Every animal on earth except insects has an Endocannabinoid System (ECS). So it stands to reason that cannabis should have a profound effect on animals, too. In particular, CBD, a powerful non-psychoactive cannabinoid that occurs naturally in cannabis, has immense potential for treating medical conditions in animals. While THC and CBD interact meaningfully in synergy, THC’s high can have adverse effects on animals. For this reason, CBD holds the most promise for treating pets.
Scientific Context for CBD Efficacy in Pets
CBD stimulates our CB1 and CB2 receptors, assisting with reducing pain, inflammation, anxiety, and a host of other health issues. For more information about how CBD works to alleviate pain in humans, we recommend our articles ‘CBD For Pain Management’ and ‘What is CBD Oil?’.
CBD Can Help Pets Feel Good, Too
Cats have catnip. Dogs have dognip (yup, it’s actually aniseed). And humans have cannabis. We’re simplifying there, but you get the idea. We all have Endocannabinoid Systems and actively seek out external ways to stimulate them recreationally and medicinally.
Pleasure-Seeking Isn’t Just About Getting High
And this external stimulation doesn’t just refer to seeking out cannabis for CBD or catnip for Nepetalactone. This applies to all survival drives!
All three of us are compelled to ingest food at the bidding of our ECS, too. This ensures we don’t die of starvation and keep the engines running. Exercise releases AEA, our body’s version of THC, to make us feel good to ensure we stay active.
Simply put, the ECS incentivizes reward internally to ensure we keep the body in balance. Over time, a well-toned ECS helps to ward off short-term and long-term health disasters that result from neglecting these crucial details. We share this wonderful system with animals.
Pets are Not Cute, Furry Humans
We’ve covered the commonalities of our ECS systems, but the differences are important, too. Most pet owners know (hopefully!) that you can’t just give your pet Advil when they are in pain. The same logic applies to CBD and cannabis products. We’ll stick with the catnip analogy to illustrate.
CBD Probably Feels Different for Pets
The truth is that dogs, cats, and humans can all individually benefit from catnip, aniseed, and cannabis, respectively. And yet catnip won’t get a human or dog stoned. But it will soothe an upset human stomach and make a dog drowsy and mellow. Similarly, while aniseed’s volatile terpenes exercise positive health benefits in humans, it also doesn’t get us high.
So while we have body systems in common with our non-human family members, it is unscientific to conclude that agitators of those systems affect us in the same ways.
What is true is that they do affect us. And if the diagnosis, prognosis, and dosing are accurate, those effects can be overwhelmingly positive.
CBD for Pets: Dosage Matters
Scientists studying cannabis are striving to produce effective, human-based studies to draw meaningful conclusions to catch up with one hundred years of illegalization. And that’s just for humans!
Dosage is important for animals and humans alike. Remember that THC affects animals quite differently from humans. A sad reality is that since cannabis legalization has become more widespread, so too have incidents of pet toxicosis (De Briyne et al, 2021). Of course, this is most likely due to negligent or even deliberate exposure of pets to cannabis products made for humans.
Cruelty Towards Animals
Whether the exposures are accidental, well-meaning, or downright abusive, the effect is the same. Animals are being harmed with cannabis by negligent people. Administering a psychoactive compound to anyone who can’t anticipate its effects is cruel. If you do it to a human, it’s illegal. Unfortunately, we do not show the same respect to animals in our legal systems and offer them little to no protection against this type of abuse.
Animals Cannot Give Consent
We cannot ask for their consent, nor can they explicitly give it to us. Therefore, we have to operate with utmost care and knowledge.
Bottom line: Never give cannabis products, including CBD, made for human consumption to any animal ever.
CBD For Humans is Tested on Animals
Since the Schedule 1 classification of THC inferred that cannabis had no medical use, studies on human subjects are limited. For more information on why we know so little about cannabis despite thousands of years of using it without incident, read our article ‘What is the Endocannabinoid System?’.
Consequently, a great deal of the science done on cannabis has been conducted on animals. Since the majority of these studies have mostly drawn positive conclusions extrapolated for human use, we can conclude that the outcomes were favorable in animals.
For instance, topical CBD cream was tested on mice infected with an experimental model of autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), the most commonly used model for multiple sclerosis (MS) (Giacoppo et al, 2015)
CBD was found to enhance responsiveness to mechanical stimulus, regulate inflammatory pathways, and other endocrinal stressors in the mice. Conclusions extrapolated CBD’s efficacy to include humans.
Indeed, most science meant to benefit humans is conducted on animals. Sadly, these animals are always ‘sacrificed’, the polite and strange scientific term for euthanasia.
Yes, CBD is Safe For Pets
Still with us? Great! We went through that extensive preamble for two reasons. 1) We love animals. 2) If you are caring for an animal, their health is in your hands. You are ethically obliged to make informed decisions on their behalf and in their best interest.
So what if your pet is healthy, can they take CBD as a part of a long-term health protocol?
CBD and Healthy Animals
One study assessed the safety of administering CBD to healthy dogs and cats. While the sample was quite small, the study did find that CBD is safe for healthy pets:
“In conclusion, hemp-based CBD appears to be relatively safe in healthy populations of dogs and cats, and dogs appear to absorb CBD better than cats. The lack of serum chemistry alterations in both species is comforting as it relates to preliminary toxicity findings; however, use of CBD-rich hemp products requires monitoring of liver enzyme values.” (Deabold et al, 2019)
CBD is Great News for Getting Pets off Pharmaceuticals
Chances are that if you are considering CBD for your pet’s ailments, then it is likely that you’ve already tried pharmaceuticals. Or perhaps they have been suggested by your veterinarian and you are looking for alternatives.
Unfortunately, the side effects of Carprofen, Deracoxib, and Firocoxib (to name a few) are quite unpleasant and often unavoidable. These side effects can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and more serious albeit rare complications (Center for Veterinary Medicine, 2019).
CBD is a Safe Alternative
Ironically, these pharmaceutical drugs are being used to interrupt the pain-causing inflammation of certain disorders and diseases in pets and by doing so, also suppress positive outcomes.
Indeed, Western medicine is renowned for prioritizing symptom suppression above meaningful long-term treatment of underlying health issues. For this reason, the promise of CBD is immense, not just medicinally, but culturally and institutionally.
Great, but what does it do?
How CBD Benefits Pets
The remainder of this article will review findings that confirm CBD’s effectiveness in treating various conditions and illnesses in animals. Since CBD appears to be more naturally bioavailable in dogs than in cats, many of the conclusions are based on dog-focused studies (Deabold et al, 2019).
CBD Reduces Aggression in Sheltered Dogs
After observing 24 dogs in a shelter, a recent study concluded that CBD appeared to reduce their aggression towards humans in these conditions. (Corsetti et al, 2021) The shelter environment can be extremely stressful for dogs. Since many have suffered extreme abuse, getting them to trust humans is understandably difficult.
Sadly, aggression breeds more aggression, fear, tentativeness, and hyper-vigilance. These are all states that are anathema to the recovery and rehabilitation of rescued animals. Indeed, aggression gets in the way of trust-building and stress-reducing activities. Therefore, the administration of CBD could serve to optimize adoption outcomes all around.
Osteoarthritic Dogs and CBD
A 2018 study administered a full-spectrum CBD extract to test the clinical efficacy of CBD for osteoarthritic dogs. Finding the outcomes positive, the utmost importance of the CBD oil quality used was emphasized in its conclusions (Gamble et al, 2018).
Namely, that terpenes and even trace amounts of THC (<.03%) in carefully calibrated doses were effective in treating inflammation, pain, and decreased mobility in osteoarthritic dogs. Incidentally, this conclusion, amongst many others, has corroborated the theory of the ‘Entourage Effect’. That is, that the synergy of all cannabinoids, terpenes and volatile chemicals in cannabis is responsible for its unique benefits.
Additionally, CBD was found to enhance the effectiveness of existing osteoarthritic medication currently prescribed to dogs. “Combined with an anti-inflammatory drug, gabapentin, and amitriptyline, CBD appears to enhance osteoarthritic pain relief and quality of life improvement.” (Brioschi et al, 2020) Presumably, CBD would have helped to reduce the side effects of the pharmaceutical, which would certainly improve the dog’s quality of life.
Epilepsy in Dogs and CBD
CBD has shown great success in treating seizure frequency and severity in epileptic children. Thankfully, these tremendous effects work for epileptic dogs, too, greatly increasing their quality of life.
A 2019 study concluded that “plasma CBD concentrations were correlated with a reduction in seizure frequency.” An additional benefit that was noted was the absence of adverse behavioral effects as reported by the pet owners (McGrath et al, 2019).
The dosage for that study was CBD-infused oil (2.5 mg/kg [1.1 mg/lb]) administered twice daily for 12 weeks. Our carefully curated selection of CBD for pets is tailored to these dosing requirements.
CBD for Human-Like Pathological Conditions
One study of CBD in pets concluded that it “may also serve in Veterinary Medicine for the treatment of domestic animals, in particular for dogs affected by different pathologies, including human-like pathological conditions.” (Fernández-Trapero et al, 2020)
Just as CBD has proven effective at treating human pathological conditions, researchers have speculated and confirmed that CBD is an effective treatment for abnormalities not classified as disease or syndrome. Broadly, this is what ‘pathological’ means.
These conditions include chronic pain, gastrointestinal discomfort, joint pain, and other objective or subjective manifestations of disease. Additionally, these can include secondary symptoms like depression, anxiety, insomnia, and even PTSD caused by painful disease symptoms.
Skin Allergies, CBD, and Pets
Well before science came along to confirm it, Rick Simpson allegedly cured his cancer with topical RSO. Later, studies have concluded what many pet owners already know about pet-specific CBD. “Additionally, the potential antipruritic effect of CBD should be investigated using dogs with dermatological issues like skin allergies or atopic dermatitis.” (Morris et al 2021)
An antipruritic is an anti-itch treatment. We all know that picking at scabs interferes with the healing process. Neck cones were invented for this very reason: animals will scratch itches. Topical CBD might not be sufficient to heal severe skin ailments. However, soothing the inflammation that allows for healing can help recovery. By increasing comfort levels, anxiety and insomnia are reduced, making for a much happier animal overall.
Colitis and CBD for Animals
Fascinating research is currently being conducted into the gut-brain axis and the microbiome, a great deal of which is concentrated in the gastrointestinal system, where issues like colitis, IBS, and Crohn’s originate. Conclusions about the gut instinct’s relationship with early disease detection and so much more are being discovered (Bulsiewicz, 2020).
The ECS operates throughout these systems in profound and intimate ways. Early studies in the 1990s that lead to the discovery of the ECS discovered CB receptors in pig’s brains and dog’s gut tissue (Russo, 2018). Similarly, humans have CB receptors in both of these areas, too.
In one study, scientists infected mice with colitis and then injected them with CBD extracts to see if it would help. Luckily, it did, suppressing inflammation and promoting internal healing. (Krohn et al, 2016). Anecdotally, many users of CBD products made for pets attest to its helpfulness in alleviating the discomfort of GI issues.
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