cbd oil for pets research

Benefits of CBD for animal health

The research for hemp and CBD use has been quickly evolving and we now have a growing body of evidence supporting the benefits of CBD in animals. Look below for a listing of current peer-reviewed journal articles looking at CBD safety and dosing for dogs and cats. Additionally, topics covering osteoarthritis, seizures, and even neoplasia (cancer) have been reported on with respect to CBD in canines. A case study in a horse has been published, and safety studies are expected soon with equines. Read on below for more information and remember that our VetCS team is always here to help you if you have any questions.

Cannabis plants produce over 180 known cannabinoids, with cannabidiol (CBD) being one of those. THC (primary psychoactive component in cannabis) is also a cannabinoid. Other documented, but less researched cannabinoids include: cannabigerol (CBG), cannabinol (CBN), and cannabichromene (CBC).
All mammals have an endocannabinoid system (ECS) that is activated by substances in our bodies called endocannabinoids. Phytocannabinoids are substances like CBD that are produced by plants and function at the same receptors in the ECS. Based on the location of the receptors in the body, therapeutic targets using CBD and hemp can be employed to gain a beneficial outcome.

CBD for pets: does it work and is it safe?

The CBD craze just keeps on growing, but the research takes more time to keep up.

The popularity of CBD is skyrocketing, with people especially in the US and Europe using it for various conditions. Increasingly, people are starting to wonder whether it’s also safe (and effective) for pets. We took a look at what the existing science says on the matter.

Image credits: Krista Mangulsone.

Cannabidiol, (commonly known as CBD), has taken the world by storm. It’s a kind of chemical naturally found in cannabis, but unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), it doesn’t give you a “high”. There’s also some therapeutic potential to CBD. We’ve looked at various aspects in previous articles, and although everyone loves clear and simple answers, things are not entirely clear when it comes to CBD.

For starters, there is definite therapeutic potential when it comes to some forms of epilepsy — which is why doctors in the UK have already approved the use of CBD for people suffering from these conditions. There is also some evidence suggesting that CBD can relieve pain and anxiety, without the potentially deleterious side effects of the THC, but most of the studies are small-scale and/or based on animal models rather than human populations. At the same time, the benefits of CBD are often exaggerated, with people promoting its use for a number of conditions for which there’s just no reliable evidence.

The bottom line is, we know CBD is good for a few things, we suspect it could be good for more, but it’s probably not good for everything it’s advertised. But that’s for humans, where the use of CBD for anxiety, stress, and other problems is already surging. What about pets?

Is CBD for pets safe?

Even in states where the consumption of medicinal cannabis (or derived products) is legal, the laws only allow human healthcare providers to prescribe it to people. As a result, vets are often reluctant to talk about whether and how they recommend the use of CBD for pets. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t do it.

A recent survey of 2,131 vets in the US found that 63% of them were asked about CBD oil for pets at least once a month. However, in most states, vets can’t technically provide professional advice — they may give you some advice nonetheless, but be aware that they may be in an uncomfortable situation.

A study assessing the safety of CBD on cats and dogs found that over 12-week administration using a hemp-based product in healthy dogs and cats (with two doses a day), there were 15 vomiting events, 29 gagging events, and 16 events that involved salivating, drooling, or foaming.

Cats appear to absorb and eliminate CBD differently than dogs. They are more likely to show adverse effects such as excessive licking and head-shaking during oil administration.

Overall though, data is still scarce. We don’t know if there are any long-term effects, and short-term effects on cats and dogs are also insufficiently studied.

Data for other pets are even scarcer than for cats and dogs (and often non-existent).

Is CBD for pets effective?

There is, unfortunately, very little scientific information about the therapeutic potential of CBD for pets. There are however a few studies that raised interest.

In a small clinical trial, 9 dogs suffering from epilepsy were administered CBD, and 8 of them suffered from fewer seizures, with no reported negative side effects. Stephanie McGrath, a neurologist and researcher at Colorado State University’s (CSU) Veterinary Teaching Hospital believes cannabinoids may be a potential treatment for epilepsy in dogs.

“I think overall, it definitely shows promise,” McGrath said. “However I’m not sure we’re quite at the point where we can say we can have a drug we can put widely out there [to treat] epilepsy. We have a lot more work to do. I think there are still a whole lot of unanswered questions.”

The way it’s administered also seems to matter. A 2018 Colorado State University study on dogs with epilepsy found that CBD oil given orally is more effective than a cream or a gel capsule.

Another small study administered CBD oil to dogs suffering from osteoarthritis. The researchers tested two different dosages: 2 or 8 milligrams (mg) per kilogram (kg) of body weight. The study (funded by a CBD producer) found that the most effective dose was 2 mg per kg of body weight, and 80% of dogs showed improvements in movement and a reduction in pain. But far more research is needed to ensure that CBD is safe for dogs (and in what dose).

The bottom line

CBD research is in its early days. We have virtually no information about the long-term effects of CBD consumption for pets (be them positive or negative), and even short-term information is scarce. The FDA discourages its use for pets, due to concerns about appropriate dosing and long-term effects.

If you do decide to administer CBD to your pet, it’s essential that you consult a veterinarian first — it’s even better if you can get a second opinion. Don’t fall for advertising, look at the existing evidence. If you do end up administering, start with a very small dose and closely monitor your pet’s reactions for several days. If there are any negative effects (panting, lethargy, vomiting, foaming) it’s advisable to stop the treatment. But, for instance, if your dog is suffering from arthritis, and after the administration of CBD, it suddenly seems to be better and there are no negative effects, there’s a good chance CBD is actually helping them.

An advisable practice if you do decide to do this is to select products that have some sort of third-party certification of authenticity. Avoid products that have pesticides and heavy metals and ensure the quality is verifiable.

Researchers: Some pet products touted as CBD don’t have any

Companies have unleashed hundreds of CBD pet health products accompanied by glowing customer testimonials claiming the cannabis derivative produced calmer, quieter and pain-free dogs and cats.

But some of these products are all bark and no bite.

“You’d be astounded by the analysis we’ve seen of products on the shelf with virtually no CBD in them,” said Cornell University veterinary researcher Joseph Wakshlag, who studies therapeutic uses for the compound. “Or products with 2 milligrams per milliliter, when an effective concentration would be between 25 and 75 milligrams per milliliter. There are plenty of folks looking to make a dollar rather than produce anything that’s really beneficial.”

Such products can make it to the shelves because the federal government has yet to establish standards for CBD that will help people know whether it works for their pets and how much to give.

Still, there’s lots of individual success stories that help fuel a $400 million market that grew more than tenfold since last year and is expected to reach $1.7 billion by 2023, according to the cannabis research firm Brightfield Group.

Amy Carter of St. Francis, Wisconsin, decided to go against her veterinarian’s advice and try CBD oil recommended by a friend to treat Bentley, her epileptic Yorkshire terrier-Chihuahua mix. The little dog’s cluster seizures had become more frequent and frightening despite expensive medications.

“It’s amazing” Carter said. “Bentley was having multiple seizures a week. To have only six in the past seven months is absolutely incredible.”

But some pet owners have found CBD didn’t work.

Dawn Thiele, an accountant in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, said she bought a $53 bottle of CBD oil from a local shop in hopes of calming her 2-year-old Yorkshire terrier during long car trips.

“I didn’t see a change in his behavior,” said Thiele, who nonetheless remains a believer.

“The product is good, it just didn’t work for my dog,” she said.

Short for cannabidiol, CBD is a non-intoxicating molecule found in hemp and marijuana. Both are cannabis plants, but only marijuana has enough of the compound THC to get users high. The vast majority of CBD products come from hemp, which has less than 0.3% THC.

CBD has garnered a devoted following among people who swear by it for everything from stress reduction to better sleep. Passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which eased federal legal restrictions on hemp cultivation and transport, unleashed a stampede of companies rushing products to the market in an absence of regulations ensuring safety, quality and effectiveness.

Products for people were swiftly followed by CBD chewies, oils and sprays for pets.

“The growth is more rapid than I’ve seen for any product in 20 years in this business,” said Bill Bookout, president of the National Animal Supplement Council, an industry group whose member companies agree to testing and data-gathering requirements. “There’s a gold rush going on now. Probably 95 percent of the industry participants are responsible, but what’s dangerous is the fly-by-night operative that wants to cash in.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is developing regulations for marketing CBD products, for pets or people. This year, it has sent warning letters to 22 companies citing violations such as making claims about therapeutic uses and treatment of disease in humans or animals or marketing CBD as a dietary supplement or food ingredient.

“It’s really the Wild West out there,” said S. David Moche, founder of Applied Basic Science, a company formed to support Colorado State University’s veterinary CBD research and now selling CBD online. He advises consumers to look for a certificate of analysis from a third-party testing laboratory to ensure they’re getting what they pay for.

“Testing and labeling is going to be a critical part of the future of this industry,” Moche said.

Wakshlag said products must be tested not only for CBD level, but also to ensure they’re free of toxic contaminants such as heavy metals and pesticides and have only trace amounts of THC, which in higher levels is toxic to dogs.

Bookout said his organization has recorded very few health incidents involving CBD and no deaths.

Still, scientific documentation of CBD’s safety and efficacy is nearly nonexistent.

That’s starting to change, however. A small clinical trial at Colorado State University published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association in June found CBD oil reduced seizure frequency in 89 percent of the epileptic dogs that received it.

A clinical study headed by Wakshlag at Cornell, published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science in July 2018, found CBD oil helped increase comfort and activity in dogs with osteoarthritis.

Stephanie McGrath, a Colorado State University researcher, is now doing a larger clinical trial funded by the American Kennel Club’s Canine Health Foundation.

“The results of our first epilepsy study were promising, but there was certainly not enough data to say CBD is the new miracle anti-convulsive drug in dogs,” McGrath said.

Seizures are a natural focus for research on veterinary CBD products, since Epidiolex, the only FDA-approved drug containing cannabidiol, was approved last year for treatment of two severe forms of epilepsy in children. Veterinarians are allowed to prescribe Epidiolex for pets, but it’s prohibitively expensive — upwards of $30,000 a year for an average-size dog, McGrath said.

The Kennel Club’s chief veterinary officer, Jerry Klein, said CBD is “over-hyped” but promising for treatments like pain relief. He’s hopeful that the growing market will result in more money being invested in research to prove uses.

Meantime, the American Veterinary Medical Association is telling veterinarians they can share what they know about CBD with clients but shouldn’t prescribe or recommend it until the FDA gives its blessing.

“There’s no question there’s veterinary interest in these products as therapies, but we really want to see the manufacturers demonstrate that they’re effective and safe and get FDA approval so we can have confidence in the products,” said Gail Golab, chief veterinary officer for the association.