CBD Oil for Dogs: Facts, Benefits, Concerns [2024]

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What are the benefits of CBD oil for dogs? What are the concerns about CBD and dogs? CBD oil has become an increasingly hot topic in human medicine and veterinary medicine. Integrative veterinarian Dr. Julie Buzby breaks down the pros and cons. Get the latest facts, concerns, and benefits that dog parents need to know.

CBD oil for dogs: a rapidly changing landscape

In 2018, the FDA approved the first naturally derived CBD product, Epidiolex®, for controlling severe seizures in children. The research behind CBD oil for veterinary use is slowly growing, but the legal aspects remain complicated and messy.

Our veterinary team at Dr. Buzby’s—The Senior Dog Company has been researching CBD oil for dogs. For years, we’ve been discussing up-to-date information with veterinary colleagues, interviewing experts in the field, and attending lectures at veterinary conferences. At the state and federal level, information changes frequently. So much so, that it feels like it’s almost daily.

This near-constant updating impacts veterinarians’ ability to recommend CBD for their canine patients and discuss it with clients. Though the landscape is rapidly changing, we’re proud to share what we currently know regarding CBD and dogs.

Graphic with marijuana plant,  the molecule for CBD, and the title What is CBD
Table Of Contents

What is CBD?

Let’s start with the basics. Over 113 different naturally occurring compounds can be derived from the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa. The two most well-known compounds are delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). 

Different strains of the same hemp plant can have different levels of THC and CBD. Interestingly, the body (human and animal) has different receptors for both THC and CBD.

THC is the compound people generally associate with marijuana. It is responsible for the psychoactive effect, or “high” feeling after an individual smokes or otherwise ingests the marijuana plant. THC binds to CBD1 receptors in the brain—the receptors associated with emotions, coordination, movement, memories, appetite, and pain. CBD1 receptors also are present throughout the body.

THC products can be toxic in high enough doses, so they should be avoided in dogs.

CBD, on the other hand, does not have the same psychoactive effects on the brain as THC. A large portion of the receptors for CBD (CBD2 receptors) impact the immune system. When CBD binds to these receptors, it can help decrease pain and inflammation as well as trigger the body to produce its own cannabinoids, which can further decrease pain.

Limiting the amount of THC in hemp

The Farm Bill, signed on December 20, 2018, legalized the production of the hemp plant as long as it contains less than or equal to 0.3% THC on a dry weight basis. This means that hemp with less than 0.3% THC is no longer considered a controlled substance. It also means that CBD products manufactured from hemp plants are federally legal—unlike those derived from marijuana plants—even though the CBD is the same molecular compound.

Additionally, the USDA published the final rule regulating the production of hemp in the U.S. in 2021. The final rule established requirements for licensing and testing THC concentrations in hemp. The goal is to encourage growing hemp of known chemical concentrations to stabilize CBD and THC concentrations in CBD products.

Keep in mind that legality varies at the state level. As you’re probably aware, state laws regarding marijuana are changing all the time.

Golden Retriever wearing bandana sniffing the air
THC may cause toxicity in dogs

What are the potential health benefits and uses of CBD oil in canine patients?

CBD oil for dogs may be useful to treat a variety of health problems.

First of all, in human medicine, CBD oil is being studied and used for epilepsy, chronic pain management, insomnia, anxiety, and many other uses. CBD oil has helped reduce inflammation in some studies. CBD oil also reduces the use of opioids (oxycodone, for example) in people with chronic pain.

Preliminary research done in cancer cells shows that CBD may block the signals for reproduction in certain cancer cells. However, further studies on this topic must show similar results before we can claim that CBD is a cure for cancer.

Finally, CBD may have benefits for patients with anxiety disorders by increasing dopamine. (It is worth noting that THC has the potential to make anxiety worse by increasing paranoia.)

The following CBD benefits have studies to back them up:

1. Research study on CBD and dogs shows it may help manage seizures.

A study by Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine showed an 89% reduction in seizures in dogs with seizure disorders. The study itself was very small—only nine dogs in the treatment group and seven dogs in the placebo group. However, it does demonstrate that CBD oil may help manage seizures in dogs. Colorado State University is currently conducting a larger study to more thoroughly evaluate CBD use in seizure dogs.

2. Cornell CBD dog study shows improvement for dogs with arthritis.

Pet parents who have used CBD or hemp oils in their dogs have reported improvements in gait, sleep, and appetite. Researchers at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine evaluated the use of CBD oil in dogs using the gold standard double-blind study. This means both the researchers and the dog owners did not know which treatment the dog was getting. Therefore, study results are more accurate from a scientific basis.

Of the 22 dogs with arthritis enrolled in the Cornell CBD dog study, 16 dogs ultimately finished the trial. Dogs received either CBD oil or a placebo oil (olive oil mixed with anise and peppermint oil to have the same scent as the CBD oil) for four weeks, followed by a two-week washout period, then the opposite treatment for four more weeks. In this manner, all dogs received both CBD oil and “sham” oil for one month each.

Dogs were evaluated based on owner questionnaires, veterinary physical exams, Canine Brief Pain Inventory score, Hudson activity score, and blood work (CBC and biochemical profile).

Senior Shiba Inu with his head tilted as if asking a question about CBD oil for dogs
CBD oils may provide improvement in your dog’s seizures or arthritis.

It is important to note that the dogs included in the study were allowed to stay on current medications such as NSAIDs (examples include Rimadyl, Meloxicam, Deramaxx, etc.), fish oil supplements and/or glucosamine/chondroitin supplements—as long as there were no changes made within the four weeks up to the study or during the ten weeks of the study. Participants also made no changes to their dogs’ diets throughout the trial period.

Study exclusions

However, Tramadol for dogs and/or Gabapentin for dogs were discontinued two weeks prior to starting the research. The reason researchers discontinued these analgesic medications for the trial was to make sure they did not interact with CBD. Some medications and supplements can have synergistic effects when taken together, meaning a medication becomes more potent when another is added even without altering the dose.

Combining medications, like CBD and gabapentin for dogs, can also increase the likelihood of seeing side effects of CBD. For example, a dog on both CBD and gabapentin may have more sedation. Researchers wanted to make sure reported side effects were actually from the CBD itself, and not from an interaction with another medication.

The study yielded two key pieces of information:

  1. Dogs on CBD oil showed an improvement in their arthritis symptoms compared to dogs on the placebo oil.
  2. CBD oil was safely used concurrently with traditional arthritis management medications such as anti-inflammatory medications and joint supplements.

3. Australian study shows CBD helps dogs with atopy.

CannPal, an Australian animal health company, conducted a double-blind study on dogs with atopic dermatitis, an allergic skin condition that often causes itchy paws, hair loss, skin inflammation, and general discomfort. In this study, 65% of the dogs who received CBD treatment had reduced itching by at least 50%. Half of those dogs had complete resolution of itching!

What are the concerns regarding CBD oil for dogs?

What are the cons of CBD oil for dogs? Is CBD oil bad for dogs? There are five concerns regarding giving your dog CBD oil.

1. All CBD oil is not alike.

Because CBD oil, whether intended for humans or pets, is considered as a supplement, products are not subject to the same tight regulations and standards as pharmaceuticals approved by the FDA. Marked discrepancies between the ingredients and concentrations reported on the label versus in the actual product can occur.

Because of this lack of oversight, CBD products can also potentially be contaminated with THC, even if their label indicates otherwise.

Three different types of CBD are available:

  1. Full spectrum—Full spectrum hemp products contain CBD, THC, and other plant compounds. The concentration of THC in hemp plants is quite low, but it is important to use reputable companies if you’re giving your dog full spectrum CBD oil so you can ensure they do not contain harmful levels of THC.
  2. Broad spectrum—Broad spectrum products contain all cannabinoids and other hemp plant compounds but do not contain THC.
  3. Isolate—CBD isolate hemp products contain only CBD.

CBD oil for dogs may be human grade, contain natural ingredients, be organic, vegan, etc. They may come in various formulations, such as chews, pills, oils, and even dog treats. These factors do not necessarily indicate whether they are good or bad pet products.

Young Bulldog sitting by the window
CBD is a supplement and therefore is not subject to regulations by the FDA.

2. CBD concentrations may vary significantly from the amount specified on the label.

Starting in 2015, the FDA has issued warnings to certain companies for the CBD concentration not matching the labeled amount in products.

Why is this so important? When the labeled CBD concentration differs from the actual product, a dog is at risk of being under or overdosed.

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) evaluated different CBD extracts online and allowed for the amount on the label to vary by 10%. 43% of products had a higher concentration than what was on the label and 26% had a lower amount than specified on the label.

Another study evaluating 29 veterinary CBD products found only 10 of those to contain the amount of CBD they claimed within a 10% margin. 2 of those 29 did not contain any CBD at all!

3. Arsenic and other toxins may contaminate CBD oils.

Depending on how it is harvested and processed and what additives or preservatives are used, CBD oils may be at risk for contamination. Contaminates include:

  • Mycotoxins (a deadly toxic substance produced by a fungus)
  • Pesticides
  • Heavy metals including arsenic

The previously mentioned study evaluating 29 veterinary CBD products found heavy metals in 4 of those products.

Reputable CBD companies should be able to provide a Certificate of Analysis for their products. This document should include a cannabinoid profile with test results showing the concentration of cannabinoids in the product, antimicrobial analysis, pesticide analysis, and elemental analysis to screen for lead and arsenic. It is important that Certificates of Analysis are provided by third party labs.

If you use a CBD product for your dog, make sure to check the ingredients, and ensure that the product is independently evaluated.

Although the 2018 Farm Bill allowed for the production of specific hemp products, CBD oil for dogs is still a complicated subject. 

In the eyes of the DEA, marijuana (Cannabis with more than 0.3% THC) is federally categorized as Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I substances have a high potential for abuse and no medical use. However, state governments have the authority to determine if marijuana-based products may be manufactured and sold inside their state borders.

Without FDA approval, it can be tricky to tell whether some CBD products actually fall under the category of marijuana or hemp. Remember that marijuana and hemp are the same plant, Cannabis sativa, and differ only in their concentration of THC.

The Schedule I categorization by the DEA makes CBD the elephant in the exam room, so to speak. Many of my veterinary clients with senior canine companions suffering from osteoarthritis in dogs are asking me about pet CBD oil. Currently, veterinarians may not dispense or administer CBD products, and there are very strict guidelines for even discussing them with pet owners.

Pit Bull Puppy under the table
Always make sure the read the label of your CBD product to ensure your pet is getting a quality product.

5. There is no FDA-approved veterinary CBD oil for dogs.

Currently, the FDA has not approved any CBD oil products for dogs. Although Epidiolex is approved for treatment of seizure disorders in humans, this medication is not specifically approved for veterinary use.

Veterinarians are permitted to use human medications “off-label” in pets, but because Epidiolex is approved only for treatment of very rare seizure disorders in humans, applications for off-label use in animals are limited.

The American Veterinary Medical Association has cautioned veterinarians against recommending CBD oil products for our patients, since federal and state regulations of such products are evolving.

Can dogs have human CBD products?

I’m always cautious answering questions about whether dogs can take human medications or supplements. Some human products like advil for dogs, are a big NO for dogs and are a recipe for disaster. Sometimes, as is the case with CBD oil products, the answer is “Yes, but…” The caveat here, as we’ve discussed, is that CBD dosing really matters.

My fear is that well-intentioned pet parents will use human products and unintentionally give their dog an unsafe amount or a product that contains ingredients that are not safe for dogs—like xylitol (birch sugar). I generally recommend using animal-specific products or having very specific instructions from a veterinarian for using human products.

Promising results from dog parents

Anecdotally, I have seen some improvement in my canine patients whose owners have started them on CBD oil, especially in arthritic dogs. I am happy that veterinary companies are investing into quality control and research to ensure their products are safe and effective for use in dogs. Science-backed products make it easier for me to advise pet parents on using CBD oil for their dogs.

What can we hope for in the future regarding CBD oil for dogs?

As more studies indicate that CBD oil has benefits in seizure and pain management for dogs, safe and well-regulated products should become more and more available. Our hope is that there will be more oversight for product quality and control so that consumers know they are getting a pure, safe product. CBD products have the potential to improve quality of life in some dogs, and we look forward to exploring applications as research progresses.

What questions do you have about CBD oil and dogs?

Please comment below.

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