Pets

A Pet Owner's Guide to CBD

By Melena Gurganus

Many pet owners have shown interest in finding new ways to enhance the health and wellbeing of their pets. In their search, people have ventured into the cannabis space and read that CBD offers a wide range of health benefits for animals. For those that have personally tried CBD on their pets, they say it has the potential to reduce pain, anxiety, and seizures, among other advantages. To help clarify any misconceptions about the use of CBD on animals, we wanted to outline important information regarding effects, dosing, and scientific research related to CBD use on pets.

Although your veterinarian will likely tell you something along the lines of “research is ongoing and we’re not making recommendations now,” it’s worth doing your own research to find the best solution for your pet.

You may be on your own, but you can still find healthy solutions that work—just know that you’ll be giving your pet CBD at your own risk.

CBD for Dogs

When it comes to cannabis, dogs have a slightly different endocannabinoid system than humans. Canines have a higher concentration of CB1 receptors in the cerebellum than any other species, and THC is a partial agonist of these receptors. This means that dogs have increased sensitivity to THC, but is CBD is different because it does not have much direct action with these CB1 receptors. Because if this, it’s unlikely that CBD would harm your dog, but anything heavy in THC should probably be avoided unless prompted otherwise by a trusted vet.

While THC may have medicinal value, it can produce a psychoactive effect that might actually increase anxiety in animals when administered in high doses. If you want to introduce cannabis extracted ingredients into your dog’s diet, it’s generally safer to use CBD dominant extracts. Although THC and CBD can be used in conjunction for therapeutic purposes, it’s more difficult to obtain extracts with a high concentration of THC—unless you live in one of the few states that allows for recreational marijuana use. Cannabis extracts that are high in CBD and low in THC are preferred, as they are considered to be widely available and legal in more areas. Lab test results, especially from a third party lab, can determine the percentage of CBD and THC within a cannabis extract. This way, you can ensure that any cannabis extract given to your dog is accurately labeled.

CBD for Cats

It seems there is much less available information about people’s own experiences using CBD on cats, although that’s not to say they can’t benefit from CBD just the same. While dog owners commonly use CBD to help with separation anxiety or arthritis, cat owners have another ailment of concern. Chronic kidney disease (CKD) affects 3 out of 10 geriatric cats according to Pet Health Network, and some felines are taking CBD for possible symptom relief. Cats suffering from CKD often show signs of decreased appetite and weight loss due to chronic nausea, but CBD may restore appetite by alleviating feelings of nausea and reducing inflammation. Regardless of why you choose to use CBD, we do suggest starting in small dose amounts and increasing this slowly until you find the “sweet spot” that works best for your pet.

Potential Health Benefits of CBD for Your Pet

There a plenty of personal stories about the health benefits of CBD on pets, but what science is there to back up these claims?

One survey from the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA) included responses from more than 600 pet owners, and found that the most successful uses of CBD in pets were:

  • Pain relief
  • Sleep aid
  • Anxiety relief (including thunderstorm or firework phobia)
  • Nervous system support
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Reduced seizures
  • Preventing vomiting and nausea
  • Mitigating muscle spasms
  • Helping with digestive tract issues
  • Skin condition treatments
  • Prevent and kill cancer cells

On top of these findings, a recent scientific study conducted by Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine has shown that CBD oil helped decrease pain, and increase activity, in dogs suffering from osteoarthritis.

With this information, it appears that there may be some validity to the health claims of CBD. But how do you introduce CBD to your pet?

How to Choose the Right CBD Product for Your Pet

With increased popularity in CBD and hemp products, new sellers are popping up everyday. There are a range of CBD products designed for the pet owners, including:

  • Oils
  • Tinctures
  • Sprays (oral and topical)
  • Dog treats
  • Balms, salves, and other topical treatments

It can be difficult to distinguish between the quality of different brands and what product is best suited for your pet. You’ll want to do your homework before buying anything. We recommend using CBD products that are intended for pets, as well as brands who use third-party labs to verify CBD potency and test for the presence of any pesticides, microbials, or solvents. Most quality CBD pet products will have dosing guidelines, which makes it easier for owners to give their animal the right amount. But these guidelines are often coming from the company, not a veterinarian, so keep this in mind.

It’s important to take existing medications into consideration before using CBD on your pet, as it may alter the efficacy of these treatments for certain conditions. According to Dr. Tim Shu, CEO and founder of VETCBD, “CBD has been shown to be very safe across a wide range of doses in multiple animal species. But if an animal is on other medications, especially ones with narrow therapeutic ranges, a pet owner should discuss the concurrent use of CBD with their veterinarian prior to starting.”

Using CBD products designed for human consumption can be a bit more difficult, and they may include ingredients that are not healthy for dogs or cats to ingest. Currently, there are no pet products certified by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).

So how do you know which product to buy?

Here are a few things to look for:

1) CBD products extracted from hemp

CBD can be extracted from hemp or marijuana, as both plants are from the cannabis family. Marijuana plants contain more THC than hemp plants, so it’s likely that marijuana extracted CBD products will have a higher concentration of THC. However, these extracts can still offer wellness advantages for pets, but they may not be readily available to everyone. Hemp extracts, on the other hand, are widely legal and may include beneficial cannabinoids (even small amounts of THC) in full-spectrum or broad-spectrum CBD products. CBD oils extracted from hemp can sometimes distill out these cannabinoids and terpenes to create a CBD isolate, but we recommend using full-spectrum CBD extracts for a synergistic effect and greater therapeutic value.

2) The product’s origin story

Since cannabis is a hyperaccumulator, it absorbs the elements of the ground within which it was grown. This is of particular concern when it comes to CBD oil because heavy metal toxicity can be prevalent, and you certainly don’t want to feed your pet anything toxic.

Even “natural” doesn’t always equal safe. For example, xylitol is a “natural” sugar-free sweetener used in many human foods, but it’s highly toxic to dogs according to PetMD. This is another reason why pet-specific CBD products are a safer choice, because human products may contain ingredients that are toxic to other animals.

Wherever you choose to buy from, look at the supplier’s website for information on their sourcing and standards.

3) Is it infused with oil?

CBD oil for dogs is easy to add into your pet’s food without them detecting a difference. For ease of absorption, look for a CBD product that’s infused with olive oil. Olive oil is rich in unsaturated fats, and healthier for your pet than other options like coconut oil. According to Healthline, the saturated fats in coconut oil may cause diarrhea or even high cholesterol when given to your pet in excess.

4) Is it made with CBD or hemp seed oil?

CBD is what generally has high response rates for pain relief, anti-inflammation and other health improvements in pets. Hemp seed oil is not the same as CBD oil, and this can cause some confusion. Hemp seed extract is pressed from the seeds of hemp to produce an oil that may help give your dog a shinier coat or better skin, but it does not contain any cannabinoids. Health advantages are attributed to CBD, which is taken from the trichomes of the flowers of hemp plants.

What the Experts Have to Say

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) released a statement in 2017 regarding the use of hemp in animal food products. In summary, they addressed whether “the ingredients derived from the hemp plant are safe and useful in animal food,” and noted that the health benefits of CBD and THC are yet to be proven. Before widespread distribution of hemp products in animal food is accepted by the AAFCO, more evidence would need to support the nutritional benefit of these compounds for animal consumption.

Dr. Shu also weighed in on the conversation and provided some helpful feedback on CBD research by stating, “More clinical trials for cannabinoids in general are needed to evaluate the benefits of various cannabinoids for various conditions. The endocannabinoid system plays such an extensive role in maintaining the health of an animal that at this point in time, we’re really just scratching the surface of cannabinoid therapy, and more benefits will be elucidated through research.”

Remember that CBD is not a cure-all ingredient for any health issue that your pet may have. Many experts in the space have yet to weigh in. Some pet owners praise cannabis-extracts as the answer to their prayers, but it’s up to you whether or not you believe the hype.

What Are the Risks?

The biggest risks presented to pets when given CBD are usually caused by an overdose of the compound. Some adverse side effects, such as an upset stomach or drowsiness, may occur in rare instances—but these can likely be avoided by supplying the proper dose.

If you’re using a product that includes THC, you increase the risk that your pet may have a negative reaction. Dogs that suffer from too much THC intake develop static ataxia, which is specific to canines and results in loss of muscle coordination, balance, and problems controlling their bowels or bladders. For this reason, proper dosing of CBD and THC products is extremely important.

Dosing Guidelines

Since official dosing recommendations from the veterinary community are limited, it’s always best to start small. You can increase dosage slowly to gage your pet’s response, and once you notice positive improvements in their condition, you can stick to this dose amount.

A general guideline is 0.2mg of CBD per pound of body weight per day. The chart below suggests starting dose amounts depending on the weight of your pet.

Weight Amount of CBD
5 lbs 1mg
10 lbs 2mg
15 lbs 3mg
20 lbs 4mg
25 lbs 5mg
30 lbs 6mg
35 lbs 7mg
40 lbs 8mg
45 lbs 9mg
50 lbs 10mg
Weight Amount of CBD
55 lbs 11mg
60 lbs 12mg
65 lbs 13mg
70 lbs 14mg
75 lbs 15mg
80 lbs 16mg
85 lbs 17mg
90 lbs 18mg
95 lbs 19mg
100 lbs 20mg

You do not have to increase dose over time to account for tolerance. CBD does not affect the endocannabinoid system in the same way as THC, and long-term use of this compound will not reduce its efficacy.

A Final Word on Pets and CBD

Although CBD is generally considered to be safe for pets, it has not been approved by the FDA for this purpose. For this reason, it’s hard to distinguish between fact and fiction in an industry where there is minimal regulation on the manufacturing of these products. CBD is legal in most states, but it does present a grey area for some when federal and state regulations are in conflict. Just stick to CBD that’s extracted from hemp and you should be safe from legal reprimands in most areas.

[Check to see your state’s legal status on CBD]

As with anything you give your pet, it’s important to recognize when something’s off. If you are concerned about how your dog or cat is responding to CBD, contact your veterinarian and discontinue use of the product until professional guidance has been given.

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