As evidence mounts that CBD oil may be an effective treatment for a variety of health conditions in humans, animal lovers are considering claims that it could be helpful for their pets, in particular dogs.
Research into CBD as a treatment for canine health issues is currently limited – in part because of the varying legal status of cannabis-based products in certain countries – but there are studies that have provided encouraging results in some areas. Meanwhile, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that CBD oil can help dogs, and many veterinary professionals are beginning to get on board with the idea too.
CBD, short for cannabidiol, is an extract of the cannabis or hemp plant. Unlike THC, the most common cannabis compound, CBD is not psychoactive so it doesn’t produce the high associated with smoking marijuana.
CBD is sold in a variety of forms including capsules, ‘gummy’ sweets and topical creams, but one of the most popular products is bottled CBD oil, in which the active ingredient is part of a solution with hemp, olive or coconut oil and can be dispensed directly into the mouth, or added to food or drink, using an in-built dropper.
In the US, there are also a number of CBD products aimed specifically at pet owners. In the UK, CBD products cannot be marketed for animals but vets can legally prescribe human CBD products for dogs and other pets.
What evidence is there that CBD can help dogs?
Scientific research into the effects of CBD on canine ailments is currently limited to a handful of studies but they do provide some encouraging initial results in the areas of arthritis symptoms and epileptic seizures. Meanwhile, anecdotal evidence from professional vets helps to back up some of those findings and suggest other conditions for which CBD could be beneficial.
CBD oil and arthritis in dogs
A 2018 study of 16 dogs with osteoarthritis gave regular doses of CBD oil to half the animals over a four-week period. Those given the CBD oil showed a significant decrease in pain measurements and an increase in activity levels compared with those in the placebo group. The study concluded that a twice-daily dose of CBD oil “can help increase comfort and activity in dogs with osteoarthritis”.
Although this appears to have been a rigorous scientific study, it’s worth being aware that it was funded by a company that produces CBD products for dogs and cats.
CBD oil and epilepsy in dogs
Another 2018 clinical placebo trial gave dogs suffering from epilepsy two daily doses of CBD oil alongside their existing conventional medicine, over a 12-week period. It found that 89% of the animals that received the CBD experienced a significant reduction in seizures compared with those that did not, with no adverse effects reported by owners.
Study lead Dr Stephanie McGrath noted the need for additional research to determine whether a higher dosage of CBD would be even more effective but said the overall results appeared “very promising”.
CBD and pain in dogs
Apart from the above arthritis study, few clinical trials have been conducted into CBD’s effectiveness for treating pain in dogs. Nevertheless, a largescale survey of US vets found that chronic pain was the complaint that either they or their dog-owner clients believed CBD was most useful in treating, with 34% describing it as “very helpful” and 56% as “somewhat helpful”. Acute pain was seen as the second most successfully treated condition, with 23% calling CBD very helpful and 60% somewhat helpful in mediating symptoms.
CBD and anxiety in dogs
If you’ve looked into CBD as a remedy for dogs, you may have heard a great deal of anecdotal evidence about its use in helping with anxiety. And indeed, the survey of vets revealed this was the symptom their clients most often used CBD to treat, with over 75% saying it had been helpful for reducing anxiety and seizures.
Do vets recommend CBD oil for dogs?
Professional veterinarians can find themselves in a difficult position when it comes to recommending CBD products to their customers.
In the UK, CBD has not been approved by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate and it’s not legal to sell products marketed specifically for animals. However, vets are allowed to prescribe human CBD products for pets, even though these are not approved as medicines.
In the United States, where the legal status of cannabis-related products varies from state to state, some vets could find themselves penalised simply for initiating a conversation about CBD with a client and can only discuss it if the pet owner raises it first.
But there is plenty of useful information about what vets and their customers really think about CBD for treating dogs in a recent wide-ranging anonymous questionnaire completed by 2,130 veterinary professionals in the US.
Vets were asked for their opinions on the benefits of CBD products on a variety of canine conditions, based on their own observations or via reports from dog owners.
They said CBD was most effective in treating chronic pain – with 34% calling it “very helpful” and 56% saying it was “somewhat helpful” – followed by acute pain, for which CBD was said to be “very helpful” by 23% and “somewhat helpful” by 60%. CBD was also said to have been of use to a lesser degree – but in 75% of cases – in reducing anxiety and seizure frequency in dogs.
According to vets, fewer than 5% of owners reported significant side-effects of CBD in their pets, with most observing none at all. The most reported significant side-effect was lethargy, seen in just 3.9% of pets.
Is CBD oil safe for dogs? What are the side-effects?
As noted, there have been insufficient clinical studies into the effects of CBD oil on dogs to provide any hard and fast conclusions about its long-term safety. However, the research that does exist is encouraging.
In a study into safety and efficacy of CBD oil in dogs with arthritis, no side-effects were reported by owners. Meanwhile, a large survey of veterinarians found that fewer than 5% of owners noted adverse effects in their dogs, with most observing none at all. The most frequently mentioned side-effect was lethargy, reported by 3.9% of owners, and this is backed up by anecdotal evidence which suggests that tiredness and drowsiness are the most common side-effects of CBD oil in dogs.
UK animal charity The Blue Cross says “there has been no evidence that CBD is toxic to dogs” but warns that precise knowledge of appropriate dosage (see How much CBD oil should you give a dog?) and how CBD interacts with other medicines is currently lacking.
Because most CBD products – especially in the UK – are made for humans rather than animals, it’s also important to consider whether they might have any added ingredients that may be toxic to dogs (see What is the best CBD oil for dogs?).
In the UK, veterinarians can prescribe human CBD products for dogs so it’s best to talk to your vet for advice.
What is the best CBD oil for dogs?
A survey of US vets, as quoted above, found that CBD oil/extract and edible CBD products were the most commonly used by dog owners to treat their pets, and the most successful for relieving pain, anxiety and decreasing the frequency and severity of seizures.
A 2018 study on dogs with epilepsy found that CBD oil given orally was better absorbed than CBD in a gel capsule or in a cream applied to the skin.
Since most CBD products are made for humans, it’s important to consider what added ingredients they might contain that could be harmful to dogs. One vet warns about the possible presence of artificial sweeteners such as xylitol, which is poisonous to animals.
That means gummy sweets and capsules made for humans may be best avoided and that you should check bottled CBD oils for unnecessary additives too.
Given that the sources of hemp in some CBD products can be hard to trace and that they can sometimes be processed in a way that leaves behind unwanted residues, it’s best to choose a trustworthy brand of CBD oil that can demonstrate strong provenance of its hemp and uses no unnecessary ingredients.
Jersey Hemp is the first company in the British Isles to be licensed to grow hemp for CBD production. It uses organic farming methods, and the most rigorous extraction techniques, overseen by its scientists and agricultural experts. Each batch of CBD is tested by an independent laboratory and can be traced from field to bottle. The final extract is bottled in a solution with only the addition of cold-pressed hemp oil.
Whichever CBD product you are considering using for your dog, it’s best if possible to talk to your vet first.
How much CBD oil should you give a dog?
The previously referenced study into dogs with arthritis found that a dosage of 2mg of CBD per kg of the dog’s weight every 12 hours over a period of four weeks led to significant results without side-effects. No adverse effects were observed with one-off higher doses of 8mg per kg either.
Another study on dogs with epilepsy found similar results, recording no negative behavioural effects from the use of 2.5 mg per kg of the dog’s weight twice daily for 12 weeks. The researcher leading the study said further investigation could help to determine whether a higher dosage would have been even more effective.
If you do decide to give your dog CBD oil, the best method of determining dosage is to start with small amounts taken for a few days at a time and work your way up until you achieve the optimum benefit to your pet without any prohibitive side-effects.
How quickly does CBD oil work for dogs?
As with humans, the speed with which a dog absorbs CBD into its bloodstream will depend on a number of factors including age, weight and individual body chemistry. Arguably most important, is the method of delivery, with CBD oil given directly proving to be faster and more effective than either capsules or creams rubbed into the skin.
A study of dogs taking CBD oil orally found that CBD levels reached their highest concentration in the animals’ bloodstream after one-and-a-half hours for a dosage of 2mg per kg of bodyweight and after two hours for a dosage of 8 mg per kg.