Most of these infused treats and treatment oils use the non-psychoactive chemical CBD, which is derived from cannabis or hemp, but won’t get your dog high. Instead, CBD is used to mitigate a pup’s anxiety, seizures, or chronic pain.
Dispensaries and delivery services are carrying doggie bags of CBD products for dogs, ranging from infused dog biscuits and peanut butter to shampoos, salves, tinctures and balms. But do these really work, and are they safe? We asked a veterinarian whether these infused dog items are all bark, or if the really have some bite.
“We have found cannabis and CBD to be especially useful for chronic pain conditions, such as arthritis,” says Dr. Tim Shu, founder and CEO of VETCBD. “It also has anti-anxiety properties and can be used for pets experiencing separation or noise anxiety. Inflammatory disorders such as allergies can also benefit due to the anti-inflammatory properties of cannabinoids.
“Nausea suppression is another major use, and is very useful for patients suffering from kidney disease, [gastrointestinal] conditions, or cancer. We have seen many benefits in epileptic patients who are using it for seizure control. These patients experience a decrease in seizure frequency and intensity.”
Dr. Shu also notes cases where CBD appears to slow the progression of cancer or even decrease cancerous tumor size. But regrettably, there is very little clinical research to back up any of these claims.
Researchers at Colorado State University are currently working on a study analyzing the effectiveness of CBD for dogs with epilepsy. That study is being funded by the well-respected American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, and is based on preliminary data that showed 89% of dogs had reduced seizure rates with CBD. A 2018 Cornell University study found that 80% of dogs suffering from arthritis appeared to experience less pain when treated with CBD.
But critics are skeptical at the dearth of clinical data, and veterinarians are still forbidden from prescribing CBD to dogs. A new California law does at least allow vets to discuss cannabis for pets, but its not legal for veterinarians anywhere to prescribe it because cannabis is still considered a Schedule 1 drug.
Even a vice chairperson at the American Veterinary Medical Association tells Consumer Reports that he medicates his Saint Bernard when fireworks are going off, to ease the her anxiety.
Dr. Shu tells us that “Noise anxiety is one of the major uses of our product. CBD, and even THC in small amounts, decreases anxiety and can help make loud noises much more tolerable.
“We have many clients use our products specifically for noise anxiety around July 4th and New Year’s Eve.”
It should give dog owners pause, though, that the CBD market is wildly unregulated, sometimes with little quality control and no burden of proof for potency. Some states with very loose regulations have seen medical problems caused by shoddy gas station CBD products, and even in tightly regulated states like California, the same testing laws do not apply to CBD products for dogs.
“Hemp CBD products are not subject to any regulatory testing the way regulated cannabis products are,” Shu admits. While he adds that VETCBD’s Dr. Shu's Pet Care line tests each batch according to the same standards California requires of cannabis products used by people, that is not the industry standard.
Dog owners should also be concerned about potency, and whether a dog might could be overdosed, or take too much. VETCBD does have a dedicated team of veterinary nurse that takes phone or email questions, and an education and advocacy organization called Veterinary Cannabis also schedules phone consultations.
Those resources will guide dog owners through CBD hemp treatments, but CBDVET is developing some new tricks for old dogs.
“It’s not just about CBD,” Dr. Shu says. “Certainly CBD is one of the major players, but we have to keep in mind the field of cannabinoid therapeutics encompasses many other components. This field of medicine is in its infancy.”
VETCBD tinctures do use a trace of THC in their CBD-dominant formulations, and they say this enhances the oils’ therapeutic effects.
“We utilize THC for its medicinal benefits, but formulate our products and dose it so that it's safe for pets,” he tells us. “We really should focus the conversation about how cannabis and cannabinoids can benefit pets, and not just focus on CBD.”
These dog days are the early days of medicating pets with cannabinoid-infused products, and the knowledge base is only beginning to grow. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence indicating that CBD is an incredibly effective and affordable treatment for dogs suffering from arthritis, anxiety, or tumors. But dog owners will need to seek out experts and veterinarians on the ongoing research and latest findings, to stay up to date on the best practices.