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CBD Research and Pets: Benefits, Potential Side Effects and What You Should Know

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CBD Research and Pets: Benefits, Potential Side Effects and What You Should Know

Cannabis is being utilized for a variety of different disease processes in human medicine. Multiple publications support the medicinal use of cannabis and report positive results in humans.

But the effects of cannabis products on pets is more limited. To-date, there have only been a handful of studies performed on pets in veterinary medicine. However, initial research and anecdotal evidence is encouraging, and some veterinarians and researchers believe pets may experience many of the same benefits from taking CBD-dominant products that humans do. 

When considering cannabis products for pets, it’s important to weigh the benefits against any potential risks. Here’s what the science says and what pet parents should know.  

Studies Showcase Benefits of Hemp-Derived Products for Pets

Research about the effects of CBD and other hemp-derived compounds for pets is still new, and studies and tests are ongoing. Nevertheless, there are a few scientific studies about pets and CBD use that show promise. 

CBD and Arthritis in Dogs

Colorado State University conducted a study on 32 dogs with chronic arthritis. The addition of hemp-derived CBD oil had a positive effect on 30 of the 32 dogs in the study. The results indicated that the dogs that were receiving the CBD product had decreased pain and increased mobility. Feedback from 94 percent of the pet parents indicated that they felt their dog’s quality of life improved after starting the CBD oil product. Furthermore, 91 percent of the dogs in the study were on the pain medication, gabapentin, were able to completely eliminate or reduce their dose. (1

Cornell University published research in which 16 dogs with confirmed evidence of osteoarthritis (OA) were studied to better understand the impact of CBD oil on dogs with osteoarthritis. Based on very specific veterinary assessment and pain tests, the dogs that were on hemp-derived CBD oil showed a significant decrease in pain and increase in activity. The owners didn’t report any side effects either. (2

CBD and Epilepsy in Dogs

Another study out of Colorado State University evaluated the effect of hemp-derived CBD oil on 16 epileptic dogs who were diagnosed with idiopathic refractory epilepsy. Dogs who were administered the CBD oil had a significant reduction (median change of 33 percent) in seizure frequency compared to dogs in the placebo group. However, the proportion of dogs considered responsive to treatment was relatively similar between the CBD oil and placebo groups. Despite their conclusion of no statistical difference between both groups, a 33 percent reduction in seizure frequency is still a valid response. Colorado State is currently performing a subsequent study evaluating epileptic dogs using higher doses of CBD and perhaps a different product. (3)

What We Can Learn From Human Studies

Along with the benefits for arthritic and epileptic dogs shown through the above referenced studies and research, CBD-dominant products may also help pets with other health issues such as gastrointestinal diseases, cancer, anxiety, and other conditions. Due to the limited clinical studies performed in animals, veterinarians often use data gained from human research to help guide our recommendations in pets.  

In humans, studies have shown that CBD can alleviate a variety of different types of pain (including pain associated with cancer and multiple sclerosis), seizures and anxiety related to public speaking. Veterinarians believe that many of the benefits attributed to CBD for humans could also translate to dogs and cats. 

CBD for Pets: Potential Side Effects 

Tired dog on bed

Side effects from CBD products are not routinely seen in pets, but, when noted, they are generally mild and can often be resolved with supportive care at home. 

The most commonly reported side effect is diarrhea. It is unknown what the exact cause is, but it may include a sensitivity to the fibers found in the hemp plant or a sensitivity to the carrier oil, resulting in loose stool. 

Other possible side effects of CBD for pets include: 

  •     Vomiting
  •     Lethargy
  •     Mild increase in liver enzymes (so far, this appears to be benign in nature)
  •     Redness of the ears with topical use
  •     Licking and head shaking after oral administration in cats

Lowering the dosage, changing the formulation, or discontinuing the product can help reduce or eliminate these side effects. In the authors experience, CBD isolate products have a higher risk of side effects compared to either a broad-spectrum or full-spectrum CBD product. 

If you do decide to give your cat or dog a hemp-derived CBD product, you should closely monitor your pet. Every pet is unique, and not every pet reacts to CBD in the same way. You know your pet’s natural disposition, temperament, and behavior best, so you should be able to notice any adverse effects quickly. 

Will CBD Products Interfere With My Pet’s Medication?

Based on the handful of published veterinary studies and anecdotal information, there have not been any major drug interactions noted regarding CBD use and other pet medications

In fact, the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, recently published a study confirming there were no major drug interactions for dogs that were administered the CBD oil along with a prescribed antiepileptic treatment. What is even more interesting about these results is the dogs in this study were taking much higher doses of CBD oil then is typically used in clinical practice. 

Based on anecdotal evidence, if pets are taking certain medications (i.e. pain or anti-seizure medications) that cause mild sedation or lethargy on their own, CBD may enhance the sedative effect, if given concurrently.  

If you have any concerns about drug interactions discuss them in detail with your veterinarian. They may be able to guide you in the right direction. Just be aware that they may be limited as to what they can and cannot discuss with you. Learn more about what you can anticipate and prepare for when you talk to your veterinarian about cannabis products for your pet.

Risks of Human Cannabis Products for Pets

Woman taking CBD oil

While cannabis products designed specifically for pets are considered safe for dogs and cats, human products that contain higher levels of THC (usually recreational products) are a different story. 

Ingesting products designed for humans can be dangerous for pets. Pets may show signs of toxicity and illness if they ingest these products. Depending on the quantity consumed or the concentration of THC in the product, your pet could show signs of toxicity. 

Mild signs of toxicity for pets include lethargy, sedation, excessive salivation, urinary incontinence, and slight incoordination.  

Severe signs of toxicity include disorientation, low blood pressure, low heart rate, low body temperature, coma, static ataxia (rocking back and forth and falling over) and even seizures (at extremely high dose). 

The treatment of THC toxicity in pets will vary depending on the severity of the signs and exposure to other toxic ingredients, which may include raisins, xylitol, or chocolate. Most mild to moderate cases can be monitored at home. For severe cases, the pet may require medical care.  

Taking necessary precautions will help prevent accidental exposures from happening.  

Some ways to keep your pet safe from human-grade cannabis products is by: 

  •     Storing products properly after each use 
  •     Keeping edibles, concentrates and any THC-infused baked goods stored away 
  •     Cleaning up any spilled products immediately 
  •     Preventing your pet from being exposed to smoke or vapor
  •     Being mindful when bringing your pet to other people’s homes 

Choosing What’s Right For Your Pet

woman doing research on pet products

There are numerous potential benefits of hemp-derived CBD products for your pets, and veterinarians are continuing to research the many ways that CBD and other cannabinoids can help dogs and cats. 

But since pet-specific studies are limited, it’s important for pet parents to do their research to find a high-quality and safe product and speak with their veterinarian about the pros and potential cons of CBD products for their pet’s specific needs and lifestyle. 

Dr. Trina Hazzah, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology), CVCH