Let’s face it: CBD use in pets is a pretty hot topic at the moment.
In fact, if you clicked on this article, you likely are already thinking about using CBD for your dog or cat…or maybe even already do.
What follows are my thoughts and suggestions as a veterinarian, based on reviewing the currently available evidence and research. Obviously this is a rapidly evolving field and an active area of scientific research, so obviously we have to stay aware that what is correct at the time of writing, may change as more is discovered about this fascinating little plant extract over the coming months and years.
This blog post is going to be loooooooong! So please feel free to use the subheadings to narrow your search down to the parts which are most relevant for you. 🙂
Let’s get started!
What is CBD?
‘CBD’ is an abbreviation of cannabidiol . These two terms mean the same thing, and I will use them interchangeably throughout this article. It is the non-psychoactive component of cannabis (ie, it won’t make you – or your pet – trip). Cannabidiol is basically just a plant extract, from the cannabis plant. You can think of cannabidiol as being cannabis minus the psychoactive (trip-causing) component, which is called THC.
Whilst CBD is considered non-toxic, THC is in fact quite toxic to dogs and cats, and obviously must not be given to our pets in any quantity. As a vet working mostly in Liverpool and North Wales, I’ve treated pets for cannabis intoxication on a number of occasions. Dogs exclusively, now that I think about it; cats are presumably too sensible to help themselves to hash brownies.
And, in these cases, it is the THC which is the troublemaker, and the cause of the myriad of unpleasant symptoms affected pets experience; including (but not limited to) extreme drowsiness, slowed heart and respiratory rate, lack of ability to regulate their body temperature, a drunken walk, and sometimes vomiting and/or diarrhoea.
UK-made cannabidiol products actually come from hemp, rather than from marijuana, as the latter is still illegal in this country at the time of writing.
Marijuana and hemp are both types of cannabis plant, and the difference between the two lies entirely in the differing levels of THC they contain. Hemp plants contain 0.3% THC or less, whereas marijuana is a “stronger” strain of the same plant, containing over 0.3% THC.
The diagram below exemplifies this (and also my tragic lack of talent in the field of graphic design)
Is It Safe To Give My Dog (Or Cat) CBD?
This is probably the question I get asked the most often by pet owners, in relation to cannabidiol.
From my point of view as a vet, the key points that you need to be aware of to help you make an informed decision with regards to giving CBD to your pet, are as follows:
1. At the time of writing, there is nothing to suggest that cannabidiol is toxic to dogs. However, it is important to understand that there is still a lack of high-quality scientific research in this field. So, as it currently stands a guaranteed safe and effective dose for dogs of different breeds and sizes has not been established.
This is very different to the situation with human CBD use, where safe, effective doses have been fairly well confirmed. This means if you do choose to give your dog cannabidiol, you are guesstimating a dose that you hope is safe and effective.
With the limited information the veterinary field currently has in regards to CBD use in dogs, we cannot yet be 100% certain that you are not inadvertently causing your pet harm if you choose to give cannabidiol. But do I think you are likely to cause harm if you give your dog a small amount of a reputable CBD product such as Cibapet? No, I don’t.
Do be careful however, with where you source your product. Possibly the greatest danger surrounding this entire issue is the lack of regulation for cannabidiol products sold online at the moment, both in the US and the UK. Some available products may not undergo adequate processing and testing to ensure that they do not contain, for example, harmful traces of THC. To be honest, the only brand I would even consider recommending to my clients at present is Cibapet. Nope, they aren’t paying me, and I’m not affiliated with them. But everything I’ve read about this brand (including sifting through the boring smallprint) supports my conclusion that they have an excellent safety profile.
2. There is an even greater lack of research when it comes to CBD use for cats. To be plain – we really don’t know yet if it’s safe for cats or not, so my advice as both a vet and a cat parent is to stick to pain-relieving and anti-anxiety products which we know more about, for the time being. Cibapet do have a range for cats, but I personally would steer clear until we have more information.
3. You should always consult a vet before giving your pet cannabidiol. Trust me, we aren’t here to judge; our job is to help, and to make sure you have as much information as possible before making your own decision about what’s best for your pet. And CBD isn’t the new-fangled oddity that it was a few years ago – it’s pretty well known now, and I’d wager most (if not every) vet is aware of it’s potential benefits and potential risks.
We do know that cannabidiol has the potential to interfere/cross-react with certain medications in humans, and the same is true in our pets. So, if your dog takes any other medications or supplements, you need to run CBD use past your vet first, to be on the safe side. Just as an example, there is reason to believe that cannabidiol enhances the effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (‘NSAIDs’, such as ibuprofen for people, and meloxicam for dogs) and opioids (such as codeine), so your pet may need to take less of these if they are also taking CBD.
As we learn more about cannabidiol, this may in fact turn out to be a good thing, meaning for example that your elderly pet could require a lower dose of their usual arthritis medication, therefore experiencing less side effects of that medication; NSAIDs for example have links with kidney disease, and codeine causes significant withdrawal effects if suddenly stopped.
Is It Legal To Give My Pet CBD?
Well, yes, sort of…and no, not really.
I’ll try to explain.
Let’s start by discussing the situation in the USA, and then we’ll talk about the situation here in the UK.
In many states in the US, hemp-derived cannabidiol extract is entirely legal to produce, but remains illegal as a pet food ingredient. Be aware too, that hemp extract (which contains CBD) is different from hemp oil (which does not contain CBD), and so you may find hemp oil legally available for your pet. Hemp oil comes from the seeds of the hemp plant, whereas cannabidiol extract comes from the leaves.
Here’s where it gets complicated.
Whilst the FDA can restrict the presence of CBD in pet food and veterinary drugs, they do not have control over the sale of supplements. Legally speaking, a supplement is considered neither a food, nor a drug. Because of this loophole, CBD extract can legally be sold as a supplement marketed for dogs and cats in several states.
A large degree of variability exists between different states, in terms of their stance on growth of hemp, and sale of cannabidiol products generally, not just for pets. Always check the law where you live. Whilst in reality, prosecution is unlikely to be on the cards for something as seemingly innocent as purchasing a CBD supplement, it is technically possible in some states, and you need to decide whether you are (or aren’t) comfortable with this before taking the leap to try these for yourself or your pet.
But what about if a vet prescribes CBD? Surely this is legal, so if I want my pet to have it, can’t I just ask my vet to prescribe it?
Well, to be honest whether you’ll have any luck with this again depends to some extent on where you live. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, (AVMA), cannabidiol remains unapproved and – in their eyes – unsafe. So unfortunately, vets may face legal risks if they recommend or dispense CBD products. For this reason a lot of vets may be reluctant to even discuss the topic. Fortunately, a few states are now starting to address the topic, most notably California and Nevada, where specific laws have now been introduced which allow vets to discuss cannabidiol use with their clients.
In the UK, CBD products are not authorised for veterinary use, as they have not been approved by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD). It is however possible to legally purchase human cannabidiol products, and I am aware that a number of pet owners choose to do exactly this. In the real world you are *almost* certainly not going to run into any legal problems with giving your pet CBD, but the situation remains somewhat baffling. A detailed explanation follows, but the TLDR is that yes, you can legally give your pet CBD in the UK, ideally under the guidance of a veterinary surgeon.
Here’s the longer version, for those who are interested: it may surprise you to discover that legally, only a vet can prescribe CBD for canine or feline use in the UK. Therefore, if anybody other than a qualified and registered veterinary surgeon advocates for giving CBD to an individual dog (or any other animal), they are technically breaking this rule. However: somewhat confusingly, any natural plant extract may legally be fed to your pet, so long as a) the plant can be legally cultivated in the UK, and b) you do not cause your pet any evident harm.
See? Told you it was confusing.
Short version: the police are not going to come for you if Pickles gets a squirt of CBD oil with breakfast for his arthritis.
How Does CBD Work For Dogs And Cats?
In order to better answer the question of whether cannabidiol may be helpful for your pet, we need to first take a moment to consider how it actually works within the body.
For centuries, the human race has been making use of cannabis for it’s speculated medicinal properties; this started a long time before any benefits were actually proven by science.
More recently (just over the last few decades, in fact), there has been a surge in research relating to the potential healing properties of cannabis. Perhaps the greatest breakthrough in the field was the discovery of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the early 1990s. The ECS is made up of a series of receptors and chemical messengers which help regulate a large numbers of bodily functions, including (but not limited to) roles in immunity, digestion, regulation of anxiety, skin health and digestion.
The canine and feline endocannabinoid systems are really very similar to our own, and so it rationally follows that CBD will have similar effects for our pets. By this logic, we might expect our pets to experience similar benefits of cannabidiol use to those we achieve.
Will CBD Help My Pet Dog Or Cat With Their Anxiety, Pain Or Epilepsy?
The honest answer is that – at the time of writing – there is no credible large-scale evidence that CBD oil is of any medical or psychological benefit to dogs or cats.
However – the jury is still out, and there is still much to be discovered in regards to CBD use in companion animals. We should absolutely remain open to the possibility that cannabidiol may be a useful compound in veterinary medicine in the future.
There are a limited number of studies which have suggested that CBD may be helpful in relieving arthritis pain in dogs. For example, owners have reported increased activity and less pain when their dogs were taking cannabidiol.
Further evidence comes from a 2017 study (here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5690292/) which provided promising support for the theory that CBD is effective in reducing inflammation associated with arthritis. We should notice though, that this study was carried out on lab rats, not on dogs, and that arthritis was artificially induced in these rats by injecting sodium monoiodoacetate (nasty chemicals) into their joints.
As a scientist, I think we need to be very careful with assuming that what works for one species will work for another, and in assuming that artificially-induced arthritis will respond the same way to any drug as ‘normal’ osteoarthritis would. As a vet, I can vouch for the fact that what works in a dog might be dangerous for a cat for example, or that different pain relief drugs do very different things to a dog versus a cat versus a bird versus a rabbit.
But again – there is much we don’t yet know. My key point here is, more needs to be learned, especially in regards to defining appropriate dosing guidelines for different sized individuals. Another important consideration is that some dog breeds have heightened sensitivity to certain drugs; for example, I would never give a wormer containing ivermectin to a collie-type breed as doings so would have serious health risks. It needs to be established whether there are any breeds for whom it is necessary to give cannabidiol in lower doses, or avoid it altogether due to an unacceptable risk of adverse reactions for that breed.
A second frequently mentioned use for CBD in pets is in the treatment of anxiety. Now, what we do know for certain is that a fairly common side effect of cannabidiol is drowsiness. Typically, the greater the dose, the greater the urge to doze! This makes it difficult to know whether our pets are actually experiencing relief from anxiety following a dose of CBD, or just experiencing an increased urge to nap. From personal experience, it is entirely possible to be anxious and sleepy at the same time!
But I think overall, the underlying science is promising. According to biology, I would expect CBD to produce anti-anxiety effects in dogs and cats, even if that’s currently unproven. But again, it’s a lack of safe, effective dosing guidelines, and a lack of regulation of products on the cannabidiol market, that is letting ‘Team CBD’ down.
Another potentially relevant side effect of cannabidiol in dogs and cats is that it can reduce the heart rate. In the same way that beta blockers such as propranolol prevent your body from entering the unhelpful cycle of rapid heartbeat leading to greater anxiety and vice versa, CBD may be able to prevent escalation of anxiety in this manner. This could obviously be helpful in staving off a panic attack, or – for our canine counterparts – a bout of separation anxiety. It goes without saying that care should be taken by vets considering prescribing CBD to patients who take medication which may affect their blood pressure, such as amlodipine or benazepril (drugs typically prescribed for hypertension, heart or kidney disease in dogs and cats).
In terms of cats, who frankly have drawn the short straw in terms of this blog post simply because there is so little research on CBD use in cats, I was not able to find a single credible study proving any sort of health benefits whatsoever – whether in terms of reduced anxiety, pain relief or anything else, for that matter. This does not mean there is no benefit. In fact, one thing that was very apparent to me is that the internet is full of pet owners raving about how helpful cannabidiol has been for their dog or cat. But this evidence is only anecdotal, and it’s entirely possible to experience the placebo effect with our pets, too! So really, it does need to be taken with a pinch of salt. Personally, and professionally, I believe that we should hold off on CBD use in cats until we have more information regarding it’s safety and efficacy.
Finally, very limited research has also been undertaken on whether cannabidiol may be helpful for dogs with epilepsy, but this unfortunately found no positive effect whatsoever. I would also point out that CBD does have the potential to interfere with your pet’s prescribed epilepsy medication, so I really would steer clear of prescribing cannabidiol products to epileptic patients.
If you’re still awake, congratulations! You made it to the end!
I hope this mammoth of a blog post has been at least a little useful to at least a few of you. If you have any questions please feel free to comment below.
Ciao for now,
Let other pet owners know:
P.s. in case the above wasn’t information enough, pet owners may wish to check out the following:
Above: American Kennel Club stance on CBD use in pets.
Gov.UK stance on CBD use in pets: https://vmd.blog.gov.uk/2022/06/28/can-i-buy-cbd-oil-cannabidiol-for-my-pet/
Blue Cross stance on CBD use in pets: https://www.bluecross.org.uk/advice/dog/cbd-for-dogs
Pop any questions in the comments and I’ll be sure to get back to you,