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CBD or cannabidiol has surged onto the market in the past year. Following close behind, is the use of CBD for pets. Many questions still remain, especially concerning the safety, efficacy, dosages and other questions.
Research on CBD for Animals
Probably not too surprisingly, research into medicinal use of CBD in animals is still in pre-infancy. Anecdotally, many veterinarians shy away from using it themselves, even as they know that many of their “pet parents” use CBD for their animals. If you are thinking of using CBD on your four-legged friend, talk to your veterinarian first, especially if your animal is currently on any medication or treatment plan. More on the existing research later…
Basics of Hemp-derived CBD
In the US, the 2018 Farm Bill act legalized (1) the farming of industrial hemp. Industrial hemp is in the same plant family as marijuana. They are both in the cannabis family, in the same manner as daisies, chrysanthemums and sunflowers are all in the aster plant family. And just as those plants are different from one another, there are major differences between industrial hemp and the marijuana plant that is still illegal to grow under federal statute.
The main difference between industrial hemp and marijuana is the amount of THC, tetrahydrocannabinol, in the plant. THC is the cannabinoid that gives a “high”. By contrast, CBD does not, but instead has potentially beneficial effects. Industrial hemp legally must contain less than 0.3% THC while marijuana plants have much higher percentages; 10-30% in some strains. Industrial hemp was hybridized to increase the hemp fiber strength and as a result (and we don’t quite know why), the THC level in hemp decreased while the CBD level increased.
In humans, CBD is used for a variety of effects, mainly to help reduce anxiety, help people sleep better and to help reduce inflammation and pain associated with inflammation.
- In the US, CBD derived from the industrial hemp plant is at least theoretically legal in all 50 states. There are, however, some grey areas because some jurisdictions like counties or townships may view it differently. If medical cannabis or recreational cannabis is legal in your state, there should not be a problem.
- Currently, CBD derived from hemp is legal in most of Europe, Canada, Argentina, Peru, South Africa and Turkey. You should check the legal status for individual countries, as this list is constantly changing.
- THC has psychoactive properties; it delivers a “high”. CBD on the other hand, works on a different type of receptors. Think of receptors as a kind of biological lock that needs a specific type of key. CBD is a “key” that fits into different “locks” when compared toTHC.
- When it comes to your pets, you should understand that the legal status applies to humans, even in states where CBD products are legal, it may still be illegal (2) for vets to recommend or advise someone on how to use CBD for their pets.
What is CBD Used for in Animals?
As mentioned, the research concerning CBD use for animals is very limited. For dogs little information is available and it is even more limited for cats.
In dogs, CBD is used to give symptomatic relief of seizures, nausea, stress, anxiety, arthritis, back pain, symptoms of cancer, and for digestive issues. In cats, CBD is used to give symptomatic relief for inflammatory conditions, pain, anxiety and to enhance comfort.
A few studies have been published and many more are probably in various stages of publication. This is what we know so far:
- From the Canadian Journal of Veterinary Research came a recent study with the goal of trying to determine some of the basic ways in which CBD acts in healthy dogs (beagles).(3) They found that CBD oil given orally was able to achieve the highest blood levels (as compared to creams or caplets). For the CBD oil, they used 10 and 20 mg for every kilogram of weight, giving the equivalent of 75 or 150 mg of CBD every 12 hours. The group did not report any adverse effects specifically. The study documented that all dogs completed the 6-week trial.
- It is really important to note that in this study, the group analyzed the amount of CBD in products before administering it to the dogs. They found that many products had less CBD than was declared on the label. This is just one reason why third-party lab testing is important. You want to ensure that you are giving your animal friend the dose you think you are giving them. The fact that there was generally less CBD in the product than was listed on the label means that it would be more difficult to give too much CBD, even though we don’t know what dose may constitute too much. It also means that you may end up giving your animal less that he or she might require to actually obtain the full benefit from CBD. Third-party testing allows you to verify the amount that is given, allowing you to dose your pet with better accuracy and achieve a superior probability of producing maximum benefit.
- Another study published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science looked at how CBD acts in the body, its safety and its efficacy in dogs with osteoarthritis (OA) (4). These dogs were of various breeds brought into the Cornell animal hospital who were given 2mg/kg of CBD oil every 12 hours. Their findings suggested that this dose could “increase comfort and activity in dogs with OA.” There were no observed side effects but the level of a liver enzyme (alkaline phosphatase) was increased.
- One paper was found that looked at CBD in both dogs and cats. This study examined reports of animals eating marijuana products that contained THC rather than CBD. The signs of overdosing included lethargy, depression, muscle movement problems and agitation.(5)
- A study recently published looked at adverse effects in healthy dogs.(6) They concluded that CBD appeared to be well tolerated but also reported that all the dogs experienced diarrhea. The authors of the study suggested that the diarrhea was not due to the CBD but more likely due to “stress related to relocating the dogs to new housing, sharing enclosures, and diet.”
How Does CBD Work?
Most mammals, including humans, dogs and cats have a system known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS). This system is responsible for the regulation of several different body systems and functions including appetite control, the immune and digestive systems, pain response, sleep, reproduction, mood, memory, how muscles work and temperature regulation. The ECS uses two different receptors called CB1 and CB2. When thinking about receptors, the most useful analogy is the lock and key idea previously mentioned. The receptors are the locks and CBD and other cannabinoids are the keys.
The CB1 receptor is mainly found on cells within the brain and spinal cord. This is the receptor that the psychoactive THC binds to or “unlocks” and this is likely how THC produces a high, by directly affecting brain cells.
The CB2 receptor, on the other hand, is located throughout the rest of the body and on the nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord. CBD binds to these receptors and “unlocks” those receptors which mediate and provide regulation of pain perception, muscle control, appetite and the digestive system. CBD also binds weakly with the CB1 receptor and appears to displace the natural “keys” – the natural endocannabinoid substances like 2AG and AEA. This is likely the mechanism underlying why CBD can affect mood, anxiety and sleep.
Some Ways to Use CBD in Animals
We definitely need more research but we do know that 2-20 mg of CBD for every kg (2.2 pounds) of dog appears to be safe. CBD oil is the form of CBD that has been best studied. The topical applications used in the CJVR resulted in lower blood levels and seems to irritate the skin of the ear in most dogs. CBD oil also has the advantage of being easier to dose. You can add it to your pet’s water (it doesn’t dissolve really well, but it can be done), your pet’s food or drop it directly into your pet’s mouth. You can even mix it with a perennial favorite, peanut butter!
Always talk to your vet first. Your vet is the best source of information concerning what your dog may benefit from and can tell you if he or she should try CBD.
So, say you have the OK from your vet and your dog weighs 10-15 pounds, you should start with the lowest dose tested; 2 mg/kg. You can do this calculation:
- 1 kg = 2.2 pounds, so 10 pounds is equal to:
- 1 kg/2.2 pounds x 10 pounds= 4.55 kg ≈4.6 kg
- 2 mg/ kg x 4.6 kg = 9.2 mg total CBD
Now let’s say you have CBD oil that comes in 0.5 mL droppers.
- 1mL = 20 drops so 0.5 mL= 10 drops
- Your CBD oil has a listed concentration of 9 mg of CBD in every 0.5 mL dropper and you are certain of this because it has been 3rd party-tested and you have the results in hand. (More on labels later)
- You have calculated that your dog should get 9.2 mg of CBD
- 0.5 mL/9 mg X∕9.2 mg= 0.511 mL or ≈ 0.5 mL
- Note that because droppers are not very precise, your dog would be getting a bit under the 9.2 mg because of rounding off the values. This is fine because you are starting low and can increase the dose as needed and we really can’t get much more precise.
Labels and Forms of CBD
Labels in CBD-world are a problem for human use and an even bigger problem for pet use. Here are a few points to keep in mind:
- You want to buy only 3rd party-tested products. One reason as mentioned is to be certain of the purity. The other reason is that these products will likely give you the actual amount of CBD stated to be in the product. This will make it much easier to calculate and give the appropriate amount.
- Call or otherwise contact the company to get a better idea of the amount of CBD in each dose (serving)
- The general recommendation is to avoid hemp seed oil products. These do not contain CBD in appreciable amounts. They are nutritious but such oils are almost free of CBD!
High-quality CBD oil for dogs usually are either:
- “CBD isolates” where the CBD has been highly purified and will contain at most trace amounts of THC. These are primarily CO2 extracted, the best and most accepted way to purify CBD. This may allow more precise dosing.
- “Full spectrum CBD oil” can be either extracted using the CO2 method or obtained by ethanol extraction. Such oils contain other cannabinoids and other plant produces ingredients that may enhance the effect of the CBD by what is known as the “entourage effect” This means that it may work better for your dog, but doesn’t allow for more precise dosing usually. (7)
Always start low and go slow. The 2-20mg/kg range means that there is a relatively large window for dosing. If you start at a low dose and increase slowly, always watching for any changes, you will end up giving your pet only what they need. Remember, more is not always better!
There are CBD edibles for dogs available which are often sold as “chews”.
- Look for products that are 3rd party-tested
- Look for the quantity of CBD per serving. Many times, the front of the container lists the total amount of CBD in the container rather than the amount per serving or dose.
- The edibles have the advantage of ease of dosing and probably dogs like the flavors better than the oil!
Where to Buy CBD Products for Your Dog
We are here to help provide you with the most current information available on CBD; its effects, where the best products can be found and how to make your best buying decisions. When it comes to your pets, CBD is probably easier to get online but we recommend that you talk to your vet first. Your vet may be able to recommend a higher quality product and may even have some available. It depends on where you live and where your vet stands on the issue of CBD for dogs.
If your vet is unable to provide you with products, you can safely use the CBD for humans, adjusting the quantity given by using the dosing calculations given.
The Bottom Line
CBD appears to be safe to use on your pets. It is best to talk to a vet who is knowledgeable about CBD use in animals for specific advice. You can safely use CBD intended for humans and adjust the dosage according to the calculations given above for dogs. If you have a cat, talk to your vet about the proper dosage. We will keep you updated on any new information concerning how to best use CBD for your pet.
- Bartner LR, McGrath S, Rao S, Hyatt LK, Wittenburg LA. Pharmacokinetics of cannabidiol administered by 3 delivery methods at 2 different dosages to healthy dogs. Can J Vet Res. 2018;82(3):178–183.
- Gamble, L-J., et al, Pharmacokinetics, Safety, and Clinical Efficacy of Cannabidiol Treatment in Osteoarthritic Dogs. Front. Vet. Sci., 2018: https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2018.00165
- Turkanis SA, Karler R. Cannabidiol-caused depression of spinal motoneuron responses in cats. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior. 1986 Jul 1;25(1):89-94.
- McGrath S, Bartner LR, Rao S, Kogan LR, Hellyer PW. A report of adverse effects associated with the administration of cannabidiol in healthy dogs. Veterinary Medicine. 2018;1(2):6-8.
- Russo EB. The Case for the Entourage Effect and Conventional Breeding of Clinical Cannabis: No “Strain,” No Gain. Front Plant Sci. 2019;9:1969. Published 2019 Jan 9. doi:10.3389/fpls.2018.01969