How Does CBD Help Dogs?
Cannabidiol (CBD) works by interacting with the dogs’ endocannabinoid system (ECS) to help provide therapeutic relief for osteoarthritis and chronic pain(1). Almost all animals, except insects, have an ECS(2).
The ECS maintains homeostasis or balance within the body and regulates humans and animals’ daily bodily functions. The ECS also modulates the body’s active immune system response, pain management, motor function, and metabolism(3).
Cannabinoid receptors are found throughout the ECS and body. These receptors may be stimulated by endocannabinoids (cannabinoids produced by the body)(4).
CBD, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and other phytocannabinoids (plant-based cannabinoids) found in cannabis also interact with the receptors in the ECS.
THC is the primary psychoactive phytocannabinoid in cannabis plants. xUnlike CBD, THC causes psychological or mind-altering effects. It is the compound that causes marijuana users to feel high.
The two main ECS receptors are the CB1 and CB2 receptors.
CB1 receptors are most abundant in the brain and central nervous system(5). These receptors influence pain sensation, memory processing, sleep patterns, motor regulation, and appetite(6).
Additionally, CB1 receptors are the ECS receptors that interact with THC and induce a euphoric high among marijuana or cannabis users(7).
A 2019 review published in the journal Animals noted a difference in the location of CB1 receptors in a dog’s body compared to humans(8).
According to the review, studies showed that dogs have more CB1 receptors in their hindbrain structures or lower parts of the brain, such as the cerebellum and brain stem(9).
Meanwhile, CB2 receptors are primarily concentrated in the immune system. When activated, these receptors trigger an anti-inflammatory response that may help treat arthritis, inflammatory bowel syndrome, and other inflammation-related health issues(10).
A 2018 study in PLOS One showed that stimulating CB2 receptors may help treat inflammatory central nervous system diseases in dogs, particularly steroid-responsive meningitis-arteritis(SRMA)(11).
SRMA is a common inflammatory neurological condition in dogs, especially among the golden retriever and wirehaired pointing griffon breeds(12).
Although CBD shows promising therapeutic effects, findings regarding its benefits remain inconclusive, with researchers calling for more studies on the substance to be conducted.
Moreover, CBD is not an approved medication by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)(13).
Pet owners interested in using CBD oil for dogs or CBD dog treats are advised to always get advice from a veterinarian before giving their dogs CBD.
Benefits of CBD Treats for Dogs
There has yet to be any definitive scientific data on the medical health benefits of CBD for dogs.
However, available studies and anecdotal accounts show that CBD oil for dogs may help provide therapeutic relief for different conditions and promote overall wellness in these animals.
Arthritis and Chronic Pain
Osteoarthritis is a common progressive disease among older dogs and larger canine breeds(14). The condition is characterized by joint pain and decreased range of motion.
There is no known cure for osteoarthritis, though glucosamine and chondroitin are commonly prescribed for dogs to help lessen inflammation and improve joint health(15). However, taking glucosamine may result in some side effects, like fatigue, insomnia, and excessive thirst(16).
According to a 2018 study published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science, CBD may help decrease pain in dogs with osteoarthritis(17). The researchers did not note any adverse effects.
The researchers administered 2 mg of CBD oil for dogs per kilogram of the dog’s body weight. The pet CBD oil was given twice a day for four weeks before the dogs’ feeding.
Findings showed that the use of CBD helped lower pain during the treatment(18). A veterinarian evaluated the dogs before and after the CBD treatments to check the dogs’ pain levels.
The veterinary pain evaluations were favorable towards the CBD oil treatments, with the veterinarian noting a decrease in pain scores upon CBD administration to the dogs(19).
Moreover, the researchers did not see any negative effects on any of the dogs’ health during the month of taking pet CBD oil(20). The researchers also reported that CBD oil for dogs helped boost comfort and increase movement in dogs with osteoarthritis(21).
Epilepsy and Seizures
Meanwhile, the results of a study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association indicated that oral CBD intake may help dogs with idiopathic epilepsy(22).
Idiopathic epilepsy is a neurological condition that affects up to 5.7% of pet dogs worldwide(23). The cause of idiopathic epilepsy is still unknown, though it may be inherited or genetic(24).
The dogs involved in the study received 2.5mg of CBD oil per kilogram of body weight each day for 12 weeks.
The researchers noted more than or equal to a 50% reduction in seizure activity among the dogs that took CBD oil(25). Additionally, according to the dog owners, the dogs did not display any adverse side effects(26).
Anxiety and Fear
A separate study observed that dogs with idiopathic epilepsy may be more likely to develop or have a higher degree of anxiety and fear(27).
Dogs may also develop anxiety from fear caused by loud noises, like thunderstorms or fireworks(28). Separation anxiety is also fairly prevalent, affecting almost 14% of dogs(29).
Administering CBD may also help address anxiety-related behaviors and improve a dog’s health.
Animal studies suggest that CBD may offer therapeutic benefits for treating generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder(30). In particular, giving low CBD doses of 10mg/kg of the user’s body weight resulted in greater anxiety relief than high doses(31).
Animal studies also showed limited evidence of CBD’s therapeutic potential for heart & immune care.
A review published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology examined CBD’s effects on cardiovascular disorders, including diabetes, stroke, and myocardial infarction or heart attack(32).
Dogs get from heart diseases, similar to humans. Heart failure due to valvular disease or heart valve complications is a common cause of death among small dogs(33).
Dogs may also suffer from stroke, although it is less frequent than stroke in humans(34).
The findings indicated that CBD may play a protective role in reducing ischaemic or restricted blood flow damage in stroke(35).
The review also noted that CBD treatments helped decrease cardiac dysfunction or heart failure in diabetic animal test subjects(36).
Diabetes is a common human disease that may occur in dogs, particularly middle-aged and senior canines(37). Certain dog breeds, like pugs and beagles, may have a higher risk of developing diabetes.
CBD also has therapeutic potential for diabetes complications, according to a separate study. The researchers noted that the ECS may influence diabetes-induced oxidative stress and inflammation.
These conditions, in turn, may lead to tissue and internal organ injury and diabetic complications. CBD’s interaction with ECS receptors and its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects may help address these issues.
Despite all these promising therapeutic benefits, pet owners should remember that studies on CBD’s effects are not yet conclusive, nor is CBD an approved medical drug(38).
The FDA has not approved any use of CBD for animals(39). The FDA also prohibits the sale of any food products, including animal feed, that contain CBD(40).
Additionally, the American Kennel Club highly recommends pet owners to always consult a veterinarian before giving CBD dog treats or CBD oil to help with their pet’s health.
Side Effects of CBD Treats for Dogs
Existing studies observed minimal to no side effects when dogs were given CBD soft chews or CBD oil.
A 2019 study in the journal Animals noted that ingesting 2mg of CBD per kilogram of the dog’s body weight did not result in any major side effects(41).
However, the researchers observed occasional loose stool or diarrhea and vomiting among the dogs who were given CBD(42). The dogs’ weight, appetite, and food consumption were consistent for the duration of the study.
However, dog owners are cautioned from giving their pets too much CBD treats. These CBD products may contain trace amounts of THC, leading to mild THC toxicity(43).
Canines have more CB1 receptors in their hindbrain region than humans(44). CB1 receptors are the ECS receptors that mainly interact with THC, the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis plants.
The abundance of CB1 receptors in dogs’ brains may explain their susceptibility to static ataxia (inability to maintain balance when in a fixed position) in response to THC(45).
THC intoxication may also cause mild sedation and urinary incontinence (involuntary urination)(46).
Pet owners may lower the chances of their pet getting mild THC intoxication by choosing THC-free CBD treats.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) also warns pet owners that when taken in large amounts, soft chews may have an osmotic effect or pull fluids from the body into the gastrointestinal tract(47).
The large intake of soft pet chews may cause diarrhea, dehydration, and, in severe cases, hyperglycemia or high blood sugar levels(48).
Moreover, pet owners are advised to carefully check the ingredients of the CBD treats or chews they buy to avoid ingredients that may be dangerous or fatal for dogs.
Flavored formulations of pet CBD treats and CBD oils may encourage dogs to take CBD, though certain flavors may not be advisable for canines, like pumpkin spice.
Pumpkin is not toxic for dogs and may sometimes help with dog diarrhea(49). However, other ingredients in pumpkin spice, like cinnamon and nutmeg, may not be suitable for dogs.
Cinnamon may cause mild stomach upset or throat irritation(50). Nutmeg is also linked to vomiting and agitation among pets(51).
Can a Dog Overdose on CBD Treats?
The American Kennel Club has stated that high doses of CBD may cause low blood pressure and drowsiness in dogs(52).
Moreover, mild THC toxicity in dogs may result from eating too many dog biscuits or pet chews made with full-spectrum CBD oil, as warned by the ASPCA(53).
Full-spectrum CBD may contain up to 0.3% THC. The trace amounts of THC in CBD products may accumulate and potentially cause toxicity if dogs ingest a large amount of CBD treats or oil.
Symptoms of THC intoxication may occur within one to three hours of ingesting too much CBD treats that contain THC(54). Symptoms may also take up to 12 hours to manifest(55).
A study suggested that dogs may be more susceptible to THC intoxication and balance issues compared to humans due to the abundance of CB1 receptors in their brains(56). Small and young dogs may also be more sensitive to THC due to their size.
CBD Dosage Recommendation for Dogs
Research on the safety of oral CBD supplementation for pets showed that taking 2mg of CBD per kilogram of a dog’s body weight is well-tolerated(57).
The dogs that participated in the study received pet CBD soft chews twice a day (4mg/kg of body weight per day) on an empty stomach(58).
A different study on CBD’s potential therapeutic benefits for dog osteoarthritis also reported no observable side effects after giving the dog participants 2mg of CBD oil per kg of body weight twice daily(59).
Pet owners may give the CBD treats directly to their pets or mix these treats with other dog-friendly snacks, such as peanut butter or green apples. Mixing CBD with the dogs’ preferred snacks may help ensure that they take the CBD treats or tinctures.
CBD is mostly unregulated and is not FDA-approved as a health medication(60). Thus, there is no standard dosing recommendation issued by any recognized veterinary or federal authority.
Experienced CBD users, other pet owners, and various pet care blogs and businesses recommend starting with a low CBD dosage and adjusting the amount of CBD given based on its effectiveness and the pet’s health needs.
Dog owners may approach their veterinarian and ask about the appropriate CBD dosage for their pets.
However, take note that according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, “under current federal and state law, veterinarians may not administer, dispense, prescribe or recommend cannabis or its products for animals(61).”
How Soon Can CBD’s Effects Be Felt?
The speed at which dogs feel the effects of pet CBD and how long CBD’s effects last depend on the method of delivery or administration, the potency of the product, and the dog’s health condition.
Research on CBD for dogs is still lacking, and most studies and accounts on how soon CBD’s effects have been conducted on humans. Although dogs have an ECS similar to humans, canine size and biology are different.
Orally taken CBD products may have a delayed onset or start of effect of one to two hours in humans(62).
The effects of CBD may start sooner for dogs due to their smaller size. Some anecdotal pet owner stories stated that CBD worked within 30 to 60 minutes for their dogs.
A study that sought to assess hemp-based CBD products’ safety suggested that CBD may last up to eight hours in a dog’s body(63).
It may also take longer to see any positive therapeutic effects of CBD for dogs with serious medical conditions. Researchers noted that dogs given CBD to help with osteoarthritis symptoms showed improvements in activity and pain scores after two weeks of treatment(64).
How to Buy the Best CBD Products
There is no “one size fits all” answer when looking for the highest-quality CBD product for your dog. The best CBD product for one dog may not work the same way for another dog, more so if the dogs are of different breeds.
Here are some tips for choosing the best CBD oil and treats for dogs:
Check the ingredients used.
- Choose high-quality CBD pet products made from non-genetically modified (non-GMO) and organic hemp.
- Look for CBD treats that use organic ingredients. Organically grown hemp and other organic ingredients are free from harmful pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
- Choose products made with natural ingredients and contain no preservatives.
- Buy gluten-free CBD products to avoid possible grain allergy reactions.
- Choose CBD edibles and oils specially formulated for dogs, rather than CBD products for humans, for optimal pet health and safety.
- For instance, xylitol (an artificial sweetener) and grapeseed oil are potentially toxic for dogs, though these may be used in human CBD products(65).
- Look for additional ingredients and minerals that offer therapeutic benefits, such as chamomile, l-theanine, and passionflower for separation anxiety issues(66). Turmeric or curcumin may also help with osteoarthritic pain and inflammation(67).
Choose THC-free CBD for dogs.
- Dogs may be more susceptible to THC toxicity, according to a study(68). Buy treats or tinctures made with broad-spectrum CBD to ensure that the product does not contain any THC.
- Broad-spectrum products contain a wide range of cannabinoids and terpenes (aromatic compounds). A study hypothesized that combining cannabinoids and terpenes may still cause the entourage effect, even without THC(69).
- The entourage effect occurs when the different cannabinoids, terpenes, and other compounds enhance each other’s effects for greater therapeutic relief.
- You may also buy CBD treats made with pure CBD isolates as an alternative.
Look at the overall brand transparency.
- Trustworthy CBD brands and products are transparent towards their customers, especially regarding their hemp sourcing, the extraction process, and product testing.
- Always look for third-party lab test results or certificates of analysis. As CBD is still mostly unregulated, lab test results can help you verify the brand’s claims about their product’s potency and safety.
- Choose CBD brands that do not make any unsubstantiated health claims. CBD is not an approved FDA drug, nor is it a proven medical treatment for any condition.
- Ensure the products pass tests for contaminants, such as heavy metals, solvents, microbials, and toxins.
- Research and check the online brand and product reviews. If possible, buy from CBD brands with good reputations, such as Honest Paws, Holistapet, Joy Organics, and Fab CBD.
Legality of CBD
CBD products derived from hemp plants are legal at the federal level(70).
CBD was federally legalized in the United States through the 2018 Farm Bill or the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018(71).
This law differentiated the two varieties of Cannabis sativa plants. According to the 2018 Farm Bill, industrial hemp plants are Cannabis sativa plants, and any part or derivative of it, that contain less than 0.3% THC on a dry weight basis(72).
Meanwhile, marijuana is defined as any cannabis plant, derivative, or product whose THC content exceeds the established 0.3% limit.
The 2018 Farm Bill also removed industrial hemp from the federal list of banned substances(73).
Before the 2018 Farm Bill, marijuana plants were classified as Schedule I substances under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act(74). Back then, both cannabis plant varieties were considered illegal across the USA.
Now, only marijuana remains a restricted substance, while industrial hemp plants may be cultivated, processed, manufactured, handled, and sold(75). The law also states that hemp derivatives, like CBD oil and hemp seed powder, may be legally manufactured and sold(76).
However, CBD still lacks regulatory approval as a medical product from the FDA. Additionally, the FDA does not allow companies and retailers to market CBD products using unproven medical claims that may place consumers at risk(77).
As of December 2020, the FDA has only approved one CBD-based drug, Epidiolex, as a treatment for seizures related to rare forms of epilepsy(78).
The FDA also retains the authority to regulate cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds, including CBD(79). The agency prohibits the sale of human and animal food products that contain CBD as a food additive(80).
This rule may cause issues for consumers looking to buy CBD pet treats and chews.
Moreover, the FDA has not issued any approval for CBD use in animals(81). The agency advises pet owners to consult a veterinarian regarding the treatment options for their pets.
Laws regarding CBD use and sale continue to evolve quickly, so pet owners interested in CBD treats are also advised to read up on their state laws concerning CBD use in food to avoid potential legal problems.
Despite its legality at the federal level, CBD use still faces stricter rules and regulations in some states.
For instance, South Carolina abides by the FDA’s restrictions and does not permit the sale of food and beverages that contain pure CBD isolates(82).
However, the state allows full-spectrum hemp extracts and products marketed as hemp oil (rather than CBD oil) to be used as additives in human and animal food or drink(83).
Washington is another state that does not permit the sale of CBD-infused food and beverages(84). New York also does not allow CBD in foods and drinks, though the state recently proposed regulations to change that(85).
Meanwhile, Colorado allows the manufacture and retail of CBD-infused food and drinks(86). Colorado also does not have any age restrictions regarding the purchase of hemp-derived CBD products, unless the product is added to a controlled substance, like alcohol(87).