As the variety of cannabis-derived supplements made for pets has grown over the past decade, more owners may find themselves asking: Is CBD a safe or effective option for my cat or dog?
The answer, unfortunately, is not clear. Scientific research on how CBD affects pets — specifically dogs and cats — remains largely insufficient. At the same time, there’s anecdotal evidence that CDB helps reduce stress, anxiety and inflammation in animals, among other conditions.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is a nonpsychoactive chemical component of cannabis plants, specifically derived from hemp, which contains trace amounts of THC. (Marijuana, on the other hand, has a significant amount of THC, which is toxic and even lethal to cats and dogs.)
Aquila Brown, owner of the north Spokane pet supply shop the Yuppy Puppy, has many stories about how CBD has helped her own dogs, and those of countless clients. She’s also quick to point out that she was, until recently, extremely skeptical of CBD’s potential benefits for both people and pets.
Her view changed when one of her beloved furry family members was diagnosed with terminal cancer and then stopped eating. She’d exhausted nearly all other options to stimulate the dog’s appetite and improve its quality of life for as long as possible… except for CBD.
“It really helped with his appetite, and because he could eat better, he got better nutrition,” Brown says. “He was initially given two months to live, but lived for two more years.”
One of Brown’s current dogs, a rescued chihuahua mix that had nine separate owners during the first year-and-a-half of its life, also benefits from CBD to treat severe anxiety. Daily doses of CBD-infused treats help this otherwise high-stress, highly reactive dog (who’s also been through plenty of training) exist more “normally,” Brown says.
“I can tell you that despite five years of me loving him dearly — and my pets are my universe — he is still a high-strung, beast of a dog,” she says. “He gets it two times a day, every day, and it’s taken a lot of the edge off. Before, he would sit in the corner of the couch with big eyes and shake, and every noise would make him bark.”
While these CBD success stories may prompt fellow dog and cat owners to try it, they should first be aware of why uncertainty about the substance exists among veterinary pros.
Research on how CBD affects animals is still in its infancy. And because CBD products for animals aren’t federally regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (as are all other drugs approved for animal and/or human use), many veterinarians are hesitant to recommend it. This lack of regulatory oversight introduces concerns over quality, safety and consistency from manufacturers in the pet CBD market.
“Although the veterinary profession is working to understand how CBD works in dogs and cats and what conditions it can help through scientific studies, research is lacking,” says Dr. Raelynn Farnsworth, chief medical officer of Washington State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Pullman.
“Until more research is done in these areas and safe doses have been determined, most veterinarians are not comfortable using it,” Farnsworth continues. “While veterinarians can still prescribe them, most are unwilling to use a medication that is not FDA-approved. As a profession, we are watching carefully when and if FDA approval [for CBD] comes, and to what products, so that we can prescribe them safely to our patients.”
For pet owners seeking a deeper dive into the veterinary profession’s current stance on CBD, the American Veterinary Medical Association offers a guide on its website (avma.org). BetterPet (betterpet.com), a pet owner resource created by veterinary professionals, also offers detailed insight on the topic, specifically regarding dogs.
After talking to their veterinarian about CBD, local pet owners can also visit the Yuppy Puppy, where Brown and her staff field daily customer questions about the many options, from chewy dog treats to flavored broth, dropper-applied oils and rub-on balms.
“We really try to be an objective and educated and trusted outlet,” she says. “Over the last two to three years, CBD has become really mainstream, and more people have questions. We sell a ton of CBD products — I couldn’t even tell you how much.”
Since seeing how CBD aided her own dogs, Brown’s goal has been to become as educated as possible on the topic, both as a business owner and animal advocate. She’s hosted informative sessions about CBD at her store, and she trains staff to consult with customers on how to select and administer products. The store also offers a flexible return policy if customers don’t see positive results.
“I like to have a personal conversation with people, and that’s why we do so many consults,” she says. “We want to be able to explain why we think it’s beneficial. And in some situations, it’s not. Like, being a wild, crazy puppy is not a situation for CBD.”
Two of Brown’s favorite, trusted CBD pet brands are Austin & Kat and Super Snouts.
When shopping for pet CBD, she says it’s important to make sure a company has products independently tested by a third party for purity and safety, and that the supplements are created especially for pets, from the growing of hemp to harvesting, extraction and manufacture. (CBD made for humans could contain other harmful ingredients or higher trace amounts of THC and should never be used on animals.)
“We have a black-and-white line about CBD,” Brown says. “We know it’s not going to cure cancer, or keep [pets] from getting cancer. Can it help with seizures? Yes, but don’t go off your dog’s seizure medication. You have to know the benefits and limitations.”