Is CBD safe for dogs? Guidelines from vets about giving your dog CBD

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Is CBD safe for dogs? Guidelines from vets about giving your dog CBD
Make sure that you always give your dog food with CBD.PixieMe/Shuttershock
  • CBD appears to be safe for dogs, but there are only a handful of studies available.
  • Giving your dog CBD may help them cope with pain, anxiety, or seizures.
  • It's important to only give your dog CBD products that are formulated for pets.

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a compound found in hemp that may have benefits for your dog like reducing seizures, easing arthritis pain, and lowering anxiety.

Short-term studies seem to show that CBD is safe for dogs, with only mild side effects, but less is known about how it can affect dogs long-term.

Here's what you need to know about how CBD can help your dog and the safest way to use it.

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Is CBD okay for dogs?

Many experts agree that CBD seems to be safe for dogs, but unfortunately there are only a handful of veterinary studies that have reported on its safety thus far, says Lara Sypniewski, DVM, a professor of small animal medicine at Oklahoma State University.

For example, in a small 2019 study, researchers tested how dogs would react to a 12-week course of CBD soft chews given twice per day. For each dose, the dogs received 2 milligrams (mg) of CBD per kilogram of body weight, meaning that a 13.6 kilogram (30-pound) dog would get about 27 mg of CBD.

Throughout the study, the researchers conducted blood tests to monitor whether the dogs had any harmful side effects. The results showed that dogs had no negative reactions, suggesting that this dose of CBD is safe for dogs.

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But at higher doses, CBD may pose more risks to dogs. In a 2018 study, researchers gave dogs a daily dose of either 10 mg/kg or 20 mg/kg of CBD. In other words, a 13.6 kg (30-pound) dog would get either 136 mg or 272 mg per day.

In this higher dose trial, all of the dogs experienced mild diarrhea. About a third of the dogs also showed elevated levels of certain liver enzymes, but no dogs had any serious reactions like liver failure.

Types of CBD for dogs

There are many different types of CBD products you can use for your dog, including:

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  • Oil tinctures
  • CBD-infused dog treats
  • Capsules
  • CBD-infused skin cream

Because CBD molecules dissolve in fat, oils or fatty treats like peanut butter-based treats may work better for your dog than other CBD forms like dry capsules.

"CBD incorporated in a fatty substance demonstrates the most efficient and consistent absorption," says Stephanie McGrath, DVM, a professor of veterinary neurology at Colorado State University.

It may take some trial and error to see which type of CBD your dog will tolerate. Some dogs may not mind swallowing CBD oil, while others may need to be tempted with treats.

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Guidelines for giving your dog CBD

  • Give your dog CBD along with breakfast or dinner. "CBD is absorbed better when given with a meal so it should be given around mealtime to maximize absorption," says Joseph Wakshlag DVM, a professor of veterinary medicine at Cornell University.
  • Products labeled "full-spectrum hemp" may be more effective. "CBD-rich hemp is probably better than CBD alone," Wakshlag says, adding, "if you provide the full hemp extract you may need less overall CBD in the mix to get a clinical effect."
  • Always get CBD products made specifically for dogs. If you're also a connoisseur of CBD, do your dog a favor and don't share your CBD treats with them. "Human products may have additives, such as xylitol or caffeine, that can be toxic to your pet," warns Sypniewski.
  • Follow the dosage on the label: Determining the right dose of CBD for your dog will depend on your dog's weight - larger dogs will generally need larger doses to have an effect. But the exact doses that work best for each medical condition are still being worked out, Wakshlag says. Start at a very low dose, McGrath says, and increase the dose slowly, keeping an eye out for any reactions.

What does CBD do for dogs?

CBD research in dogs, as well as humans, is still growing but there are promising signs that CBD may help with several different medical conditions in your canine companion.

"CBD appears to have analgesic (pain relief), anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety and anti-seizure effects," Sypniewski says.

Some of the science-backed uses of CBD in dogs include:

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  • Relieving pain. Several studies have shown that CBD can help relieve pain for dogs with arthritis. Though most of the research is focused specifically on arthritis, Sypniewski says that CBD may help with other chronic pain conditions as well.
  • Reducing seizures in dogs with epilepsy. Early studies show that when CBD is combined with standard seizure disorder treatments, dogs have significantly fewer seizures.
  • Lowering anxiety. Though there are no formal studies, many dog owners and vets claim that CBD can help ease anxiety in nervous dogs. This may be helpful in high stress situations like thunderstorms, car rides, or trips to the vet.

CBD takes about half an hour to kick in and your dog should feel the effects for about four to six hours, but this is highly dependent on your individual dog's metabolism.

The CBD compound is thought to work on the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which helps keep many of your dog's body functions in balance. "The job of the ECS is to relax, eat, sleep, forget and protect," Sypniewski says.

More specifically, CBD can help with pain by dampening the effect of pain signals on the receptors in your dog's brain, says Wakshlag. "It may also have activity at the serotonin receptor in the brain for an overall feeling of well-being," Wakshlag says.

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Possible side effects and risks of CBD for dogs

The side effects of CBD are thought to be similar in both humans and dogs. Some of the possible side effects include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth, which may appear as higher thirst in dogs
  • Lowered blood pressure or lightheadedness

There is no evidence that CBD can cause short-term health risks, but less is known about how it will affect dogs in the long term. The main concern is that CBD can cause elevations in dogs' liver enzymes, which could potentially damage your dog's liver over time.

Sypniewski advises that you should talk to your veterinarian about any testing your dog may need before starting CBD, especially if your dog takes any medications that impact liver function.

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CBD may also interact with certain medications like blood thinners, heart rhythm medications, anti-seizure drugs, and thyroid medications. So you should ask your vet about any other medications your dog takes.

Note: Never give your dogs products that contain THC, another cannabis compound. THC is toxic for dogs and can cause side effects like vomiting, low heart rate, and body tremors.

Insider's takeaway

CBD has shown promising results in treating conditions like pain, seizures, and anxiety in dogs with relatively minor side effects. It seems to be safe for dogs in the short term, but it's best to discuss with your vet if you plan to use it for a chronic condition.

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"It never hurts to spend some time with your veterinarian to discuss your pet's issues and work together to develop an effective treatment plan," Sypniewski says.

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