Is CBD Oil Good for Dogs With Cancer?

When your dog is facing a diagnosis of cancer, you may look for alternative or add-on treatments to improve your dog’s quality (and maybe length) of life. Anecdotally, you’ll hear that cannabidiol (CBD) oil is a great treatment for dogs with cancer. Scientifically, this is still an active area of investigation within veterinary medicine. Read on to learn more about CBD oil for dog cancers.

What is CBD oil?

CBD is one of many ingredients found in the Cannabis sativa plant. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is another ingredient in the Cannabis plant, it doesn't cause a high. CBD comes from hemp, which is a version of Cannabis that contains 0.3% THC or less. In contrast, marijuana is Cannabis sativa variant with a higher THC content, creating its psychoactive abilities.

CBD oil comes in three main varieties. Full spectrum CBD oil has a variety of cannabinoids and may include up to 0.3% THC. Broad spectrum CBD has had the THC removed. Neither full spectrum nor broad spectrum oil has enough THC to cause a high. CBD isolates have had all cannabinoids besides cannabidiol removed.

Can CBD oil help dogs with cancer?

In the realm of human medicine, CBD oil has been studied as both a sole treatment for cancer and in combination with other standard-of-care cancer therapies like chemotherapy and radiation. In these studies, CBD oil induced the death of cancer cells, reduced the movement of cancer cells (impacting spread or metastasis), and sensitized some cancers to chemotherapeutics. These studies have recently expanded into veterinary medicine, though few published studies have been performed in living canine patients. Most dog cancer studies looking at the impacts of CBD oil have been conducted in vitro, meaning they're done in laboratories with lab-grown cells.

Laboratory studies with dog cancer cells have shown that CBD oil can encourage the death of cancer cells in several cancer types, with CBD oil enhancing how effective chemotherapy drugs are. Dog cancers that have been studied include bladder cancer (transitional cell carcinoma), bone cancer (osteosarcoma), breast cancer (mammary carcinoma), and lymphoma. There are anecdotal reports of CBD oil putting some canine cancers into remission, meaning the signs of cancer are gone, but these reports aren't currently backed up by published scientific data.

Even if future studies indicate that CBD oil is found not to have direct anti-cancer products, it may still have other benefits for canine cancer patients. For pet owners who want to improve their pet's quality of life, CBD oil may be a good option. CBD oil is likely to decrease stress or anxiety-related behaviors, which are common in dogs with cancer pain or who endure frequent veterinary visits due to their cancer.

CBD oil may also help to reduce pain, including osteoarthritis and cancer pain. Studies don't currently show that CBD oil can reduce nausea and other side effects of chemotherapy, but humans taking CBD oil sometimes report these benefits. It's possible your dog may also experience a reduction in side effects from cancer treatments while taking CBD oil. However, more studies are needed to know how effective CBD oil will be for anxiety, pain, and management of treatment side effects in dogs with cancer.

Do vets recommend CBD for dogs with cancer?

Although veterinarians don't typically recommend CBD for dogs with cancer as a first-line or solo approach, they often say that it might help and probably won't hurt. Your pup is most likely to have an extended length of life if they receive standard-of-care treatments like chemotherapy, surgery, or radiation therapy. If your veterinarian approves of your CBD use, it will usually be in addition to standard treatments. If you can't afford standard treatments, CBD oil is something you can usually try with your veterinarian's advice, but you should understand that it's not recommended by veterinary oncologists as the sole treatment for cancer at this time.

Because marijuana is still considered a Schedule One controlled substance in the US and comes from the same Cannabis plant as CBD, veterinarians may be hesitant to discuss CBD oils out of concern for legal ramifications. The FDA doesn't regulate CBD products, so veterinarians cannot guarantee the quality of CBD products. As more scientific data regarding CBD oil benefits gets published, veterinarians may be more apt to recommend the product for pets.

We recommend asking your veterinarian for advice before starting CBD oil for your pet. Your veterinarian will consider how CBD might interact with your pet's other medications, if it could be beneficial or harmful for other health conditions your pet has, and what side effects your pet may experience. If they aren't comfortable discussing CBD oil with you, consider asking for a referral to a colleague who works with CBD, such as a holistic veterinary service.

Guidelines for choosing a CBD product for dog cancer

If you plan to give CBD oil to your pup with cancer, there are several considerations to keep in mind. Remember that CBD is currently not regulated or approved by the FDA. As such, products can be contaminated with heavy metals and may not have a total cannabinoid concentration that matches what's claimed on the label. No standard therapeutic dose is established either.

You may also want to know more about the best CBD dog treats for cancer. For these, we recommend looking for CBD treats with the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) seal of approval.

Side effects of CBD for dogs

CBD is overall very well-tolerated by dogs. However, there are side effects to be aware of, including:

  • Gastrointestinal effects, such as excessive salivation, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Increases in liver enzymes (not associated with adverse effects)

Products that have high THC amounts may cause depression, vomiting, lack of coordination, pupil dilation, leaking of urine, and seizures. If you are noticing these signs, it's possible your dog received a product with too much THC, and you should seek veterinary attention.

An overdose of CBD oil may cause excessive salivating, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and clumsy movement. Seek veterinary attention if you're concerned your pet may have had too much CBD.

Please note that you may briefly see an increase in salivation immediately after giving your pet CBD oil, particularly if they didn't like the taste.

Does pet insurance cover CBD oils for dogs?

Most pet insurance plans will not cover alternative treatments or supplements, including CBD oils for dogs. Some pet insurance companies may include holistic care either as a standard part of their plan or as an add-on. Other companies may be willing to cover CBD oil if it's recommended or prescribed by a veterinarian for a specific health condition. However, this is unlikely to occur at this time because a prescription for CBD oil is generally not possible for most US veterinarians. If the condition was considered pre-existing, your pet insurance is unlikely to offer coverage.

Companies that may offer coverage for CBD oil include Trupanion, Fetch by The Dodo, MetLife, ManyPets, and Embrace. However, CBD oil may only be covered by some of these companies' plans. Some will include it as part of a wellness package. Ensure you know what your plan covers before pursuing alternative or holistic treatments for dog cancer.

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