CBD for dogs: Could cannabis oil treat your pet's pain or anxiety? The latest doggy wellness trend explained by vets
CBD oil might have seen a surge in popularity among humans in the last year, but can it help your pet too?
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From drug stores to coffee shops, CBD seems to be everywhere. Hailed as the miracle substance to help treat everything from anxiety to poor sleep, CBD has become big business in the US, with nearly 7 per cent of Americans using it.
It’s even expected that the CBD industry could be worth a staggering $16 billion by 2025.
CBD – or cannabidiol as it’s more formally known – is a type of cannabis oil derived from the cannabis plant. Unlike its close cousin marijuana, which is commonly used recreationally, CBD is generally lacking in THC, the chemical substance responsible for getting you high.
In a landmark report published in 2018, the World Health Organisation (WHO) resolved that CBD had been “demonstrated as an effective treatment for epilepsy” in adults, children and even animals.
The report also highlighted “preliminary evidence” that CBD could be useful in treating Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, psychosis, Parkinson’s disease and other serious conditions.
With new evidence about the health-boosting potentials of CBD coming to light, people are now giving CBD products to their dogs in the hopes it will treat problems that traditional medications could not.
Only one CBD product has been approved by the FDA to treat epilepsy in humans but so far, there are no restrictions for its use on animals. The lack of regulation means that vets are often deterred from discussing CBD as medication with their clients for legal reasons.
In states where marijuana is legal, CBD products made specifically for animals are widely available from various retailers although vets are still not permitted to dispense or prescribe them.
“The interest in CBD for medical usage in animals has risen exponentially,” says Dr Jerry Klein, Chief Veterinary Officer at the American Kennel Club.
“Owners are seeking alternative modes of treatment which challenge the traditional, a trend which is set to grow with the ever-changing laws legalising hemp and marijuana in some states.”
As more and more pet owners experiment with CBD, we spoke to some experts to find out what CBD could mean for dogs’ health:
What is CBD?
CBD is a chemical compound derived from the cannabis plant and is known for its ability to provide pain relief and ease anxiety.
It contains trace amounts of THC, the psychoactive substance found in marijuana, so won’t get you high.
What are the health benefits of CBD for dogs?
Because there is little research conducted into this area, any health benefits that CBD may have for dogs is merely anecdotal, although vets have some idea about what effect it might have.
Dr Tim Shu, founder and CEO of VETCBD, said CBD has proved beneficial for a number of ailments in animals, including arthritis and epilepsy. He said: “it’s helpful for pain, especially chronic pain like we see in arthritis.
“It has anti-anxiety properties which are beneficial for animals suffering from separation or noise anxiety.
“There are well-known anti-nausea and appetite stimulating properties which benefit animals suffering from diseases which cause nausea or appetite loss such as kidney disease, chronic gastrointestinal conditions and cancer.
“It’s also been successful for dogs with epilepsy in decreasing seizure frequency.”
Despite the potential benefits of CBD oil for dogs, experts are still keen to emphasise that CBD usage in dogs is a relatively new area.
David Harris, Veterinary Content Editor at VetHelpDirect.com who has written about CBD for dogs, said: “The bottom line is that we just don’t have enough data yet.
“While it seems highly likely that cannabidiol has some useful clinical effects, we cannot yet say exactly what those effects will be in dogs, or how powerful they will be.”
Can human CBD products be used to treat animals?
While there are animal-specific CBD products available to buy, they are not licensed and therefore cannot be prescribed by a vet. This means that some dog owners have been turning to human CBD products to treat their pets, but this alone comes with its own risks.
Mr Harris said: “Adding cannabidiol to a regime of prescribed medicines, especially for life-threatening conditions such as epilepsy, could have unforeseen and potentially dangerous effects, so I think it’s very wise to keep its use under veterinary supervision until we understand it a little better.”
Dr Shu agrees that pet owners should be wary about giving their pets CBD intended for humans and advises to use animal-specific products where possible.
“It’s important to use products that are specifically formulated for animals, as there are some key ingredients which can be toxic to animals,” he said.
“Additionally, dosing guidelines for humans can be very different from animals.”
What are the risks?
As with any kind of medication, there are potential risks involved in taking it.
So far, however, CBD has shown itself to be “remarkably safe,” according to Dr Shu.
He added: “some animals, however, may show mild side effects including sedation or gastrointestinal upset.
“There is a theoretical concern that a patient receiving CBD may not metabolize some drugs as efficiently while the liver is busy metabolising CBD.
“This is why it’s important for pet owners to discuss CBD use with their veterinarians prior to starting treatment, especially if their pet is already on other medications.”
Like humans, CBD is given to dogs orally.
“Typical administration route is by mouth, either directly or given with food,” says Dr Shu.
What’s the future of CBD for animals?
Despite current restrictions, people are hopeful that in the near future, CBD will have a firm place in veterinary medicine,
“Veterinarians are seeing the positive benefits of CBD and cannabis in their patients,” says Dr Shu.
“As we learn more about cannabinoid therapeutics, patients will benefit even more. The underlying mechanism is the endocannabinoid system, which was only discovered in the early 90s.
“It’s a system that’s always been there and won’t be going away. This area of medicine is just getting started.”
For those passionate about the topic, CBD seems like a healthier alternative to traditional drugs.
Brian Jones is the co-founder of Simply CBD, a charity which sells oils ‘extracted from Organic Dutch high-grade cannabis’ and profits help fund an animal shelter for ill dogs.
He believes CBD could be a life-changing means of medication for dogs and other animals.
“I started Simply CBD to ensure that pet owners got access to good affordable CBD so they can get the same health and wellbeing benefits that humans get,” he said.
“I firmly believe that animals deserve this God-given plant and the amazing benefits it provides them and to be honest if I could give it away free to every pet owner in the country I would.”
Woofer Madness: Cannabis, Companion Animals and What Legalization Means for Your Pets
– THC is very dangerous to most companion animals
– Medical cannabis has only a few uses in humans, and even fewer in animals
– Cannabis, hemp or CBD treats, food or supplements are not approved or regulated by Health Canada. They are illegal and could be quite dangerous for your pets.
While medical marijuana has been available to varying degrees for decades, with recreational marijuana legalized this week in Canada, discussions about what (if anything) cannabis can treat seem to be at an all-time high (see what I did there?)
Discussions of treating medical problems with cannabis are not limited to humans. If cannabis may benefit humans, it may similarity benefit companion animals like dogs or cats. Considering that some of the major ailments cannabis is touted to treat are prime concerns for pet owners (anxiety, arthritis, pain) it makes sense for pet owners to be curious about cannabis.
Cannabis can be very dangerous for pets
When discussing cannabis and companion animals, it’s important to define a few terms.
Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC is the main psychoactive component of cannabis. As most pet owners aren’t interested in getting their furry friends high, the vast majority of pet-marketed cannabis products are free, or almost free, from THC. Which is good, because THC is quite dangerous for animals.
Since it’s difficult to study cannabis (due to it’s soon-to-expire illegal nature) we lack recent numbers on the dose based effects of THC in dogs. Early studies report intoxication effects in dogs with doses between0.25 and 0.5 mg/kg of body weight. If your average German Shepard is about 30 kg, they would show THC’s effects after ingesting 7.5 – 15 mg, or about a 10th of your average “special” brownie.
Though cannabis intoxication and adverse effects have been reported in other animals like cats, horses and ferrets, it’s much more common in dogs. Why? Because dogs like to eat. As Dr Sarah Silcox, the President of the Canadian Association of Veterinary Cannabinoid Medicine explained to me, “edibles, in particular, are very attractive to dogs, and if left within reach of pets, will often be gobbled up quickly.”
Cases of cannabis toxicity in pets have been increasing in States where legalization has occurred. We can expect much the same trend here in Canada. It really can’t be said enough that vigilance is crucial in keeping your pets safe.
While it’s not likely that pets will die from cannabis exposure (through smoke or edibles) there can still be serious effects, especially if left untreated. Fluffy and Rover probably won’t get a kick out of the intoxicating effects of cannabis, given that they can’t understand what’s happening. Pets may experience significant anxiety, agitation or lethargy. Smoke of any kind can cause respiratory distress and potentially lung cancer to pets who inhale it regularly, due to the polyaromatic hydrocarbons created during incomplete combustion. Cats in particular are at risk of developing malignant lymphomas when exposed to secondhand cigarette smoke, a risk that may transfer to other types of smoke. .
So what’s with all the cannabis products for pets then?
Pet treats, foods and supplements in general feature no THC. They instead contain a different cannabinoid found in cannabis: cannabidiol or CBD. CBD is not toxic to animals like THC, and it does not cause the same psychoactive effects.
We basically don’t know.
This study of 16 dogs with osteoarthritis showed a significant decrease in pain after treatment with CBD oil, but similar studies, or studies looking at cannabis to treat other conditions are seriously lacking.
Dr Silcox mentioned many anecdotes of positive effects of CBD products on pets, and this survey have found that that well over half of all owners polled who have used cannabis products on their pets felt it helped. But anecdotes are never evidence enough. We need good, large, controlled studies to properly evaluate the potential benefits and risks of cannabis products on cats, dogs and other pets.
We can be cautiously hopeful that cannabis could eventually be used in veterinary medicine to treat similar conditions for which it’s showing promise in human trials. The problem is, the list of those conditions is short.
For pain treatment however, the evidence for cannabis hasn’t looked wonderful. This 2015 review found evidence for use of low dose cannabis for neuropathic pain, but not for other pain. This 2018 Cochrane review states that the use of cannabis for “chronic neuropathic pain might be outweighed by their potential harms.”
The outlook for cannabis in treating other conditions like anxiety, non-chemotherapy induced nausea or glaucoma is equally dim: “For most conditions (example anxiety), cannabinoid evidence is sparse (at best), low quality and non-convincing.” Despite claims to the otherwise, there isn’t any convincing evidence of cannabis’ ability to cure cancer either.
I have three main concerns with regards to cannabis and animals. First, with legalization, there will be more cannabis in homes, which means more cannabis in a position to be eaten by pets. In states where legalization has passed cases of cannabis toxicity in pets have increased. There’s no reason to expect a different trend in Canada, something that worries me.
Second, as Dr Silcox wrote, there is a “concern that that pet owners will attempt to medicate their pets with cannabis products and without appropriate guidance, put their pets at risk of adverse effects.” When we give our pets, children or ourselves any medication we first check dosage information, but the problem is that it isn’t available in any well researched, accurate or well-defined way for most species.
Third, pet owners may use cannabis in lieu of other evidence-based treatments, putting their pets at risk or hurting their quality of life. We don’t really know what cannabis can or should be used for in animals, but that hasn’t stopped many owners from using it for things like pain, anxiety management and diabetes management. My fear, simply put, is that owners will choose cannabis over NSAIDS, over other pain killers, over insulin, and even over euthanasia. I hope that no animals are suffering as a result of receiving cannabis as an alternative treatment to conventional veterinary medicine, but my fear is that it’s already happening and will begin to happen more with legalization.
Whether they work or not, they’re illegal and unregulated.
Until October 17th, 2018 all products containing plant-derived cannabinoids (which includes THC and CBD) fall under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. But even after the 17th, it isn’t open season for cannabis products. The new Cannabis Act will regulate the approval and sales of cannabis products, meaning that anything sold legally will need to be approved by Health Canada.
Health Canada currently has no products approved for veterinary or animal use. So CBD and cannabis products currently have, as Dr Silcox explains, “no regulatory oversight to ensure their quality, safety, or effectiveness. While they are marketed to treat a range of ailments, these health claims are unsubstantiated by Health Canada, the products are not approved, and as such, are not compliant with Canadian law.”
Now, that could soon change. With legalization around the corner, studies on cannabis and its effects are about to become a lot more feasible. With more evidence we will be able to hash out which CBD claims have merit, and which are baseless.
With entire conferences being held on veterinary use of cannabis we can hopefully expect some answers soon. In the meantime, a few things remain really important.
- Knowing the signs of excess cannabis exposurein your pets.
- Being open and honest with your veterinarians in regard to your pets cannabis exposure, and your use of CBD supplements with them.
- Storing all cannabis (in smokable or edible forms) in non-pet accessible places
- Eliminating your pet’s exposure to secondhand smoke
You might enjoy the feeling of being high, but Spot will not. Keep the joint to yourself and feed him a dog biscuit instead.