CBD Oil for Dogs: Can It Help?

What, exactly, is CBD oil?
By: Paula Fitzsimmons
CBD oil

Mainstream attitudes towards cannabis have shifted, leading more people to consider it as a medicinal tool for themselves and their furred family members.

Vets agree that you should never give your dog any products containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive chemical found in marijuana. Aside from its legality concerns, there are currently no known safe dosages, and giving your dog products with THC could result in severe illness and even death. Cannabidiol oil (CBD), however, is an option that shows promise in treating dogs for a range of conditions – all minus the high of marijuana.

If you’re considering a CBD product for your dog, read on to learn more about its healing potential, safety warnings and legal standing.

CBD Oil Versus Pot: What’s the Difference?

The CBD oil used in commercial pet products is not the same thing as pot. It is one of more than 80 naturally-occurring cannabinoids (natural compounds that effect receptors in the nervous system) in the cannabis plant. It is non-psychotropic, which means it can’t make you or your furred companion feel high. THC, meanwhile, is another cannabinoid present in the cannabis plant that does alter mental state, says Dr. Robert Silver, a holistic veterinarian and author of “Medical Marijuana & Your Pet: The Definitive Guide.”

CBD oil can be derived from hemp or it can be derived from marijuana (which also contains THC), Silver says. The only difference between marijuana and hemp, he adds, is the amount of THC in the product.

How the Pet Industry is Using CBD Oil

Pet products not sold through dispensaries are made from hemp-based CBD, says Dr. Gary Richter, a veterinarian who practices at Montclair Veterinary Hospital in Oakland, California.

Manufacturers add CBD oil to pet treats, and it’s available as a supplement and as a liquid extract. It’s used to treat numerous conditions, including anxiety, arthritis, epilepsy, cancer, appetite stimulation, and nausea, says Silver.

“These are all applications that we used to think were solely the venue of THC, but since hemp has been legalized federally, we are finding that it does everything THC does, except get you high,” he says.

Does CBD Oil Work?

While there are thousands of studies studying CBD’s effectiveness in treating human conditions, those on pets are just beginning, says Richter.

For example, the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Colorado State University is currently conducting studies to determine CBD’s usefulness in treating epilepsy and osteoarthritis in dogs and are running two clinical trials on dogs who already have these conditions (participation is voluntary and dependent upon pet parental consent).

Although formal, published studies are currently lacking, Richter says the experiences of veterinarians and pet owners indicate that, when used correctly, CBD can be an effective tool.

“There’s promise, but we’re lacking objective studies,” says Dr. Sylvia Lee of BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Tampa, Florida. She says the studies she’s reviewed show some indication that CBD oil could enhance medications used to treat osteoarthritis or seizures. “But at this point, the effectiveness and safety of CBD oil for those purposes is currently being studied.”

Is CBD Oil Safe?

CBD in and of itself is very safe, says Richter, adding that the worst side effect that would be expected would be drowsiness or possibly GI upset. “Any product purchased from a (pot) dispensary however, may contain THC which has a much higher incidence of toxicity,” he says.

The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center has received cases of dogs who have ingested CBD and developed signs of toxicity that were attributed to THC ingestion, says Dr. Tina Wismer, medical director at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center in New York City.

This may be the result of a quality control issue, she says.

“Quality control is lacking in all types of marijuana derivatives. In one study, 75 products were evaluated to determine the amount of CBD and THC found in the various products. The results indicated that 17 percent of products were accurately labeled, 23 percent were under labeled and 60 percent were over-labeled with respect to THC content,” she says. “So a concern is that there is not consistency from batch to batch.”

This is why buying CBD oil from a trusted source is critical, and it should be given under the supervision of your dog’s vet to ensure proper dosages, says Richter.

“Some CBD products also contain THC which has a much higher incidence of toxicity,” he says. “Any product purchased from a cannabis dispensary should only be given with direct veterinary supervision.”

The federal government is in the process of developing its regulatory stance on CBD oil, says Silver, however, the three agencies involved in the process – the FDA, DEA, and USDA – are in disagreement about what that should be.

“Currently, the DEA claims that the non-psychotropic resins from the cannabis plant [like CBD] are Schedule I controlled substances, just like THC,” he says.

Meanwhile, the FDA is set to grant approval for three CBD-containing drugs, which means CBD can’t be classified as a Schedule I drug, since it’s contradictory for a Schedule I drug to also be an FDA-approved drug, he says.

In addition, the USDA is rolling out programs to support hemp farmers, and sees hemp as an American agricultural commodity. Legislation like the Industrial Hemp Farming Act, which would support these farmers, is pending in Congress, Silver says.

The Dangers of THC

As mentioned, the experts say that you should never give your dog any products containing THC. The outcome can be fatal, in part because there are no known safe doses. Plus, more than any other species, dogs are much more sensitive to the negative effects of THC, says Silver.

The most common signs of marijuana ingestion are ataxia (drunken gait), lethargy, and urinary incontinence, says Wismer, who is board-certified in veterinary toxicology.

“However, about 25 percent of patients may present stimulated instead,” she says. “Hyperesthesia (over reacting to movements and sound) and disorientation are also frequently seen, along with low heart rate, low body temperature, dilated pupils and tremors.”

CBD oil shows promise in treating our dogs for a variety of conditions. Until the research is more definitive, talk to your vet about dosage before giving your pet anything with CBD oil, and always purchase CBD products from reputable sources.