CBD for canines and cats: Is it secure?

Analysts predict the CBD pet care market will reach $ 125 million by 2022, making it one of the fastest growing segments in the CBD sector.

Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images

CBD advocates everything innumerable advantages for humans – but can it also help our four-legged friends? The answer is complicated.

When Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, veterinarian Stephanie McGrath didn’t give it much thought. But then the calls came. Pet owners and family vets wanted to know what she thinks about medical marijuana in relation to animals, and if she’s doing research on it.

This story covers substances that are legal in some places but not in others, and is for informational purposes only and not for legal advice purposes. You shouldn’t be doing illegal things – this story doesn’t endorse or encourage illegal drug use.

At the time, McGrath had no interest in cannabis and didn’t even know what Cannabidiol (CBD) was so she mostly ignored the subject. But the combination of receiving phone calls and seeing CBD products already lining the shelves of pet stores made her realize that she needed to update herself.

“Around 2013 or 2014 I started doing the research that already exists and I realized that there was essentially no real, good scientific literature in the human world, let alone in the world of veterinary research” says McGrath, assistant professor of neurology at Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “And so I began to research whether it would even be plausible for me to conduct research.”

McGrath became one of the pioneering researchers in the field of veterinary cannabis, but despite their early efforts, research (and regulation) struggled to keep up with demand as people increasingly turn to CBD products to treat the pain and Treat your pets’ anxiety and seizure disorders.

Thanks in large part to the 2018 Farm Bill that legalized CBD made from hemp, analysts are now predicting that the CBD pet care market will hit $ 125 million by 2022, making it one of the fastest growing segments of the CBD market.

There are still many unknowns in such a rapidly growing industry. Below is what you need to know when considering CBD for your furry friend.

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What is CBD?

dried hemp leaves

Dried hemp flowers, like the one shown here, naturally contain higher levels of CBD than other strains of the cannabis sativa plant.

Picture Alliance / Getty Images

Cannabidiol belongs to the cannabinoid family, a class of chemical compounds that occur naturally in the cannabis plant. Cannabinoids interact with the human body’s endocannabinoid system, which helps the body maintain homeostasis.

Unlike its cousin Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, CBD doesn’t create a “high”, but it is psychoactive. In 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Epidiolex, an oral CBD solution, for the treatment of Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, two rare and severe pediatric seizure disorders. CBD is also being studied as a possible treatment for pains, Anxiety and schizophrenia symptoms in humans.

How is CBD given to animals?

CBD pet care products come in many of the same forms you’re probably used to from humans, including edibles (think chewable treats and capsules), oils that can be added to food or placed under the tongue, and topical creams or balms that are rubbed directly onto the skin.

Like the CBD products for humans, each of these CBD pet care products seem to have a different effect on the body – at least on dogs.

When McGrath began studying CBD in 2016, one of her earliest studies analyzed how three different delivery methods – a capsule, an oil, and a cream – affected the way CBD moves through the body of healthy dogs.

Salmon CBD Treats

Chewable treats are a popular form of CBD grooming for pets.

Pharma hemp complex / Unsplash

“We measured pharmacokinetics, which basically means you give the dogs a single dose of all three modes of administration and then take a range of blood levels over a 12-hour period,” says McGrath. “How quickly is the CBD absorbed, what is the blood concentration with this single dose and how quickly is the CBD then excreted.”

McGrath found that of the three specific formulations they tested, the oil had the best pharmacokinetic profile – that is, it reached the highest concentration in the blood, stayed in the circulatory longest, and performed most consistently in different types of dogs. The capsule also did well, the cream less so. For McGrath and her team, performance was too inconsistent to draw any conclusions.

These results are in line with what we know so far about CBD absorption in humans, but the research is too preliminary to make medical decisions.

How does CBD work in animals?

It is unclear – and a puzzle that researchers are trying to solve in humans too. Dogs, for example, have an endocannabinoid system, but whether CBD interacts with it in the same way that experts believe it does in humans remains to be seen. For now, all McGrath knows is that in dogs, as in humans, CBD appears to be metabolized by the liver.

Are There Health Benefits Of Feeding CBD To Your Pet?

Cat cuddles in bed with owner

Veterinary CBD research has focused primarily on dogs, leaving many cat owners with unanswered questions.

Chris Abney / Unsplash

The research is promising, but it’s early days. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in 2020 in the journal Pain found that “cannabidiol has potent anti-inflammatory properties and significantly improves mobility in large domestic dogs with osteoarthritis.”

This study follows a 2018 study that found that CBD may help increase comfort and activity in dogs with osteoarthritis.

In 2019, McGrath published a study that showed that CBD can help reduce the number of seizures in epileptic dogs. But while these studies have been well designed and peer-reviewed, they are still small and very preliminary.

“All we really did was give these dogs this drug and say, OK, we’ll see that,” says McGrath. “But we do not yet know whether the blood values ​​achieved are sufficient to treat certain diseases.”

Still, McGrath is optimistic. Veterinarians do not have a wide range of drugs to treat these conditions, and some of the existing ones often have debilitating side effects such as weight gain and lethargy. “If CBD worked, I think it would be both effective and not have many side effects,” says McGrath. “So that’s what we’re hoping for.”

McGrath and other researchers are currently conducting larger studies nationwide on the effectiveness of CBD in treating osteoarthritis in dogs and cats, epilepsy in dogs, and postoperative pain, but it will be a while before the results are published.

Until more is known, it is best to speak to your veterinarian before giving your pet CBD.

Is CBD Safe For Animals?

According to a 2017 report by the World Health Organization, CBD appears to be safe in its pure state and well tolerated by animals. However, both of the subsequent 2018 dog studies mentioned above found an increase in the liver enzyme alkaline phosphatase (ALP) during CBD treatment.

As part of her study, McGrath ran a simultaneous liver function test to make sure the dogs’ livers weren’t failing and things got back to normal, causing a serious long-term problem.

“I would definitely be a little concerned about giving CBD to a dog who has known liver problems,” says McGrath. Since CBD appears to be metabolized by the liver, McGrath says she would also be cautious about giving CBD to a dog who is already taking a drug that is metabolized by the liver. “We don’t really know how these things interact right now,” she says.

The other important thing that pet owners need to be aware of is quality control. Since the CBD market is not yet well regulated, CBD products may contain ingredients that are not listed on their labels – including THC, which is known to be toxic to cats and dogs.

CBD for pets

When purchasing CBD pet care products, look for companies that support the research and provide a Certificate of Analysis or COA for every batch sold.

ElleVet Sciences

One way to avoid potentially harmful ingredients is to only use products that come with a Certificate of Analysis or COA (the lot number on the COA should match the number on the product label or packaging). A COA is issued when an independent laboratory tests the product to confirm, among other things, its ingredients and effectiveness.

By law, CBD products cannot contain more than 0.3% THC, which should be safe for animals. But there is no reason to take risks. Whenever possible, stick to CBD pet care products that contain 0.0% THC and watch out for symptoms of THC poisoning such as vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, restlessness, and disturbed standing.

Bottom line: “We didn’t find anything about CBD to be concerned about,” says McGrath. “But on the flip side, we still know very little about it, and it’s really important that owners know and use it with caution until we have more information.”

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always contact a doctor or other qualified health care provider with questions about a medical condition or health goals.