Proponents say CBD is helpful for pets' anxiety and other conditions. Opponents say the products aren't regulated. What's the latest on CBD oil for dogs? For your dog's health and happiness, get the facts, pros, and cons about CBD for dogs from Dr. Buzby.
CBD for Pets – Top 3 Pros and Cons
Source: Austin Community College Vet Tech Program, “Veterinary Tech Students from Austin Community College Are Involved in Helping with Heartworm, FeLV, FIV, and Socializing and Cleaning up the Animals at Bastrop Animal Control and Shelter,” flickr.com, Nov. 10, 2014, creative commons license
When people talk about giving marijuana to pets, they are really talking about the use of CBD products derived from hemp. The California Veterinary Medical Board explains that CBD is the “abbreviation for cannabidiol, which is one out of 60 naturally occurring compounds present in cannabis. It is the second-most prevalent cannabinoid in both hemp and marijuana and is nonpsychoactive.” CBD extracted from hemp contains less than 0.3% THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the compound in marijuana that causes the high. 
THC is toxic for cats and dogs even in small amounts. The ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center reported a 765% increase in calls regarding animals ingesting marijuana from 2018 to 2019. 
In 2020, pet owners spent about $99 billion on their furry friends, a growth of 12 times over 2019 as more people worked from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. The market for CBD products aimed at companion animals jumped from $32 million in 2018 to $400 million in 2019. During the pandemic, in 2020 sales rose to $426 million and are expected to jump to $629 million in 2021.    
A survey found that 11% of dog owners and 8% of cat owners gave CBD to their pets in 2019, often in the form of pet treats, tinctures administered under the tongue, and salves or creams applied topically. Reasons cited for giving CBD to companion animals included caring for aging pets and treating conditions such as anxiety, pain, and seizures.    
Is CBD Good for Pets?
A majority of veterinarians agree that CBD helps animals.
A Veterinary Information Network survey found that 79% of vets with clinical experience using cannabis products said CBD was somewhat or very helpful for chronic pain in animals; over 62% said it was helpful for managing anxiety. Over 80% of those vets said there were no reports of adverse effects aside from sedation. 
A study published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science found that 82.2% of veterinarians agreed or strongly agreed that there are medicinal uses of CBD products for dogs from a medical standpoint. 
Jeffrey Judkins, DVM, holistic veterinarian at Animalkind Veterinarian Clinic, said that CBD is “100% non-toxic. You can’t overdose on CBD. It might make pets sleepy, but there’s no toxicity.” Judkins reported success in using CBD to alleviate pain and anxiety in animals, stating, “Recently I was able to significantly reduce the amount of a narcotic pain drug a dog was being given (with adverse side effects) by substituting a cannabis product.”  
Studies about CBD use in pets have had positive results.
A clinical trial found that 89% of dogs who were given CBD oil experienced fewer seizures. Researchers at Cornell University who performed a double-blind cross-over trial on dogs with osteoarthritis found “a significant decrease in pain and increase in activity” with CBD oil. There were no observed side effects from the CBD treatment. Studies on laboratory animals have shown benefits for cardiovascular health, the respiratory system, and cancer and pain treatment.   
While experts acknowledge that research in this area is preliminary, they speak positively about the results to date.
Stephanie McGrath, DVM, neurologist at Colorado State University’s James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital, stated, “We saw a correlation between how high the levels of CBD were in these dogs with how great the seizure reduction was. It’s really exciting that perhaps we can start looking at CBD in the future as an alternative to existing anticonvulsive drugs.” 
Pet owners report success in treating their animals with CBD.
Many pet owners swear by the use of CBD to treat ailments such as anxiety, pain, digestive issues, and inflammation. Their positive experiences are reflected in the growing market for CBD pet products. The industry was estimated at $400 million in 2019, and could jump to $1.7 billion by 2023.  
A study of people who gave their dogs CBD found that less than 5% reported any side effects, and the most common side effect was lethargy (a lack of energy). 
Joshua Hartsel, PhD, chemist and CEO of Delta-9 Technologies, stated that since all mammals have an endocannabinoid system, “the same or similar benefits of cannabinoids found in humans can also be applied to most veterinary species.” In fact, people have been giving medical cannabis to pets and farm animals since the 1800s. 
CBD pet products are unregulated.
The lack of regulation means pet owners could be buying CBD with unlisted ingredients that are potentially toxic to their pets, such as THC. Experts say these products are in need of testing for the presence of heavy metals, pesticides, and THC. “It’s really the Wild West out there,” said S. David Moche, MBA, CEO of a veterinary medicine company that sells CBD products.   
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that 70% of the CBD products they analyzed didn’t match the concentration listed on the label, and 21% of their samples contained THC despite it not being on the label. 
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said in a statement, “We want to stress that FDA has not approved cannabis for any use in animals, and the agency cannot ensure the safety or effectiveness of these products.” According to the FDA, animals who ingest cannabis could suffer negative side effects such as “lethargy, depression, heavy drooling, vomiting, agitation, tremors, and convulsions.” 
There isn’t enough scientific evidence to support giving CBD to pets.
Research in this area is so new that no one knows the long-term impacts of CBD use in companion animals, or what an effective and safe dose would be. 
Sue Lowum, DVM, a veterinarian and associate professor at the University of Minnesota, said she wouldn’t recommend CBD for pets because “We just don’t have enough information at this point to draw any legitimate conclusions… there is no assurance the CBD oil they purchase is safe or effective.” Veterinarians’ knowledge about CBD use in pets is purely anecdotal at the moment because of the limited scientific evidence available.  
Further, researchers found that some seller’s websites contain “blatant lies” about CBD.  The American Veterinary Medical Association stated, “While both marijuana and industrial hemp products are available, no studies, doses, or uses in veterinary medicine have been determined… AVMA cautions pet owners against the use of such products.” 
Using CBD instead of traditional medicine may harm animals.
A phenomenon called the “caregiver placebo effect” may cause pet owners to misread their animals’ response to CBD. This might lead to suffering in animals that could have been helped by veterinarian-prescribed medications with scientifically proven effectiveness. 
Alex Avery, BVSc, veterinary surgeon and founder of Our Pets Health, said, “Because we are so invested in our pet, we really want to see them improve and likely believe the treatment will work… There is a real risk we will see improvement even when it is not there.” 
Much of what we know about therapeutic CBD is specific to humans, and its effects on companion animals could be quite different because they don’t metabolize it the same way. CBD could also cause dangerous interactions with pharmaceutical drugs prescribed by a vet.   
Click for an Encyclopaedia Britannica video about the chemistry of marijuana
and how its potency and safety is determined.
1. What is the difference between anecdotal evidence and scientific evidence? Should one be trusted more than the other?
2. Should veterinarians be legally allowed to talk about cannabis with their patients? What reasons might there be to restrict those conversations?
3. Would you give your pets CBD products for medical reasons? Why or why not?
1. Learn about the debate from Mercey Livingston’s CNET article.
2. Explore the difference between CBD and THC for dogs at Pet MD.
3. Consider the debate via a Washington Post article by Maura Judkis.
4. Consider how you felt about the issue before reading this article. After reading the pros and cons on this topic, has your thinking changed? If so, how? List two to three ways. If your thoughts have not changed, list two to three ways your better understanding of the “other side of the issue” now helps you better argue your position.
5. Push for the position and policies you support by writing US national senators and representatives.
CBD Oil for Dogs: Facts, Benefits, Concerns 
What are the benefits of CBD oil for dogs? What are the concerns about CBD and dogs? CBD oil has become an increasingly hot topic in human medicine and veterinary medicine. Integrative veterinarian Dr. Julie Buzby breaks down the pros and cons. Get the latest facts, concerns, and benefits that dog parents need to know.
CBD oil for dogs: a rapidly changing landscape
In 2018, the FDA approved the first naturally derived CBD product, Epidiolex®, for controlling severe seizures in children. The research behind CBD oil for veterinary use is slowly growing, but the legal aspects remain complicated and messy.
Our veterinary team at Dr. Buzby’s—The Senior Dog Company has been researching CBD oil for dogs. For years, we’ve been discussing up-to-date information with veterinary colleagues, interviewing experts in the field, and attending lectures at veterinary conferences. At the state and federal level, information changes frequently. So much so, that it feels like it’s almost daily.
This impacts veterinarians’ ability to recommend CBD for their canine patients and discuss it with clients. Though the landscape is rapidly changing, we’re proud to share what we currently know regarding CBD and dogs.
What is CBD?
Let’s start with the basics. There are over 113 different naturally occurring compounds that can be derived from the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa. The two most well-known compounds are delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Different strains of the same hemp plant can have different levels of THC and CBD. Interestingly, the body (human and animal) has different receptors for both THC and CBD.
THC is the compound we associate with marijuana. It is responsible for the psychoactive effect, or “high” feeling after an individual smokes or cooks the marijuana plant. THC binds to CBD1 receptors in the brain that are associated with emotions, coordination, movement, memories, appetite, and pain. CBD1 receptors also are present throughout the body. THC products can be toxic to dogs in high enough doses.
CBD, on the other hand, does not have the same effects on the brain as THC. The majority of the receptors for CBD (CBD2 receptors) are associated with the immune system. When CBD binds to these receptors, it can help decrease pain and inflammation as well as trigger the body to produce its own cannabinoids, which can decrease pain.
Limiting the amount of THC in hemp
The Farm Bill, signed on December 20, 2018, legalized the production of the hemp plant as long as it contains less than or equal to 0.3% THC on a dry weight basis. This means that hemp with less than 0.3% THC is no longer considered a controlled substance.
Additionally, the USDA published the final rule regulating the production of hemp in the U.S. in January 2021. The final rule established requirements for licensing and testing THC concentrations in hemp. The goal is to encourage growing hemp of known chemical concentrations to stabilize CBD and THC concentrations in CBD products.
Keep in mind that legality varies at the state level. As you’re probably aware, state laws regarding marijuana are changing all the time.
What are the potential health benefits and uses of CBD oil in canine patients?
What are the pros or potential health benefits of CBD oil for dogs? Let’s discuss.
First of all, in human medicine, CBD oil is being studied and used for chronic pain management, epilepsy, cancer, anxiety, and many other uses. Regarding chronic pain, a study done in mice and rats showed that CBD oil helped reduce inflammation. Also, in a study done on humans, CBD oil reduced the use of opioids (oxycodone, for example) by 64%.
Preliminary research done in cancer cells shows that CBD may be involved in blocking the signals for reproduction in cancer cells. Finally, CBD may have benefits for patients with anxiety disorders by increasing dopamine. (It is worth noting that THC has the potential to make anxiety worse by increasing paranoia.)
The following two benefits have studies to back them up:
1. Research study on CBD and dogs shows it may help manage seizures.
In dogs, two studies have recently been published regarding CBD use for seizures and pain management.
A study by Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine showed an 89% reduction in seizures in dogs with seizure disorders. The study itself was very small—only nine dogs in the treatment group and seven dogs in the placebo group. However, it does demonstrate that CBD oil may help manage seizures in dogs. Colorado State University is currently conducting a larger study to more thoroughly evaluate CBD use in seizure dogs.
2. Research study shows improvement for dogs with arthritis.
Pet parents who have used CBD oil in their pets have reported improvements in gait, sleep, and appetite. Researchers at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine evaluated the use of CBD oil in dogs using the gold standard double-blind study. This means both the researchers and the dog owners did not know which treatment the dog was getting. Theoretically, the results are more accurate from a scientific basis.
Of the 22 dogs with arthritis enrolled in the study, 16 dogs ultimately finished the trial. Dogs received either CBD oil or a placebo oil (olive oil mixed with anise and peppermint oil to have the same scent as the CBD oil) for four weeks, followed by a two-week washout period, then the opposite treatment for four more weeks. In this manner, all dogs were given both CBD oil and “sham” oil for one month each.
Dogs were evaluated based on owner questionnaires, veterinary physical exams, Canine Brief Pain Inventory score, Hudson activity score, and blood work (CBC and biochemical profile).
It is important to note that the dogs included in the study were allowed to stay on current medications such as NSAIDs (examples include Rimadyl, Meloxicam, Deramaxx, etc.), fish oil supplements and/or glucosamine/chondroitin supplements—as long as there were no changes made within the four weeks up to the study or during the ten weeks of the study. However, dogs were taken off Tramadol for dogs and/or Gabapentin for dogs two weeks prior to starting the research.
The study yielded two key pieces of information:
- First, dogs on CBD oil showed an improvement in their arthritis symptoms compared to dogs on the placebo oil.
- Second, CBD oil was safely used concurrently with traditional arthritis management medications such as anti-inflammatory medications.
What are the concerns regarding CBD oil?
What the cons of CBD oil for dogs? There are five concerns regarding giving your dog CBD oil.
1. All CBD oil is not alike.
Because CBD oil is sold as a supplement, products are not subject to the same tight regulations and standards as pharmaceuticals approved by the FDA. There can be marked discrepancy in the CBD concentration reported on the label versus the CBD concentration in the actual product.
Why is this so important? When the CBD concentration differs from the actual product, a dog is at risk of being under or over dosed .
Three different types of CBD are available: full spectrum, broad spectrum, and isolate. Full spectrum hemp products contain THC, so should be avoided for use in dogs.
CBD oil for dogs products may be human grade, contain natural ingredients, be organic, vegan, etc. These factors do not necessarily indicate whether they are good or bad pet products.
2. CBD concentrations may vary significantly from the amount specified on the label.
The FDA issued warnings in 2015-2017 to certain companies for the CBD concentration not matching the labeled amount. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) evaluated different CBD extracts online and allowed for the amount on the label to vary by 10%. 43% of products had a higher concentration than what was on the label and 26% had a lower amount than specified on the label.
3. Arsenic and other toxins may contaminate CBD oils.
Depending on how it is harvested and processed and what additives or preservatives are used, CBD oils are at risk for contamination. This includes:
- Mycotoxins (a deadly toxic substance produced by a fungus)
- Heavy metals including arsenic
However, you can request a Certificate of Analysis from the company. This document should include a cannabinoid profile with test results showing the concentration of cannabinoids in the product, antimicrobial analysis, pesticide analysis, and elemental analysis to screen for lead and arsenic.
If you use a CBD product for your dog, make sure to check the ingredients. CBD oil products should be comprised of cannabanoid oil and a carrier oil such as hemp seed oil.
4. CBD oil is a legal “grey zone” for veterinarians.
CBD oil falls into a legal grey zone with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), federal, and state regulations. Although the 2018 Farm Bill allowed for the production of specific hemp products, some states still ban CBD oil.
In the eyes of the DEA, marijuana and hemp are federally categorized as Schedule I drugs under the Controlled Substances Act, defined as having a high potential for abuse and no medical use. (Also on the list are Heroin and LSD, to give you a frame of reference.) However, state governments are given authority to determine if they will allow marijuana and hemp-based products to be manufactured and sold inside their state borders.
The Schedule I categorization by the DEA makes CBD the elephant in the exam room, so to speak. Many of my veterinary clients with senior canine companions suffering from osteoarthritis in dogs are asking me about pet CBD oil. Yet my hands are theoretically tied in recommending or prescribing the product. Why? Because according to federal law, medical professionals may not write prescriptions for Schedule I substances, and violators are subject to criminal prosecution.
Always make sure the read the label of your CBD product to ensure your pet is getting a quality product.
5. There is no FDA-approved veterinary CBD oil for dogs.
This categorization also makes research more difficult because there are extra hoops for researchers to jump through for Schedule I drugs. Further, there also is no veterinary CBD oil approved by the FDA. So state veterinary licensing boards default to holding veterinarians responsible for the guidelines established by the DEA. As a result, the American Veterinary Medical Association discourages veterinarians from even discussing CBD oil with pet owners due to legal concerns.
Promising results from dog owners
Anecdotally, a couple dozen of my patients are on CBD oil, in every case because their proactive owners heard about the product and decided to try it for their arthritic dogs. The dog owners have acquired CBD oil from a host of interesting sources—online, a relative, and a local lady who recently opened a side business selling CBD.
My veterinary clients pepper me with questions about how much CBD oil to give their dogs, safety concerns of using it along with other drugs their dogs take, and risks of long-term continual dosing. I apologize to my clients and defer their questions. Not because I am under a legal gag order but because I genuinely don’t (yet) have a lot of answers.
What can we hope for in the future regarding CBD oil for dogs?
Laws have significantly relaxed regarding hemp and cannabinoid products over the past several years. As more states change their laws regarding cannabinoids, more doors should hopefully open for veterinary use of these products.
Also, we’ve seen studies published indicating that CBD oil may have benefits in seizure and pain management for dogs. These are huge strides. Hopefully, laws will continue to relax to allow veterinarians to discuss CBD oil with their clients and to allow for more veterinary research.
Finally, we hope there will be more oversight for product quality and control so that consumers know they are getting a pure, safe product.