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Is CBD safe for dogs and how can it help?

Been hearing rave reviews about using CBD for dogs to help with everything from arthritis pain to anxiety? Here’s what experts say you should know before giving your dog CBD.

A beautiful Border Collie female sheep dog

Cannabidiol (CBD) has been showing up just about everywhere in recent years from lotions for sore muscles to dog treats. But before you add your pooch to the growing number of CBD users in America, you’re probably asking: Is CBD safe for dogs? 

The good news is yes! The CBD market for dogs is growing by leaps and bounds, and according to Chyrle Bonk, an Idaho-based veterinarian and consultant for pet furniture company Hepper, it’s mostly safe for dogs. Here’s what you should know before you give CBD to a dog.

Is CBD safe for dogs?

Wait, a second, mostly safe? Here’s why it’s only “mostly.”

CBD is just one of several compounds found in cannabis and hemp. The cannabis plant also contains THC, a psychoactive compound responsible for the “high” sensation that marijuana is best known for. Unfortunately, Bonk says, THC can be harmful to pets, which means CBD given to dogs must be pure and THC-free. 

In other words? It’s not a good idea to share a pot gummy from the dispensary with your pup!

Instead, you’ll want to look for products that contain only CBD and are made specifically for dogs, says veterinarian Rasa Gentvilaitė-Žiemienė, co-founder of the Dogo training app. Quality products will have what’s called a COA or certificate of analysis, she says, basically an assurance from an accredited laboratory that’s taken a look at the chemical analysis of the product and determined it’s THC-free. 

In fact, an increasing number of states are now requiring businesses that sell CBD products to not only undergo this sort of testing but include a custom QR code on the label that links back to the COA — so you can see for yourself that your dog’s CBD is up to snuff. 

Another precaution to keep dogs safe when they’re taking CBD? “Do not take CBD products and apply the same dosage ratio as for humans,” Gentvilaitė-Žiemienė advises. “Dogs and humans have very different metabolism and reactions to substances!”

OK, so CBD is usually safe for dogs. But does Fido need it? It depends on what conditions your doggy is dealing with, but the list of options is a long one, Bonk says. 

Can CBD help dogs with pain?

Right at the top of the list of CBD uses for dogs is pain management for pups, and the evidence that it works is mounting. 

One double-blind, placebo-controlled study conducted in 2020, for example, found “CBD significantly decreased pain and increased mobility” in dogs with osteoarthritis, a condition that affects as much as 20% of dogs that are a year old or older.

“CBD works similar to non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, like Rimadyl, in the inflammatory response,” Bonk explains. “That makes it useful for chronic inflammation like arthritis and IVDD [intervertebral disc disease]. It may also benefit more short-term pain like that from an injury or post-surgery.”

Can CBD calm my dog or reduce anxiety? 

If your dog is reactive because of pain, CBD may help calm them down. That’s what dog trainer Nancy Ingersoll of Polite Pooches Dog Training discovered when she started her 13-year-old chihuahua mix on CBD. 

Ingersoll’s pup had become reactive to louds noises and even some people as she aged, and Ingersoll had worked with her — using her knowledge about dog behavior to redirect the pup. But it didn’t always work. 

“If we were walking on the street and a loud rattly truck went by, she’d flip out,” Ingersoll recalled. “Certain situations would cause her to bark frantically.”

It was when the vet diagnosed the chihuahua mix with spinal degeneration and suggested CBD that Ingersoll saw a real change. When that truck would go by, the dog would yawn — a sign of stress — but there was no more frenetic barking. 

Now when Ingersoll’s dog clients are showing fearfulness issues that aren’t improving with traditional training, she suggests talking to the vet about CBD. 

“It doesn’t work with every dog,” she cautions, “but I always direct them to their vet.”

There’s growing evidence that CBD could help take the edge off for many dogs. For example, an observational study conducted on 98 dogs who were given CBD chew treats daily for two weeks, took anecdotal reports from veterinarians and dog owners that showed beneficial effects of CBD on canine anxiety. The study had its limitations — among them the lack of a control group and the fact that the results rely on study participants’ subjective views. 

Then again, fearfulness in dogs is somewhat hard to quantify without some subjective data from dog owners. And it’s not the only study to show CBD holds promise in helping calm dogs. 

Bonk says CBD mainly works to calm dogs when the anxiety is related to pain or inflammation, while there’s less evidence that it can help with a dog’s anxiety that’s related to psychological issues like trauma or separation.

Can CBD reduce itching? 

What if your dog’s issues are more of the allergic kind? Maybe they’re itching or biting at their skin?

New York dog owner Sandra Deckelman opted for CBD for her 10-year-old golden retriever to help her stop chewing at her paws. Within two weeks, Deckelman says Lady’s paws had started to grow fur again. 

And this isn’t simply anecdotal —  although Gentvilaitė-Žiemienė warns studies are still limited on the topic, there is some growing evidence that CBD could help dogs with allergies and itching too. 

Australian animal health company CannPal Animal Therapeutics Limited released a study in early 2021 that purports a link between dog CBD and relieving atopic dermatitis while another study published in the American Veterinary Medical Association’s official journal showed promise in using CBD to help immune-mediated and inflammatory allergic disorders in dogs. 

Can CBD be toxic to dogs?

Of course with any treatment — even something over-the-counter like CBD — dog owners should be cautious before starting a regimen and talk to their veterinarian first. 

Because CBD is metabolized in the liver, Gentvilaitė-Žiemienė says vets typically prescribe it more carefully to dogs with a known liver issue. 

“It has been noticed in several studies that after CBD administration, the activity of the liver enzymes is increased,” she explains. “However, it is unknown if this increase is benign or can develop into a metabolic disease if administered for more extended periods in chronic patients.”

There are also some doggy medications that don’t mix well with CBD including steroids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, anxiety medications and heart medications.

Overall, however, Bonk says once you’ve gotten the all-clear from your veterinarian to give CBD to your dog, you’ll likely notice nothing more than a sleepier dog. 

“At higher doses, it can decrease blood pressure and increase thirst, due to a dry mouth feeling,” she adds. The best bet to avoid those kinds of side effects is to stick to dosing instructions and once again to make sure you’ve got CBD that’s free of any other chemicals, including THC. 

What’s the best way to give CBD to dogs?

Still not sure what to buy? Bonk suggests a liquid CBD instead of CBD dog treats for better dosage control.

“It is more precise and you can increase or decrease minute amounts a lot more easily,” she notes. 

If you see any significant changes in your dog or a dog in your care after administering CBD, it’s best to call your vet. They’ll let you know if it warrants a visit to the animal hospital.