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Is CBD for Pets Safe or Harmful?

Updated: Sep 20, 2021

Whether your dog is nervous on vehicle journeys or your cat can't handle fireworks, CBD for pets appears to be a promising therapy option. Is it, however, secure? Here's what you should know, according to a veterinarian.

Every proud pet parent, like a protective mother or dad of a newborn kid, would go to any length to ensure their fur babies' physical and mental well-being. CBD products for pets are already available, thanks to their growing popularity among people and promise to aid with pain and anxiety. After all, anyone who has used a weighted blanket knows that getting a dog to wear a Thundershirt isn't always possible, so CBD treats might be the next best thing.

However, just because a popular new health product may be good to people with two legs (the jury is still out on some of these claims), it doesn't mean it will be beneficial — or even safe — to your cat or dog.

A veterinarian technician specialist explains the benefits of CBD for dogs, the ideal dosage for your dog or cat, and the main elements to look for in any CBD pet product in this article.

CBD's Current Situation in the Veterinary World. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, CBD is a type of compound found mostly in Cannabis sativa plants, such as marijuana plants (which contain up to 10% of the mind-altering substance THC) and industrial hemp (which contains less than 0.3 percent of THC). According to the National Library of Medicine, CBD has showed promise in humans for pain relief, avoiding or reducing the severity of epileptic seizures, relaxing muscles, and reducing anxiety.

Despite these advantages, the Food and Medicine Administration has only approved one CBD-containing drug, Epidiolex, which is used to treat seizures caused by two severe kinds of epilepsy.

That means, much like doctors, veterinarians can only prescribe Epidiolex to their animal patients, according to Stephen Cital, R.V.T., a veterinarian technician expert who studies the effects of cannabis on animals. He notes that "all this CBD stuff on the market is considered an animal supplement, and you don't need a prescription for it," so you'll have to do your own study on the components and be skeptical of any medical claims.

Within the CBD market, there are three types of products: isolate formulas that only contain CBD; full-spectrum products that also contain a trace amount of THC, other cannabinoids, terpenes (the compounds that give the plant its skunky smell), and flavonoids (anti-inflammatory compounds); and broad-spectrum products that contain all three types of compounds.

Cital continues, “When all of these components, including THC, are combined, they generate something called the entourage effect.” "They assist each other in achieving higher results. If you have a full-spectrum product, you can often use considerably smaller dosages, if not none at all." According to Frontiers in Plant Science, this collaboration between chemicals in full-spectrum and broad-spectrum CBD products has been found to benefit both people and animals.

Veterinarians, on the other hand, have conflicting opinions about the CBD mania. Cital explains, “A lot of veterinarians are hesitant to discuss or even offer some of these medicines because the American Veterinary Medical Association has put out some terminology that is vague, and I would say misleading, in terms of how to use or talk to clients about CBD.” As a result, there is no one-size-fits-all approach among vets to dealing with it.

So, how effective is CBD for pets?

Just because CBD products aren't backed by all veterinarians and aren't regulated by the FDA doesn't imply they're wholly ineffective - or dangerous. Cital claims that CBD is beneficial at reducing pain scores in dogs with osteoarthritis, based on a few published research. One of them, a tiny Cornell University research on 16 dogs with osteoarthritis, found that a daily dose of CBD oil reduced pain and increased activity. Another study found that providing CBD oil to puppies with epilepsy reduced the frequency of their seizures. The majority of studies have used CBD-only formulae using a single component, rather than full-spectrum or broad-spectrum choices.

There haven't been any randomized, controlled clinical research that looked at these indicators in dogs and cats, but anecdotal stories suggest that CBD can help. According to a 2018 study published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science, roughly 22 percent of 833 veterinarians surveyed thought CBD products were “very helpful” in managing anxiety in dogs, while another 65 percent claimed they were “somewhat helpful” in managing the illness. Furthermore, 61 percent of 379 vets felt CBD products were “somewhat effective” in treating storm or fireworks fears, according to the same survey.

Are There Any Side Effects of CBD for Pets?

While, according to Cital, "there haven't been any big bad side effects to my knowledge unless you're using extremely large quantities (i.e. 20 or 30 to 100 milligrams per kilogram twice a day) for a lengthy period of time," there are contraindications to consider before giving your pet CBD.

Though not life-threatening, CBD products may cause your pet to experience some unpleasant side effects, such as loose stool or gastrointestinal irritation, according to Cital. And, similar to how you might feel drowsy after popping a melatonin gummy, your pet can feel lethargic after taking CBD, but Cital says this is usually a temporary negative effect that goes away after the first few sessions.

For pets with heart illness, however, you'll want to stick to isolate CBD products rather than full-spectrum CBD products that include THC, because the mind-altering compound can raise heart rate, according to Cital.

Furthermore, CBD products alter the way the liver metabolizes other pharmaceuticals, which might have negative side effects if your pet is already on anti-seizure or pain meds – something to keep in mind if you're using CBD to treat your pet's epilepsy or arthritis. Cital claims that it may, at the absolute least, make individuals feel drowsy. According to the Cleveland Clinic, CBD has been shown to elevate liver enzyme levels in mice, warning that it may inflame or harm liver cells. If your pet has liver failure, you should definitely avoid any CBD pet products, he says.

All of these potential adverse effects and medicine interactions highlight the importance of consulting or at least notifying your veterinarian before beginning any supplement regimen, CBD or otherwise, to ensure you're not doing more harm than good to your pet.

What to Look for in a CBD Pet Supplement

Reminder: Because CBD pet products aren't regulated by the FDA, you'll have to do some research on your own to figure out what's in them. According to Cital, the first step is to look for the company's Certificate of Analysis online, which will show the exact amount of CBD, THC, heavy metal. You should also avoid CBD pet products that make any medical claims on their labels, websites, commercials, or other materials, such as claims that it will cure epilepsy or cancer, because no such claim has been scientifically validated.

Apart from CBD's safety for pets, Cital recommends giving your pet a treat product or mixing a tincture with food (rather than topically), because studies has shown that this method has the best absorption and hence efficacy.

How to Give CBD to Your Pet

If you've found a CBD product that meets your criteria and want to give it a try, Cital suggests starting with a low dose and gradually increasing it to determine what works best for your pet. In general, the amount for osteoarthritis treatment is 0.5 to 2 milligrams per kilogram of your pet's weight, but it might vary depending on your pet's demands, health, and species (cats would likely require a little greater dose than dogs due to their faster metabolism), he notes.

Cital recommends giving your pet a CBD dose twice a day for diseases like seizures, osteoarthritis, and chronic anxiety. Give it to your pet a few hours before the event and again shortly after for acute anxiety caused by car journeys or pyrotechnics — just make sure to try it out a few times beforehand to get the proper dose, he says.

And, no matter what disease you're attempting to treat or how your veterinarian thinks about CBD, it's critical to inform them if you're giving your pet CBD, especially if you're using it for an extended period of time, Cital advises. He notes that whether your pet is taking a supplement or prescription (such a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug), it's a good idea to keep an eye on them and have blood work done, and CBD products are no exception. Bottom line: Proceed with caution when it comes to your personal health and well-being. After all, pets are members of the family.

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