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The Surprising Benefits and Risks of CBD Oil for Dogs

The Surprising Benefits and Risks of CBD Oil for Dogs

. 7 min read

You may have heard of pet parents using CBD oil for dogs to alleviate all sorts of ailments and in some cases calm their hyper or defiant dog. Sometimes referred to as “weed treats” for dogs, pot for pups is a growing trend: In the last three years, several companies including Canna-Pet, Canna Companion, Austin + Kat, Therabis, and Treatibles have started selling cannabis-infused treats for dogs. According to cannabis industry analytics firm MJ Freeway, sales of cannabis pet products nationwide have doubled from 2014 to 2016 alone.

“It’s a clear trend—pet owners are seeking CBD products and looking for alternatives to traditional medications because they’re worried about side effects with pharmaceuticals,” says Ernie Ward, DVM, CVFT, author of Chow Hound and founder of DogGone Healthy, a nutritional and behavioral care practice in Calabash, NC. For example, he says, people are turning to CBD to help their dogs deal with chronic pain to avoid side effects of traditional anti-inflammatories, like kidney and liver damage and failure.

What is CBD Oil for Dogs?

CBD, the abbreviation used for cannabidiol, doesn’t actually get your pup high. First, you have to understand the difference between marijuana and hemp: “What we call marijuana has high levels of THC, the compound that produces a euphoric feeling, and low levels of fiber and seed oil," explains Dr. Robert Silver, DVM, president of the Veterinary Botanical Medicine Association. "What’s known as hemp has low levels of THC and high levels of fiber, seed oil, and a compound called cannabidiol, CBD.”

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Benefits of CBD for Dogs

CBD oil for dogs and cannabis doggy treats are made with hemp (which is why they won’t get your pup stoned). In fact, CBD is marketed by cannabis treat companies as the silver bullet for issues such as pain, joint problems, digestive issues, and even mood and anxiety issues.

Currently, there’s little to no medical literature to support these claims, notes Silver. “We only know what pet owners are reporting,” he says. “People find that it helps their pets with issues like pain, limping, and anxiety or behavioral problems. Some even say their dogs seem happier and that it helps older dogs have a better appetite.”

Potential Risks of CBD for Dogs

According to Silver, problems for dogs related to cannabis treats or CBD oil are rare. “We have data showing that out of 3 million administrations of hemp products to pets, there were maybe three adverse reactions,” he says. “In general, it’s pretty safe.”

Where things get dangerous is when pets accidentally ingest THC-containing marijuana, whether by getting into their owners’ stashes or snatching a pot-laced brownie from the kitchen counter. A 2012 study found that the number of dogs treated for marijuana overdoses at two Colorado veterinary hospitals quadrupled in five years after the legalization of medical marijuana in the state. THC is a toxin for dogs and in some cases it can be deadly. If your dog has ingested THC, call your vet and you may need to make your dog throw up.

Do Vets Say CBD is Safe for Dogs?

The American Veterinary Medical Association does not have an official stance on the use of CBD for pets but the association has noted that “with pet owners already using the drug as medicine, veterinarians need to join the debate.” The Food and Drug Administration has not approved cannabis for pets. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has noted in a letter: “marijuana needs to be further studied to assess the safety and effectiveness for medical use in animals.”

Veterinarians are not permitted to write prescriptions for cannabis products, and in states where marijuana is illegal, it’s unlikely they’ll even discuss the idea with you. California is the only state to have passed legislation permitting vets to discuss the use of medical marijuana with pet owners. Elsewhere in the country, this remains illegal (or a gray area at best). In 2016, a proposed state law to legalize medical marijuana for pets with chronic illnesses in Nevada was shot down, while legislation is pending in New York Because of this sticky situation, most people purchase cannabis treats online, though more pet stores are beginning to sell them.

Is CBD Oil for Dogs Legal?

No matter where you buy CBD oil the laws surrounding their legality are murky. According to the DEA, cannabis treats are federally illegal. However, the DEA hasn’t been strictly enforcing the law so far, which is how so many companies have been getting away with selling them Plus, proponents of the products argue that they should be legal since they are derived from hemp, which contains less than 1 percent of THC.

The bottom line? Regardless of where you live, the legal status and safety of cannabis-infused dog treats is uncertain, so talk to your vet (if possible) before feeding them to your pup. Alternatively, you could try a different herbal approach: According to Silver, turmeric has potent pain-relieving and anti-cancer properties for dogs, and it can help with mental issues such as dementia. He also recommends milk thistle, a plant that can help stave off liver disease.

How to give CBD to your dog

If you are curious and want to try a CBD supplement for your pup, we've rounded up 6 things to consider before you try. As with any supplement, have a chat with your pup's vet before you add anything new to your dog's diet or medical treatment plan.

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1. Consider Your Dog’s Condition

CBD oil companies claim their products help with a whole host of medical and emotional issues, like chronic pain, anxiety, and arthritis. But some promises, at least at this point, seem too good to be true. “One of the problems we’re seeing is that the laws around CBD are confusing,” says Ward. “We’re in this limbo with cannabinoid products: It’s not regulated yet, and I do see a lot of products making claims that are dubious and unsubstantiated.” Some brands boast that they help with allergies and skin irritations, for example, and Ward hasn’t seen any evidence to support those benefits. So before you start dosing your dog, talk to your vet about your pup’s ailments and whether CBD might be a beneficial alternative to traditional treatments.

2. Go to the Source

Choosing which CBD oil to give your dog unfortunately isn’t as easy as picking up a national brand over the counter at a drugstore. For one thing, the options available to you can vary depending on where you live; if you live in a state where marijuana is legalized, such as California or Colorado, you’ll likely have better choices, says Ward. Some brands based in states with legalized marijuana won’t ship to people in other states for fear of being prosecuted since, again, the laws around CBD products are unclear. To ensure you’re buying a worthwhile oil, he suggests contacting the company and asking them about their extracting and processing, storing, and shipping practices. “These can all impact the end product,” Ward says. “Reputable companies are going to very forthcoming with that information.”

3. Give It With Food

The best time to give your dog their dose of CBD is at breakfast and/or dinnertime. Here’s why: “Mixing it with fat can help mask the flavor, and the fat also helps with absorption,” explains Ward. You can either drop the oil directly in their mouth and then feed them or put the oil right on their food.

4. Dial in Your Dose

Just as you give your pup the proper dose of prescription medications, you’ll also want to find the just-right dosage of CBD oil for the biggest benefits. It’s not always clear from the start. “I see some 80-pound dogs who are on a 40-pound-dog dosage and vice versa,” says Ward. “There’s incredible variation—you really need to work with your vet.” This is another area where you’ll really want to be paying attention to the quality of the product you’re purchasing: With some lower-quality oils, your dog might be getting mostly coconut oil and not nearly the dose of CBD you think they are.

How often you administer the oil to your pup needs to be determined too—it could be once or twice a day, depending on their condition and how they respond to it, says Ward. And just as certain people don’t respond well to various medications, not all dogs will feel the benefit from CBD oil. Some might experience nausea or lethargy, says Ward, and some might not exhibit any downsides but just not reap any benefits either.

5. Think About Pairing Up

While CBD might be a good choice for reducing or totally alleviating your dog’s medical ailments, it might be even more effective if you match it with another alternative treatment or a traditional medicine. With his furry patients, Ward likes to experiment with combining CBD oil with other alternatives like omega-3 fatty acids and turmeric paste, both of which have been shown to help conditions including kidney disease and arthritis.

6. Be Open to Adjustments

Just because a certain dose is working to alleviate your dog’s pain or anxiety now doesn’t mean it will be enough a year down the road. With chronic medical issues like ongoing pain (which are what he says CBD is best for, as opposed to acute conditions), Ward says you might have to gradually up the dose or add a prescription drug back into the mix. “I’ve found a lot of these dogs with chronic arthritis, for instance, we transition to CBD with omega-3s, and that might be enough for two or three years—but then the disease will overwhelm the CBD and we’ll have to add the prescription back in,” he says. “It’s all about continually thinking about your options and whether you might need to change treatments.”

The Ollie blog is devoted to helping pet parents lead healthier lives with their pups. If you want to learn more about our fresh, human-grade food, check out MyOllie.com.