Reviewed and updated for accuracy on March 3, 2020 by Dr. Matthew Everett Miller, DVM
In certain states, medical marijuana is an option for people seeking relief from ailments like seizures, pain, anxiety, and cancer.
Pet parents and veterinarians alike are naturally wondering whether cbd for dogs, in the form of products such as cbd oil for dogs or cbd dog treats, can provide the same benefits.
Here’s everything you need to know about CBD for dogs.
THC vs. CBD for Dogs
CBD is one of over 80 different chemical compounds called “cannabinoids” that have been derived from the cannabis (marijuana) plant. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), perhaps the most famous cannabinoid, CBD is not psychoactive.
Instead, CBD shares important metabolic pathways with a class of drugs called NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen and Rimadyl. These pathways control many processes in the body, from inflammatory responses to blood clotting.
Do not give dogs straight marijuana or any product containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive component of marijuana. There is simply not enough research to justify the use.
CBD-based products, however, may help improve your dog's quality of life when used in conjunction with other therapies.
Why Use CBD for Dogs?
CBD is often mentioned as a useful therapy for a variety of conditions, including pain management, arthritis, anxiety, seizures, and even cancer. Although the use of CBD in treating each of these conditions is under-researched, there are varying levels of scientific evidence for each scenario.
Because CBD shares metabolic pathways with anti-inflammatory drugs, it makes sense that it would help with certain inflammatory conditions (anything that ends with -itis is an inflammatory condition).
Osteoarthritis, often abbreviated as arthritis, is one of the most common inflammatory conditions in dogs.
One in four dogs will be diagnosed with arthritis in their lifetime, and by some estimates, as many as 60% of dogs exhibit some degree of the disease.
Research has shown that CBD can provide substantial pain relief in dogs with arthritis when given twice daily at appropriate doses.
In theory, the anti-inflammatory benefit seen in arthritic dogs could also be seen in dogs with other types of inflammatory pain, especially back pain from intervertebral disc disease (IVDD).
Preliminary studies in people have shown that combo products containing both CBD and THC are more beneficial for pain relief than when either drug is given alone. But no such research has been done on dogs, so THC should not be given to them.
Seizures are probably the most-studied application of CBD in people, but limited research exists for pets. In dogs, seizures can be caused by a vast number of underlying conditions.
With regards to idiopathic epilepsy specifically, there is some research that suggests that CBD could be useful in reducing seizure frequency in these dogs. However, these benefits are only seen with dogs that are given traditional anti-seizure medications at the same time.
Like seizures, the term “cancer” is an umbrella term that refers to an extremely diverse set of specific diseases, each with their own set of beneficial treatments.
In people, CBD has been studied for possible use in cancer patients, both to treat the tumor(s) directly, as well as to treat the secondary symptoms of cancer and chemotherapy. Very limited research has been done on the use of CBD for dogs with cancer.
However, the anti-nausea effects of CBD seen in people who undergo chemotherapy have also been documented in rats and ferrets, suggesting that dogs receiving chemotherapy may benefit from CBD treatment.
Perhaps the biggest misconception is that CBD is useful in managing a dog’s anxiety. In theory, it is possible that CBD, by reducing pain and inflammation, could indirectly reduce anxiety caused by pain or inflammation.
But because CBD is not psychoactive, it is unlikely that CBD has the ability to directly treat canine anxiety in the way that Prozac and other medications do. The use of CBD for anxiety in dogs, as with most conditions, requires substantially more research.
Potential Risks of CBD for Dogs
Overall, CBD itself seems to be incredibly safe in dogs and cats. However, numerous scientific papers have found that when given at the recommended doses, CBD does cause an elevation in an important liver value on bloodwork called alkaline phosphatase (ALP).
We are not yet sure whether the elevation of this liver value has any medical significance. It could signify that CBD causes irritation or damage to the liver. Alternatively, it could be an artificial finding in which the drug interferes with the way the lab measures the liver value.
Anecdotal reports do exist of dogs becoming somewhat sleepy or sedate if they receive extremely large doses of CBD, but those effects appear to resolve on their own with time.
CBD doesn’t appear to have any drug interactions when it’s given to a dog that’s on an anti-inflammatory drug like Rimadyl.
Because there is a theoretical risk of drug interaction, as with any medication, you should consult your veterinarian first before treating your dog with CBD.
THC Dangers for Dogs
Unlike CBD, THC ingestion can cause serious problems for your pet.
“The most significant [issue] is THC toxicity, meaning, essentially, they are high,” says Dr. Gary Richter, owner and medical director of Montclair Veterinary Hospital in Oakland, California. “Depending on how significantly a pet has been overdosed, the effects of that can be quite long-lasting, even days.”
During these episodes, a pet may not be able to stand or eat. If you suspect THC toxicity, take your pet to the veterinarian immediately. Secondary effects of THC, especially respiratory depression, should be monitored closely to avoid complications.
Overall, life-threatening risks for dogs from cannabis are “exceedingly rare,” Dr. Richter says. There is no documented lethal dose for THC in dogs. In fact, a dose of THC 1,000 times greater than the dose needed for a dog to feel “high” is still not lethal.
THC toxicity more often occurs when a pet has eaten a product that also contains chocolate, coffee, or raisins. “Even if the THC toxicity is not excessive, they can sometimes have problems due to these other ingredients,” says Dr. Richter.
How Much CBD Can You Give Dogs?
Though there are some topical treatments, CBD oil is typically administered orally to dogs, and giving the correct dosage is imperative. “As is the case with any medication, success has everything to do with dosing,” Dr. Richter says.
Studies on using CBD for dogs with arthritis or seizures generally use a dose between 2-8 mg/kg, with most papers erring on the lower side of that estimate (roughly 1-2 milligrams per pound of body weight), twice daily.
This dosage has been found to be both safe and somewhat effective for just the conditions studied (arthritis and seizures). Additional research is needed to evaluate the necessary dosages for CBD in treating other conditions.
One complication in attempting to properly dose dogs with CBD is that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has found that many CBD products actually contain little, if any, CBD.
The only FDA-approved cannabinoid product, Epidiolex, could theoretically be prescribed by a veterinarian for epilepsy in dogs, although this would likely be cost-prohibitive. Because it is FDA-approved, though, the CBD content of this product would be accurate, unlike most other CBD products on the market.
Can Veterinarians Prescribe CBD for Dogs?
U.S. veterinarians are forbidden from prescribing/dispensing CBD, and cannot encourage or instruct clients to purchase CBD products.
However, they are free to talk to you about the potential risks and benefits of a treatment plan you may have devised on your own. If you are considering giving CBD to your dog, speak to your vet, and you may want to also speak with a veterinarian who has experience with CBD.
By: Dr. Matthew Everett Miller, DVM and Aly Semigran
Featured Image: Victoria43/Shutterstock