managing the condition, while another 65 percent said they were “somewhat helpful,” according to a 2018 study in Frontiers in Veterinary Science. Plus, the same study found that 61 percent of 379 vets said CBD products were “somewhat effective” in treating storm or firework phobias.(Related: I Was a Total Skeptic About CBD — But It Does Wonders for My Anxiety)
Are There Any Risks of Using CBD for Pets?
While "to my knowledge, there have not been any major negative side effects unless you’re using ridiculously high dosages (i.e. 20 or 30 to 100 milligrams per kilogram twice a day) for a long period of time,” says Cital, there are contraindications to consider before giving your pet CBD.
Though not life-threatening, your pet may have a few unpleasant side effects from CBD products, such as loose stool or gastrointestinal upset, says Cital. And just as you start to feel tired AF after you pop a melatonin gummy, your pet may feel lethargic after taking CBD, though Cital says this side effect is usually short-lived and may stop after the first few treatments.
However, you'll want to stick to isolate CBD products, rather than full-spectrum CBD products that include THC, for pets with heart disease, as the mind-altering compound can elevate heart rate, says Cital.
What's more, CBD products change how the liver metabolizes other drugs, which can potentially cause harmful side effects if your pet is also taking anti-seizure drugs and pain medications — something to be mindful of if you're seeking out CBD for help with a pet's epilepsy or arthritis. Or, at the very least, it could cause them to feel more lethargic, says Cital. But if your animal has liver failure, you should definitely avoid all CBD pet products, he adds, as CBD has been shown to increase liver enzyme levels in animals, signaling that it may inflame or injure liver cells, per the Cleveland Clinic.
All of these potential side effects and drug interactions emphasize how important it is to consult or at least notify your vet before starting any supplement routine — CBD or otherwise — to ensure you won't be doing your pet more harm than good.
What to Look for In a CBD Product for Pets
Reminder: CBD pet products aren’t regulated by the FDA, which means you’ll need to do some digging on your own to find out what exactly is inside them. The first step is to look for the company’s Certificate of Analysis online, which will show the exact amount of CBD, THC, heavy metals (think: lead, mercury, and arsenic found in the soil the hemp grew in), and pathogens such as E.Coli and salmonella (which may have transferred from any organic fertilizers used) that are in the product, says Cital. If any of the levels for harmful substances exceed the legal limit (in this case the online certificate will say "no pass") or the CBD concentrations listed in the certificate are different than what's advertised on the bottle, you want to avoid the product. You should also steer clear of CBD pet products that make any medical claims on their labels, websites, advertisements, and so on, such as statements that it will cure epilepsy or cancer, as no such claim has been backed up by science. (Related: How to Buy the Best Safe and Effective CBD Products)
Aside from the safety of CBD for pets, you’re best off giving your pet a treat product or mixing a tincture with food (as opposed to topically), which research has shown to have the best absorption, and thus efficacy, says Cital.
How to Give Your Pet CBD
If you’ve found a CBD product that’s you feel is up to your standards and are ready to give it a shot, Cital recommends starting with a low dose and slowly increasing it to see what works best for your animal. In general, though, the dose for osteoarthritis treatment is 0.5 milligrams to 2 milligrams per kilogram of your pet’s weight, but it may be higher or lower depending on your pet's specific needs, condition, and species (cats will likely need a slightly higher dose than dogs due to their faster metabolism), he explains.
For conditions including seizures, osteoarthritis, chronic anxiety, giving your pet a dose of CBD twice a day will do the trick, says Cital. For acute anxiety caused by car rides or fireworks, give it to your animal a couple hours before the event and then right after — just be sure to try out the product a few times beforehand to find that optimal dose, he explains.
And no matter what condition you’re trying to manage or how your vet feels about CBD, it’s super important that you tell them if you’re giving your pet a CBD product, especially if you’re using it for a long period of time, says Cital. It’s good practice to monitor your pet and have blood work done if they’re taking a supplement or medication (like a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug), and CBD products are no different, he explains. Bottom line: Tread with the same caution you'd use with your own health and wellbeing. After all, pets are family.
Written by Megan Falk for Shape.com