CBD Oil for Dogs: Benefits and Safety

Last Updated: August 2020

If you’ve experienced or seen the benefits of cannabidiol (CBD) oil for people, you may be wondering if it could safely provide the same benefits to your furry family members.

CBD oil for dogs has become increasingly popular, and it may offer several benefits—although there hasn’t been a ton of research on the topic yet.

However, it’s important that you’re aware of the potential risks to your dog, as well as how to choose the right product and dose, and how to administer it to your dog safely.

This article reviews how CBD oil works for dogs, its potential benefits and downsides, how to choose a CBD oil product, and dosing and administration concerns.

What it is and how it works

CBD is a derivative of hemp, or cannabis. It’s considered a phytocannabinoid, or a plant-based cannabinoid. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the other main cannabinoid component of cannabis, CBD will not get you (or your dog) high.

In both humans and dogs, CBD works by acting on the endocannabinoid system, an innate network of cannabinoid receptors that exist in the central and peripheral nervous system. Although we, as well as our dogs, produce our own endogenous cannabinoids, phytocannabinoids like CBD and THC can act on these receptors as well.

The endocannabinoid system is charged with maintaining homeostasis, or balance, in the body. For this reason, it can affect many different body functions and systems, including memory, emotion, learning, metabolism, appetite, and more. 

Because CBD doesn’t cause a high, many people prefer to use it over cannabis or THC. This also makes CBD a safer option for your dog, as getting high may not be a positive, enjoyable, or safe experience for them.

What do vets think?

Oddly enough, your vet may not be able to share any information with you about CBD oil for dogs, depending on which state you live in.

Many states—including some that have legalized medicinal and recreational marijuana use for people—have placed limitations on veterinarians that prevent them from recommending, prescribing, or even discussing cannabis for pets with you. Although the law can be quite murky and hard to understand, the consequences of this could be as severe as your vet losing his or her business or veterinary license.

To protect their practice and because the laws surrounding it are so unclear, many veterinarians choose not to discuss CBD either, since it’s a derivative of cannabis and may contain trace amounts of THC. 

However, one survey found that many veterinarians may support the use of CBD oil for dogs, although many agree that more research is needed to investigate its benefits and potential side effects.

California has the loosest restrictions, and has made it legal for vets to discuss cannabis with you as a medicinal option for your pet. However, they’re still not allowed to explicitly recommend or prescribe it.

Because you may or may not be able to get advice about it from your vet, administering CBD oil to your dog is something that should only be done after carefully weighing the benefits and risks, selecting a high-quality product, and learning how to dose it safely, slowly, and cautiously.

Potential benefits for dogs

Although there is limited research regarding CBD oil for dogs, many people have reported improvements in a variety of conditions in their dogs after starting CBD oil. Here are some of the most common ailments that people hope to treat in their dogs by using CBD oil.

Pain

One of the most promising areas of research into CBD oil for dogs is for relieving pain.

One study on the effect of CBD oil on pain in dogs with osteoarthritis found that supplementing with about 0.5 mg of CBD oil per pound of body weight resulted in significant decreases in pain, along with increases in physical activity.

Seizures

There’s also mounting evidence that CBD oil can be extremely beneficial for dogs with epilepsy or other seizure disorders.

A study on dogs with epilepsy found that supplementing with about 1 mg of CBD oil per pound of body weight decreased seizures by a third.

Cancer

Although research is extremely limited, several people have found success using CBD oil to help improve outcomes and quality of life in their dogs with cancer.

CBD oil may help stimulate the appetite while decreasing nausea, which can be helpful to ensure that your dog with cancer is getting adequate nutrition and the protein he needs to maintain his muscle mass.

Note that in humans, however, CBD oil may sometimes suppress the appetite. There is little scientific research regarding CBD oil use in dogs with cancer, so your dog may have different results.

Anxiety

Again, research is very limited in this area. However, many people online report great success relieving anxiety in their high-stress, anxious dogs by using CBD oil.

This may work because CBD oil can lower blood pressure, acting as a very mild sedative. Be careful, though: too strong of a sedative effect can be a downside, and some dogs may be more sensitive than others.

Inflammation

CBD oil can act as an anti-inflammatory, reducing pain, discomfort, and the increased risk of chronic disease that often accompanies inflammation.

However, inflammation can be difficult to identify in a dog without the help of a professional. If you are concerned that your dog may be suffering from some chronic inflammatory issues, you should have this verified by a vet first.

Many people report online that they use CBD oil to help treat their dog’s inflammatory bowel disease.

Potential downsides for dogs

Unfortunately, CBD is not risk free, although based on many reports shared online it seems to be mostly safe for dogs. Regardless, some potential downsides for your dog may be appetite changes, drowsiness, and dry mouth. 

Additionally, in one study investigating the effects of CBD oil on dogs with seizures, 2 dogs of the 12 in the study developed ataxia, a condition of impaired coordination.

Some CBD oils may also contain more than the legal limit of THC, which can get your dog high and may scare them or make them uncomfortable. This is why choosing a high-quality, third-party tested CBD oil for your pet is extremely important.

What’s more, changes in liver markers have been noted in some studies investigating CBD oil for dogs. While these changes are not necessarily bad, researchers have found that liver damage is a side effect of extremely high-dose CBD oil supplementation in rats.

Finally, remember that there’s a sore lack of scientific evidence when it comes to CBD oil for dogs. Although there are a handful of small studies with promising results, larger and stronger studies are needed before any firm conclusions can be drawn from the data. 

Choosing a CBD oil product for your dog

When choosing a CBD oil product for your dog, you should take the same care as when you’re choosing one for yourself. Because you may not be able to discuss it with your vet, it’s very important that you purchase only high-quality CBD. Here’s what you should look for in a product:

  • USA-grown: CBD oil derived from USA-grown hemp is required to meet certain agricultural standards that may not be required of hemp grown in other countries.
  • Organic: Organic CBD will be free of pesticides that may hurt or irritate your dog.
  • Third-party tested: In the US, CBD is considered a dietary supplement and therefore does not have to meet some of the more stringent requirements of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Because of this, some CBD oils may not contain what the label says they contain, and this could pose a risk to your dog. Some may contain unknown additives, or possibly more THC than is allowed by law. By choosing a third-party tested CBD oil, you can rest assured that the label is an accurate representation of what’s actually in the bottle. Be sure to purchase from a company that discloses their testing reports and allows you to read them prior to purchase.
  • Free of unnecessary additives: CBD oils should contain only a few ingredients, at most—CBD, a carrier oil, and possibly a natural flavor. However, you should choose only unflavored CBD oil for your dogs as they don’t need a flavored product. Products that contain long ingredient lists or processed additives may be of a lower quality and pose more risk of harm to your pet.
  • Specially formulated for dogs: To be safe, you should also try to select a CBD oil product that is formulated specifically for use by dogs.

You may also want to do some research into the manufacturer by reading online reviews and people’s personal experiences with that brand’s products—especially in regards to their pets.

Additionally, to have the most control over dosing, you should stick to oil instead of edibles or treats for your dogs. With an oil you can easily customize the dose your dog receives, and CBD dog treats don’t provide this flexibility.

Additionally, CBD edibles made for people should NOT be given to dogs. There are many foods and ingredients that may be present in these edibles that can harm your dog. Examples of possible harmful ingredients for your dogs in CBD edibles made for humans include:

  • Xylitol (a sugar alcohol that may be found in sugar-free CBD edibles)
  • Caffeine
  • Milk
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Chocolate

Dosing and administration

Once you’ve identified a high-quality, organic and USA-grown, third-party tested, unflavored CBD oil, it’s time to purchase. When first starting out, buy the lowest dose possible.

According to some sources, a good starting point for dosage is 1-2 mg of CBD for every 10 pounds that the dog weighs. For a 10-pound dog, this would be 1-2 mg. For a 70 lb dog, this would be 7-14 mg. It’s best to start on the lowest end of this range and work up as needed.

Using an oil dropper makes it easy to administer, as you can drop it directly on to the dog’s food or a treat.

Generally, it will take at least 30 minutes before your dog starts experiencing the effects of CBD, and the effects will wear off by around the 6-8 hour mark. If you are ready to increase the dosage, do so slowly and gradually. According to some sources, the maximum dose that should be given to a dog is about 2-3 mg per pound of body weight. 

However, your dog likely won’t need near this amount in order to see benefits from CBD. In scientific studies that show improvements in pain and seizures in dogs from CBD oil use, the standard dose was about 0.5-1.0 mg of CBD per pound of body weight.

It’s very important, especially when first starting out, that you monitor your dog closely for complications related to CBD use. Some things you may want to watch out for are appetite changes, drowsiness, and dry mouth. If your dog experiences any severe or unexpected side effects, discontinue using the CBD oil immediately and see a veterinarian for guidance.

Summary

CBD oil can be a promising treatment option for dogs suffering from a variety of conditions, including pain, seizures, cancer, anxiety, and irritable bowel disease. As with humans, it works by acting on the endocannabinoid system, and it will not get your dog high.

However, due to some ambiguity in existing laws, your vet may or may not be able to discuss CBD use for your dog with you. For this reason, using CBD oil for your dog is a decision that you’ll need to make “at your own risk.”

Some of the potential side effects of CBD oil in dogs include drowsiness, dry mouth, and appetite changes.

You should take great care to choose a high-quality CBD product for your dog. Try to choose an unflavored, minimally processed, organic, US-grown CBD oil as opposed to flavored oils, edibles, or CBD dog treats. Increase the dose slowly and gradually as needed, monitoring closely for complications.

Although little research has been done on the efficacy of CBD oil for dogs, many people report that it has resulted in huge improvements for their canine family members.

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