CBD in Dogs: What You Need to Know

Cannabidiol (CBD), the therapeutic component of marijuana, is popular as oils, tinctures, and treats. Dog products — legal and otherwise — abound. Refractory epilepsy, pain treatment, and anxiety modulation may benefit from CBD therapy based on early research. However, veterinarians cannot prescribe CBD/marijuana or even discuss it in most states. Let’s look at some key information for individuals exploring CBD products for their dogs.

Key takeaways:

What is CBD?

The genus Cannabis refers to a group of plants in the hemp family (Cannabaceae). There are 100s of different chemicals within these plants, and 80-100 are classified as cannabinoids.

CBD vs. THC

Of all cannabinoids, we are most familiar with CBD and THC compounds. Cannabidiol (CBD) is a cannabis compound that may provide benefits without the “high” or toxicity seen with THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol). Cannabis products are categorized as marijuana if their dry weight THC concentrations exceed 0.3%, a Schedule I controlled substance, whereas concentrations of 0.3% or less are classified as hemp.

Many states allow medical and recreational marijuana use. However, although the THC in marijuana is what makes humans feel good, it is toxic to dogs. Acute exposure to drug-baked foods or smoke may make man’s best friend unwell. Furthermore, long-term exposure can cause chronic toxicity. However, the amount of CBD in medicinal marijuana exceeds the THC levels, providing medical advantages without the high.

CBD uses

Since human medical research has some studies showing the benefits of CBD, researchers and veterinarians have wondered if CBD is all it is cracked up to be. Does it have potential benefits in veterinary medicine? The short answer is maybe.

Cannabidiol may be used to treat refractory epilepsy (seizures that don’t respond to standard medical treatments), atopic dermatitis (skin allergies), arthritis pain, nausea in cancer patients, and behavior (anxiety/stress) concerns. However, research is still in its infancy, and studies are few. Many favorable outcomes are based solely on case studies and anecdotes from CBD product owners. These instances demonstrate CBD helps some dogs’ quality of life, pain management, or anxiety, but more research is needed.

15 facts about CBD use in dogs

When considering starting CBD for dogs, there are several things to remember. These involve legal issues, lack of product regulation, safety, and efficacy.

  1. Can veterinarians legally prescribe CBD? No. Veterinarians cannot legally prescribe CBD (or medical marijuana) except for extra-label drug use as per the Animal Medicinal Drug Use Clarification Act (AMDUCA) for a single cannabis-derived FDA-approved product for use in humans with specific seizure disorders — Epidiolex®. Therefore, AMDUCA permits vets to use only medications already FDA-approved in humans off-label, not products that have not been approved. Think about that — there is only one cannabidiol FDA-approved product for human use.
  2. Can veterinarians legally discuss CBD with clients? In some states, veterinarians cannot legally discuss CBD in the broadest terms with their clients, or they risk losing their licenses. There are no animal FDA-approved cannabis drugs. Therefore, any product claiming to treat or mitigate something is considered unsafe by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C).
  3. CBD oils are not regulated. Nor monitored for quality, purity, safety, or otherwise.
  4. CBD products do not have to be proven safe and effective. They cannot claim to treat an underlying disease, condition, or problem. For example, if a product claims to treat arthritis or other condition, question its safety, purity, and validity and the company that made it. These claims are illegal and unverified.
  5. CBD isn't without risk. Cannabidiol may interfere with a pet's other medications, leading to negative drug interactions. This is because CBD is metabolized via the same pathway as many medications commonly prescribed to pets. It is metabolized by the liver using the cytochrome p450 enzyme, a common pathway for many drugs. Therefore, CBD may interact with or inactivate medications, making them more effective/potent or toxic.
  6. CBD can cause bloodwork abnormalities and may negatively affect a dog’s liver.
  7. Not all CBD oils/products are created equal. Before selecting a product, confirm it underwent third-party testing for purity and scientific research.
  8. Knowing what is safe. Or even effective, and even how a product is produced is difficult.
  9. Vets do not typically recommend specific CBD. Over-the-counter products because they cannot legally prescribe them. Do not ask a vet for these products. High-quality, evidence-based veterinarians should not recommend products without sufficient research.
  10. Tell a veterinarian if administering CBD. Telling your vet about CBD use in your pet is necessary. Your vet will not judge you. However, they may use it as a time to educate on the pros and cons if permitted by law. Furthermore, when prescribing medications or interpreting bloodwork results, they need to know all medicines, supplements, and products given to a pet.
  11. CBD product labeling is a concern. Lab analyses of various products marketed for dogs for CBD use often prove that labeling is inaccurate in the amount and identity of the active ingredient. Ideally, it's best to await FDA-approved products. Therefore, beware of CBD products that falsely claim medicinal benefits.
  12. CBD and Marijuana (THC) are drugs. The FDA classifies CBD and THC as drugs, not supplements.
  13. CBD products with therapeutic claims are illegal to sell.
  14. The FDA hasn’t approved the use of cannabis in animals. Thus, there's no assurance that products that are labeled for use in animals are safe or effective.
  15. There is no regulation/quality control for CBD products. Labeling concerns aren’t the only issue. Is the ingredient truly in the product? What contaminants, e.g., infectious things (bacteria, molds), chemicals (ethanol, petroleum), and pesticides, could be present? Thus, what may appear to be a safe product may be toxic.

CBD as a diet supplement

What about CBD diet supplements and treats? There are no laws that permit dietary supplements for animals. The only way these products can be developed and approved is via the FD&C Act. Furthermore, in humans, CBD and THC-containing products are excluded from the portion of the FD&C act that covers the definition of a dietary supplement. Be cautious using a CBD product labeled as a treat or feed additive, as there has been no oversight.

Identifying CBD or THC toxicity

Typically, marijuana toxicity in dogs (or other species) occurs from ingesting an edible or inhaling the smoke if someone is smoking near them. A dog dribbling urine while walking, walking clumsily, acting very sleepy or depressed but hyperreactive to movement or sounds would be suspected of marijuana intoxication.

Therefore, pet owners who use marijuana or CBD products and who suspect that their pets may have ingested some as well should inform their vets so that their pets receive the proper treatment.

ASPCA’s Poison Control can help

Dog owners can contact the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control, a paid service, at 1-888-426-4435 if they suspect their dog was poisoned or has ingested toxic levels of CBD or marijuana. Owners should have the product information (product label) available when calling. This is very important because, often, marijuana isn’t the biggest concern. For instance, the dark chocolate or other food ingredient the pet ingests may be more toxic, and reason to seek veterinary care.

Poison control can be crucial if a dog ODs on CBD oil or treats. According to the ASPCA, even dogs ingesting the “recommended” dose may experience side effects like a drop in blood pressure, increased sedation, decreased ability to metabolize certain medications, vomiting, diarrhea, or decreased appetite.

CBD: yes or no?

Veterinarians advise that there are numerous safety concerns with the plethora of available CBD products. Furthermore, because there is insufficient evidence to suggest benefits, harm is associated with these products, especially if a pet already takes necessary medications or has underlying liver disease. Not all products are created equal, so informing a vet of any administered CBD products is vital.

If you suspect an overdose or abnormal reaction, report it to your vet, contact the ASPCA Poison Control Center with concerns, and report the dog's reaction to the FDA for CBD products. Hopefully, soon the FDA will develop a pathway for CBD products to be properly evaluated and approved for use in people and animals. Currently, research is being conducted on possible benefits and risks. When more information is available, and it is legal for veterinarians to do so, the profession will advise accordingly. In the meantime, if you elect to give your dog CBD, research the product carefully and consult a veterinarian with questions and concerns.

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