Living with a dog suffering through a health or behavioral problem can be a struggle. You hate seeing your canine companion in distress and naturally want him to receive immediate relief. Pinpointing an effective treatment is not always straightforward, however.
Pet parents have a number of available treatment options, and cannabis-based products like hemp and CBD are becoming increasingly popular. But do they work, are they safe and, most importantly, are they right for your dog?
Hemp for Dogs
Hemp is essentially the same plant (Cannabis sativa) that marijuana comes from, says Dr. Gary Richter, a veterinarian who practices at Montclair Veterinary Hospital in Oakland, California. “Except legally speaking, hemp plants are only allowed to contain, at most, 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC is the compound that triggers euphoria). So there are effectively no issues as far as drug abuse.”
“Hemp seeds are incredibly nutritious,” adds Dr. Jennifer Coates, a veterinary writer, editor and consultant based in Fort Collins, Colorado. “They are rich in essential fatty acids, particularly in the form of hemp seed oil, and hemp seed powder is an excellent plant-based protein source.”
“The essential fatty acids in hemp seed oil may be helpful in the management of some skin problems and possibly also with diseases like osteoarthritis that benefit from a reduction in inflammation,” Coates continues.
Hemp is also added to products containing other supplements meant to treat a variety of conditions, but Coates stresses that more research is needed into the use of hemp in pets.
CBD for Dogs
While hemp oil is made from hemp seeds, CBD oil is made from the flowers, stems and leaves of the hemp plant, which is where cannabidiol (CBD) is concentrated. According to Richter, “CBD can have a very positive effect as it pertains to stress, anxiety and a number of other medical conditions. It’s a pretty good pain reliever, too.”
Most of the research for veterinary use is in its infancy, he says. “We’re just starting to see some studies come out looking at the use of CBD to treat arthritis in dogs (1), but with regards to studies for stress and anxiety, there’s all types of evidence when it comes to humans, but not just yet in the vet field.”
Despite the lack of research, experts say CBD is generally safe for pets. “There really is no such thing as CBD toxicity,” Richter says. “Worst case scenario is if a dog gets too much, he might get too sleepy, and every once in a blue moon you might see a dog with a tummy upset, and they may have vomiting and diarrhea. And if that happens, you just stop giving it and they get better.”
When it comes to problems related to anxiety, what CBD can do is make behavior therapy easier to administer, Richter says. “You cannot medicate an anxiety disorder away. At best, a medication or supplement like CBD will calm dogs down enough to where they can pay attention to training and behavioral modification, and in many ways that’s what you’re hoping to do,” he explains.
When Should I Give My Dog Hemp or CBD?
As with any supplement or pharmaceutical, hemp and CBD are not cure-alls. “They may be effective on their own for some dogs or for some conditions, or work better in combination with additional treatments in other cases,” says Coates.
Experts strongly recommend giving dogs hemp and CBD only under the guidance of a vet. The challenge here is that vets can seem evasive on the subject, and with good reason. The DEA—the agency that licenses a vet’s prescription-writing ability—classifies all cannabinoids, including commercially-available hemp and CBD, as Schedule 1 substances, says Dr. Casara Andre, founder of Veterinary Cannabis – Education and Consulting, based in Wheat Ridge, Colorado.
These legal concerns can be confusing. A company that’s certified to grow hemp in its state can produce a product as long as it remains at or below .03 percent THC, Andre says. “Tracking the ‘correctness’ of this is often difficult, but it does take advantage of loopholes in the law and differences between state and federal regulations,” she says.
In multiple places, the policy contradicts itself. “However, between written policy and verbal stances by the DEA, no veterinarian can prescribe or recommend any cannabinoid,” she says.
Vets can provide education, however. “Vets can absolutely educate pet parents to promote harm reduction,” Andre says. If you’d like to consider giving your dog hemp or CBD, still talk to your vet, but be aware that the information you receive may be limited by necessity.
If you keep your expectations about hemp-based products for pets realistic, your furry family member may benefit. Whether or not hemp or CBD is suitable for your dog and situation is a decision that should be made with your vet.
This article has been edited for accuracy by Jennifer Coates, DVM.