How and what humans feed our dogs has often been influenced by how and what we feed ourselves — from handing down scraps from our tables to modern advances in nutritional science.
The latest, and perhaps most mysterious, transfer from the world of human consumption is the use of CBD for dogs. A surge in the popularity of CBD oils, CBD gummies, and other supplements for people across the U.S. and beyond has led to a rapidly growing market in similar CBD products for dogs: oils, gummies, even CBD dog treats.
However, as a relatively new phenomenon and one with no official regulatory body to monitor it, there remain many questions among dog parents about the efficacy, benefits and safety of CBD for dogs — particularly given its popular association with recreational cannabis or marijuana.
In order to learn more, the Dog Food Advisor’s in-house nutritionist, Laura Ward, put her questions to the renowned veterinarian and Professor & Dean Emerita at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Dr. Eleanor Green — an advocate of CBD for animals and consultant to leading animal CBD producers Chou2Pharma.
Here’s how the conversation went.
What sparked your interest in working with CBD?
I immediately saw many possibilities for CBD to help veterinarians make the lives of animals better. Animals across all species experience pain, discomfort, and inflammation commonly. There are existing, effective FDA-approved medications available with more receiving approval over time.
The development of new products is an indication of ongoing need. Like almost all drugs, some of our quality, go-to medications for pain have potential adverse side effects, especially with chronic use or at high doses. While more research is definitely needed for CBD and other hemp products, the evidence so far shows few adverse side effects.
Why are some veterinarians reluctant to prescribe CBD for pets?
My interest in CBD was further heightened when I began to learn about the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). The ECS is present in all mammals, playing an important role in homeostasis, which means keeping the body balanced for optimal function.
The ECS isn’t taught in veterinary schools, so there’s a fleet of graduates and longstanding veterinarians untrained in this area, unless they’ve actively sought information. The result is veterinarians unable to effectively advise clients who want to use CBD/hemp for their animals. I strongly believe that veterinarians should be the trusted source of information about cannabinoids to offer sound advice to clients, veterinary organizations, animal industries, legislatures, regulatory bodies, and the public.
The challenge of navigating this booming industry is only increasing for both veterinarians and clients, especially in the wake of growing client interest. Fortunately, there seems to be a trend of increasing interest from vets in the ECS, its function in animals, the use of products that influence the ECS, and guidance for clients who want CBD for their animals. They may see the value of CBD within their own practices and should be able to guide clients on how to use products for their animals.
It’s important to note that hemp and cannabis are not new. The use of cannabis for medicinal purposes dates back to ancient times. Interestingly, marijuana was legal in the US around the turn of the 20th century. With prohibition, awareness of cannabis and cannabinoids waned.
I think many pet parents understand that CBD is related to Cannabis but aren’t always sure how. Could you please explain the connection?
It is easy to confuse the terminology. Cannabinoids refer to any naturally occurring, biologically active, chemical constituents of the flowers, leaves, and stalks of cannabis plants. The cannabinoids found in plants, called phytocannabinoids, mimic endogenous neurotransmitters to exert their effects on the ECS.
While CBD, cannabidiol to give its full name, is best known, it is only one of more than 120 currently identified cannabinoids (others include CBG, CBDV, CBN, CBC, THC…), each with unique properties and effects within the ECS. This opens a world of targeted applications of different cannabinoids for animal and human use.
Another common point of confusion is the difference between CBD and marijuana. When the general population hears “cannabis” most think immediately of marijuana. Marijuana contains high levels (>0.3%) of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the substance to which the psychotropic effects, the “high,” are attributed.
But that’s just one cannabinoid molecule, and each one is unique. It’s important to know the difference between high THC, low THC/hemp, and no THC. If THC content is above 0.3%, the product is considered cannabis or marijuana; if it’s less than 0.3% THC, then it’s considered hemp — as defined by the 2018 Farm Bill.
These definitions are also incorporated into the Veterinary Medical Board of California’s Guidelines for Cannabis from 2020 — one of the best resources we have as professionals. So, to simplify, cannabis has psychoactive properties, and hemp (often broadly called CBD) does not. What I love about Chou2 Pharma is it contains 0% THC. It takes the guesswork out of it for pet parents and veterinarians.
Cannabis can be dangerous for dogs, so please can you explain why CBD is safe?
Another source of misunderstanding about cannabinoids is reports of marijuana toxicosis (poisoning) in animals. Increased marijuana use in people has resulted in increased animal exposure that can result in poisoning, whether through ingestion or inhalation.
Access to human products containing marijuana can result in excessive consumption of THC, leading to varying severity of illness and even death. Dogs will readily consume as many marijuana-containing brownies as they can. It’s important to note that high-quality CBD products without THC will not result in this type of toxicosis.
Properly regulated medical cannabis is possible and safe for dogs. The Veterinary Cannabis Society is a great resource for finding information. Hemp products, specifically non-psychotropic molecules like CBD, CBG, and others, have shown incredible levels of safety in animals (and humans of course — we joke that cannabinoids were tested extensively in humans before use in animals).
The only thing we’ve seen in the data is slightly elevated liver enzymes — which hasn’t been correlated with consequential liver disease to date. Data show that CBD even in extremely high quantities, or when used chronically, is safe for use in animals. It provides the professional confidence we need, but also peace of mind as pet parents.
And there are always completely THC-free options as well, like Chou2 Pharma products, for pet parents who need that added assurance. Also providing confidence is that research on safety and efficacy will continue and new findings will be shared.
Are there other safety elements people should be aware of around CBD for dogs?
Yes. The quality of products available on the market is highly variable. Through blinded studies of randomly selected CBD products, researchers found a tremendous amount of variation. The amount of active ingredient claimed on the label was inaccurate, so one might be giving too high or too low a dose. Some products were contaminated with heavy metals, pesticides, and other contaminants.
Is CBD safe for puppies too?
At this time, we’re not aware of specific studies on puppies. As such, it is critical to ask your vet for guidance and oversight if you’re considering CBD use on puppies. It’s important to note that puppies are not small adults — much about their physiology, including drug metabolism, can vary from that in adult dogs.
Are there any side effects or behavioral changes associated with CBD?
As noted, the most intriguing part of CBD is the lack of serious side effects. Behavioral changes have two parts: changes we like and want to see and changes we don’t like and don’t want to see. For example, we may use CBD for relaxation and calming effects. That’s a positive behavioral change. Negative behavioral changes are not expected at the proper dose. Every dog is unique, as we know, which reinforces the involvement of a veterinarian in any decision made for your dog’s health.
If a dog is given CBD for anxiety, is there a danger they could become drowsy or ‘drugged’?
At the recommended dose, this isn’t a concern. It’s often one of the reasons pet parents turn to CBD over prescription medications.
Will giving CBD to a dog make them hungrier?
Some cannabinoids can stimulate appetite (CBDV in particular), but there’s no evidence appetite stimulation is an issue with CBD. It’s not like “getting the munchies” for example. Some dogs, however, may need appetite stimulation — for example, when they enter a hospice state. There are some incredible options for dogs during this phase of life.
Can my dog become addicted to CBD?
There’s no evidence indicating this is possible.
What would happen if my dog had too much CBD?
What we typically see with an “overdose” of CBD is sleepiness and an appearance of fatigue. Other potential side effects of an overdose — not to be mistaken for side effects when taking the proper amount, which are minimal — include vomiting or diarrhea. These consequences are temporary and not concerning; however, careful observation and contact with your veterinarian is always best.
Can CBD be used long-term for dogs, or should we take a break every few months?
This is one of the biggest benefits of CBD, in my opinion. Many drugs, especially those used for pain, have adverse side effects, particularly with chronic use or at high doses. To date, evidence indicates CBD is an extremely safe long-term option. The liver enzyme elevation doesn’t seem to indicate any serious concerns, but it should be observed and noted in the animal’s health record.
I was part of a professional discussion that brought up an interesting point about THC accumulation in the liver. Even the small amounts of THC found in hemp, with chronic use, could begin to build up in the system. Now, we won’t know until we’ve studied it more, but it’s another reason to consider THC-free options. CBD is safe; nonetheless, we will continue to study to learn all we can.
I’ve read the paper by Gamble, et al, which shows great results of CBD oil in reducing the pain of dogs with osteoarthritis. How does this compare with other joint support and pain-relieving products?
There are several products for osteoarthritis (OA) in animals because OA is a very common condition in dogs, especially as they age. Almost every dog will experience OA as they approach their geriatric years.
We do need safe drugs that can be used on a long-term basis. As mentioned above, many drugs have adverse side effects, especially when used chronically. From that standpoint, CBD/CBG compares extremely well.
It would be beneficial, under controlled conditions, to compare some commonly used drugs, like NSAIDs, with cannabinoids and include a placebo as well for comparison. Chou2 Pharma and other science-forward companies plan to increase the body of data.
There’s much to study, such as comparing health supplements and cannabinoids. Previous studies have demonstrated that cannabinoids can be anti-inflammatory and help manage pain. The next step is to complete all of the rigorous studies needed to earn FDA approval. That’s the gold standard of validation. For now, health supplements containing cannabinoids can be used for hip and joint support.
What are the other health benefits or uses of CBD for our dogs?
Cannabinoid health supplements for pets can support hip and joint, digestive health, immune health, senior/geriatric health, brain health, and so much more.
Looking at the drug studies, we’ve seen cannabinoids used for anxiety, osteoarthritis, pain, and epilepsy. As I said, there are more than 120 cannabinoids! All unique. We are at the tip of the iceberg.
It’s also important to note that in the current regulatory environment, companies and veterinarians are not allowed to claim benefits for specific diseases and veterinarians are not allowed to prescribe cannabinoids [with minor exceptions in some states, details of which can be found here]. That will change with FDA approval of products. For now, we’ll work with animal health supplements.
What kind of animal CBD products are available?
CBD is available in different formats, from oils and balms to chews and shampoos. Understandably, different formats target different areas of the body and have different levels of CBD.
Which format is most effective in your opinion?
When made to the right standards, they can all be effective. The different formats typically lend themselves to the owner’s preference or the animal’s needs. Some dogs won’t swallow a pill, so oil might be best. What we do know is cannabinoids are absorbed through the mucus membranes readily, so oils can act quickly when administered under the tongue or on the gums — again, if formulated well and to the best standards.
So, something like Chill [Chou2 Pharma’s relaxation and calming formula], can be given at the onset of a thunderstorm or right before a vet visit, again under the tongue or on the gums, and it can act quickly — within 15 minutes.
It isn’t necessarily the format of administration, but the format or treatment of the molecules. If you’re giving something to a dog orally, to be swallowed and digested, that product will have to pass through the highly acidic upper GI tract.
If you don’t protect those cannabinoid molecules, they risk being destroyed before they even enter the animal’s system. This is one reason why some might say CBD doesn’t work for their dog. And this is one of the unique steps Chou2 Pharma takes – protecting and encapsulating the molecules moving through the digestive tract (so, the soft chews), to improve bioavailability and absorption in the system.
Would you use one type of CBD product for all dog ailments, or would you use a combination of oil, chews, balm, etc.?
It’s very situation-dependent, or based on an owner’s knowledge or preference, which is where a veterinarian can really provide great guidance. For me, it’s more about the cannabinoids used and the purity of those molecules and products. Format matters less if the products are well-designed, as noted above.
Do you advise CBD be used only under veterinary instruction, or is it okay for pet parents to buy CBD products for their dog without speaking to a veterinarian?
In the interest of the health and welfare of the pet, anything given to an animal ought to be under the supervision of a veterinarian. The veterinarian knows the complete health status of the animal, so they should be made aware of everything that’s happening.
Chou2 Pharma carries out analyses of its CBD products. What do they test for and why is this important?
We test for potency and purity: Is the cannabinoid profile exactly what we intended it to be? Is the THC content at zero or undetectable? Are the other terpenes and cannabinoids removed? We also test for heavy metals, pesticides, and contaminants. And it’s all done by a third party, which is crucial to avoid bias and to have another set of qualified eyes reviewing every step.
Standards are important and, given that there’s no regulating body for animal health supplements, it’s even more crucial to provide as much information as possible. The FDA regulates animal feed and drugs, so they make sure that animal supplements aren’t wrongfully positioned as drugs. The FDA gives as much information as they can on navigating the cannabinoid and animal supplement spaces, but it doesn’t replace the need for a true regulatory body. Eventually, we’ll get there.
In the meantime, we’ve got incredible groups like the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC), that have dedicated their efforts to providing clear guidance and resources to animal health supplement companies. Chou2 Pharma is a proud member of the NASC and works closely with their team to ensure the highest level of standards and compliance.
Which research papers do you recommend for boosting our CBD knowledge?
Chou2 Pharma has some really exciting publications debuting later this year, that reflect the last several years of research we’ve been doing. For those who want to get into the molecular level, I highly recommend searching for peer-reviewed publications on pub med and talking to your veterinarian.
I’ve put a list of suggested publications on this PDF.
Do you have a dog?
Joe Starbuck (Joe), a 12-year-old Australian Shepherd, and Millie Nelson (Millie), a seven-year-old Border Collie. We recently lost Leonard Cohen (Cohen), 17-year-old Miniature Pinscher. I have never been without a dog, and don’t plan to be without one! Dogs enrich our life, make us healthier and happier, we owe them unconditional love. That’s why products like these makes sense, to increase comfort and quality of life — don’t we owe that to them?
What’s your favorite CBD product to use for your dogs or your patients?
Comfort for hip and joint, because it’s just such a universal need. Senior Comfort (launching later this summer) because it is so innovative — it has 5 unique cannabinoids and other ingredients tailored to that geriatric and end-of-life state. It’s a stage you hope to be able to get to with your dog because it means they lived a long and full life. And it’s one you should be proud to support them through.
I have to mention Chill though, especially as we enter fireworks season and deal with summer storms. To have something fast-acting that doesn’t require planning ahead is crucial. So many parents miss the window for calming drugs, then they’re stuck with a heavily sedated dog for longer than anticipated, or worse, they’re not able to help their dog in a time of need. Chill doesn’t require much forethought. Within 15 minutes, your dog can have a more relaxed and calmer demeanor — and it wears off in about 3 hours. And you can use it up to three times a day.
Finally, what are the key things dog parents should look for when buying a CBD product?
A proven quality product backed by a great team, NASC membership, third-party testing, great reviews, and clarity on what’s in the product.