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Is CBD Safe for Pets?
By: Brianna Gunter
It’s no secret that dog and cat-specific CBD products are on the rise. Pet owners are using CBD for anxiety in pets or as a pain reliever for certain ailments, and both CBD and hemp products have started making their way into pet stores. But before you decide to jump on the bandwagon, know that all of this does not necessarily mean that CBD is safe for pets.
CBD has been legal on the federal level in both the U.S. and Canada since 2018, but you’ll still want to check for any restrictions in your local laws. Even more importantly, always consult with your pet’s veterinarian before giving your pal any new treatment, including CBD oils, sprays, or treats.
Even so, modern opinions on CBD for pets vary widely. In order to make the most informed decision when it comes to your pet, it’s crucial to learn what exactly CBD pet products are and what the scientific research has shown.
What is CBD?
CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of over 100 chemical compounds or “cannabinoids” found in the cannabis plant. While it is generally considered non-psychoactive (as in, it won’t get you “high”), CBD has been found to cause some physiological effects in humans. Proponents of CBD claim it helps a wide range of issues, from sleep and anxiety disorders to more complex health conditions like diabetes, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis. It is also thought to be effective for nausea and pain relief.
In both the U.S. and Canada, CBD products are legal as long as they do not contain more than 0.3% THC. Additional local restrictions may apply. That said, veterinarians cannot legally prescribe CBD, and there are some different laws in place regarding its use for animals.
Understanding CBD vs. THC
You’ve probably heard of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, as the main compound in cannabis plants that can produce psychoactive effects. THC and CBD actually are the two most common cannabinoids and even have a similar chemical structure. But it’s important to understand that the cannabis plant comes into two different forms: hemp and marijuana. Both plants contain CBD, but marijuana contains high THC quantities whereas hemp contains little to none.
Is CBD safe for pets?
Pet owners should be aware that while CBD is generally considered safe, the truth is more of a gray area. Like other herbal supplements, CBD pet products are largely unregulated and have not been approved as medical treatments.
Furthermore, anyone considering giving CBD to their cat or dog should know that THC has been found to be toxic to pets. Because of this, all CBD pet treats and supplements should contain as little THC as possible (preferably 0%), but the lack of regulation makes it difficult to know the true percentage of either THC or CBD in any specific product.
But about that gray area.
In January 2020, the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine said that “throughout the past several years, the Pet Poison Helpline has seen a 448 percent increase in marijuana cases.” However, the Helpline does not discriminate between THC and CBD-related cases.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) meanwhile states that CBD products “appear to hold therapeutic promise” in pain management and treating conditions like epilepsy and osteoarthritis in pets, but notes that available scientific findings are currently limited. In a 2020 veterinary report on cannabis, the AVMA also stated that edibles were a common source of pet toxic reactions. However, the researchers pointed out that non-cannabis ingredients like chocolate and raisins could also be to blame.
Scientific research on CBD use in pets
Multiple studies have shown CBD to reduce anxious behaviors in rodents and humans, but what about dogs and cats? Though anxiety in dogs and cats is the most common reason for giving pets CBD, this is largely based on anecdotal evidence.
A study published in September 2020 actually showed that CBD may have little effect in reducing a dog’s anxious behavior. Conducted by researchers from the University of Kentucky and the College of Veterinary Medicine at Lincoln Memorial University, the controlled study observed a group of dogs (of varying breeds) and their reactions to firework noises both before and after taking CBD. While the group given CBD treats had demonstrably lower stress hormone levels compared to the control group, little behavioral difference was noted when the firework noises were introduced.
People with both dogs and cats should be aware that their pets may respond differently to CBD. Another veterinary study published in October 2019 showed that dogs absorb and metabolize CBD faster than cats. While few behavioral changes were found and the CBD-laced treats were determined to be relatively safe for both groups, some of the cats involved showed adverse reactions like vomiting and head shaking. As of January 2022, few other studies have been conducted on the efficacy or impact of CBD use in pets. More research is needed to determine definitively how CBD can affect both dogs and cats, especially when it comes to long-term use.
Laws on CBD use in dogs and cats
CBD products are federally legal in North America, though many states and territories have their own restrictions when it comes to distribution and possession. And due to the limited research results available so far, the FDA currently advises against CBD use in animals. It’s also worth noting that CBD as a pet food ingredient is currently illegal in the United States.
Likewise, Canada has its own laws regarding CBD and pets. While there are some legal pet health products that contain hemp, there are currently no approved CBD prescriptions for animals. It is also illegal to sell CBD pet food, though there are admittedly a lot of gray areas here. Still, both Health Canada and the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association do not currently endorse the administration of CBD to pets.
In both countries, veterinarians cannot legally recommend or dispense CBD. They are only able to advise pet owners about its use and any specific risks there may be for CBD products.
How to practice safety with CBD pet treats
Ultimately, the decision to give your pet CBD is up to you and your pet’s veterinarian. While veterinarians cannot prescribe CBD, it’s a good idea to carefully review any CBD products of interest with your pet’s veterinarian to ensure the safety of the ingredients.
Remember that opinions on CBD vary greatly, even among those in the veterinary medicine community. So, you may want to seek a second opinion as a precaution. And just as a reminder, always check what local restrictions may be in place before you do administer any CBD oils, pet tinctures, or CBD treats. As a further precaution, you’ll want to note where the nearest emergency animal hospitals are.
If you do decide to give your pet CBD (only with prior veterinary approval, of course), always start with the minimum recommended dosage and pay close attention to your pet’s reaction over the next several hours. Never give animals any form of CBD that is intended for human consumption, and keep all products known to contain THC far away from your pet.
The bottom line
Many pet owners give their pets CBD because they believe it will help reduce anxiety in dogs and cats. While it’s possible that pet CBD can help by reducing stress hormones, current research has not yet proven that it will actually help your pet feel calm or reduce their anxious behavior. It’s also important to remember that it can be difficult, if not impossible, to know the true percentage of either THC or CBD in any oral supplement, oil, or other CBD pet product.
The good news is that today’s pet owners have a lot of options for pet anxiety treatments. There are numerous FDA-approved prescription medications for anxiety in pets, and there are also other natural remedies for pet anxiety you can try. Call your veterinarian or make an appointment to discuss what may be the best choice for your furry friend.
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Welcome to the Trupanion blog. A place to celebrate pets, pet health and medical insurance for cats and dogs.
This blog is designed to be a community where pet owners can learn and share. The views expressed in each post are the opinion of the author and not necessarily endorsed by Trupanion. Always consult your veterinarian for professional advice.