CBD for Dogs: What It Is and How It Might Help With Your Dog's Pain or Anxiety
Seemingly everyone wants to know about CBD for dogs. Just ask Leslie Sinn, CPDT-KA, DVM, and member of the Daily Paws advisory board: Her Behavior Solutions clients ask about using CBD products nearly every day.
Usually, they'll wait until the very end of the consultation to bring it up, and Sinn knows what's coming. After all, the CBD pet market is primed to grow massively over the next several years as it catches up with human CBD use.
"You're going to ask me about CBD, aren't you?" Sinn said in a lecture she gave last year.
Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to those CBD questions. Many veterinarians are eager and willing to learn more about CBD products, since some research and anecdotal evidence indicate it can ease pain and anxiety. But we're still learning how the oils, chews, and gels might be able to help our dogs. Consensus has grown to a point where many pet health professionals view CBD products as a treatment worth trying, says Narda G. Robinson, DO, DVM, MS, FAAMA.
Another complicating factor: CBD products fall under the laws of wherever you live. In some areas, your veterinarian might not even be allowed legally to talk with you about a CBD product. They aren't prescribed, so in most cases dog owners are on their own looking for a CBD product.
"Accessing the product is not as much of a hurdle as knowing what's in it," Robinson tells Daily Paws. The largely unregulated market means it's difficult to guarantee how much CBD is in a product, and what other additives might be part of the makeup. (More on that later.)
What is CBD?
CBD, or cannabidiol, comes from cannabis plants. However, unlike marijuana, it doesn't contain delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, more commonly known as THC. That's what's responsible for marijuana's high.
The CBD compound interacts with humans' and dogs' endocannabinoid systems (ECS), which keeps our bodies' other systems working smoothly, Sinn says. The ECS receptors, which also help regulate pain, are found throughout our bodies—brain, muscles, liver, spleen—meaning CBD has an "enormous potential for influencing disease outcomes," she adds. It's why you might hear of dog owners using CBD to treat anything from anxiety to seizures to cancer.
A clarification before we go on: Don't give your dog marijuana. It's not a CBD product, and it's actually toxic to dogs, sending them to the emergency vet in some cases, Sinn says. In early 2019, the ASPCA measured a 765 percent increase in calls on pet marijuana ingestion as more states legalized cannabis use.
Is CBD OK for Dogs?
Generally, CBD products are considered safe for dogs, though you'll want to do your research to find out what else is in the product. For instance, some human CBD products include xylitol, which is toxic for dogs. If you can, talk with your veterinarian about products you're thinking about using because they know your dog's medical history best and should be able to guide you regarding side affects or interactions with drugs your pet may already be taking. Your vet might be able to advise you, but you will likely have to be the one to bring it up, according to Consumer Reports.
Side effects from CBD products can include excessive sedation and diarrhea, Robinson and Sinn say. Remember, though, a dog taking a CBD product for pain or anxiety might experience side effects from something else in the CBD mixture, not the cannabidiol itself.
While it's considered safe, the research is still new, so we don't know how frequent CBD use could affect dogs in the long run.
"We don't know in the long term what the changes are in the body from something like CBD," Robinson says.
Can CBD Help Treat My Dog's Health Conditions?
Maybe! This is where limited research and anecdotal evidence converge, so it's best to approach your vet about this. Keep in mind that there are many variables at play here: the dog, the dog's medication, and the specific CBD product, for instance.
"When you compare [CBD products] to some of these pharmaceuticals, it does seem worth a try even though you're going to be cautious and want to see that animal again and follow them up," Robinson says.
Here are some of the common health conditions that cause pet owners to turn to CBD products—likely because they're struggling to find a product that works after previous attempts have not helped their pet's condition:
A study published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science showed that a CBD-based oil helped a collection of beagles with osteoarthritis experience "increase[d] comfort and activity in the home environment." It's a small study, but it shows CBD can work.
Pain and Inflammation
According to a 2016 survey Robinson helped conduct, more than 60 percent of 299 dog owners reported that hemp products (which contain CBD) either greatly or moderately relieved their dogs' pain (33 percent saw no difference). When asked if the products helped reduce inflammation, a little more than 40 percent said it had, but 54 percent of the 271 people to answer that question saw no difference.
Robinson says that some people will give their dogs CBD products when they've been diagnosed with cancer. The products can potentially help with the side effects, but they don't cure the cancer at all. "If you delay proper care where something might have been more curative, you could be worsening [the sickness]," she says.
In the 2016 survey, nearly half of 282 respondents said hemp products helped ease anxiety in some way. Even more anecdotally, Jeffrey Powers, DVM, told Consumer Reports that CBD helps calm his Saint Bernard's noise anxiety. However, a 2020 study on CBD's effects on firework-related anxiety wasn't as promising.
There's promising news here. A 2019 study from Colorado State University researchers showed that 89 percent of dogs who took CBD saw a reduction in the frequency of their seizures. Now, only nine dogs received CBD, so the study was small, but the leader of the study, neurologist Stephanie McGrath, DVM, MS, DACVIM, told Science Daily, "It's really exciting that perhaps we can start looking at CBD in the future as an alternative to existing anti-convulsive drugs."
How to Find Safe CBD Products for Dogs
Vets can't prescribe CBD products, but they may be able to recommend CBD products to you. If that's possible, follow your vet's advice. But you might be on your own in some cases, depending on local laws. The good news is CBD dog chews and oils are widely available. The bad news is that there are a lot of options to sift through.
Robinson recommends looking at companies that have done their own research on CBD and hemp products. She mentions ElleVet as an example of a company that has funded research on its own products. That provides at least some scrutiny in an industry that so far lacks standardization. (Remember: No THC!)
When you're browsing, Sinn recommends looking for products to have two things: a National Animal Supplement Council seal and a certificate of analysis (COA), which means a third party has evaluated the product. These evaluations generally mean the product was manufactured in a safe, high-quality environment and that it's been made with safe ingredients. The COA certificate in particular costs a pretty penny, which might make the CBD supplement more expensive. But that's better than the alternative—potentially giving your pet a product with hazardous contaminants such as heavy metals or fungicide.
"If it's cheap, there's a reason why it's cheap," Sinn says.
Once you have the product, you should administer it using the low-and-slow method, Robinson says, starting with a low CBD dose before working your way up to what the manufacturer recommends. If you end up seeing no real difference, you can always try a different product. Just make sure you talk with a trusted health professional first.