Some dogs freak out each July 4 when the fireworks get started. Or maybe it’s the first thunderclap signaling a summer storm that prompts sensitive dogs to start whining, panting or pacing — seeking an escape from the scary sounds.
To sooth these frayed nerves millions of pet owners now turn to CBD. With nationwide legalization, the hemp market has exploded, leading to many varieties of CBD pet products: from tinctures and salves to doggie biscuits.
While derived from cannabis, hemp lacks the higher levels of THC found in marijuana, so it won’t get your pet high — but countless CBD advocates claim it can ease separation anxiety, arthritis, chronic pain and more. However, because CBD medicines are so new, there are questions about dosing, effectiveness and product safety that conscientious pet parents want answered before they’ll use CBD on their beloved fur babies.
But when they go online for information about CBD hemp use in pets, they’re overwhelmed by a vast volume of oft-conflicting opinions. So pet owners frequently turn to their veterinarians with questions about potential CBD use for Frisky or Fido — though many are met with varied levels of resistance or even confusion surrounding the topic.
Can veterinarians legally prescribe CBD hemp products?
“Regular vets don’t like it, even though the Farm Bill passed last fall, making hemp legal everywhere,” said Dr. Jeffery Judkins at the Animalkind Holistic Vet Clinic in Jacksonville (https://animalkindvet.com). “But as long as what I prescribe has less than .3 percent THC, it’s fine. Anything above that threshold is illegal in veterinary use, because federally, THC is still classified as a Schedule I drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration.”
Other veterinarians interpret the laws differently, because while licensed to practice their craft by the state they work in; it’s the federal government that governs writing prescriptions.
“The Food and Drug Administration says you’re not really allowed to talk about cannabinols and their use in medications, including CBD, so I can’t prescribe or distribute those medications,” said Dr. Gail Colbern, who owns and operates the mobile Green Springs Veterinary Service in southwest Oregon (https://greenspringsvet.com) and also works at veterinary clinics in Ashland and Grants Pass.
“A lot of conventional vets don’t want to deal with it because the legalities are still somewhat cloudy,” Judkins said, “but come on, who’s going to file a complaint over this?
“Really, they’re just not comfortable, many vets are still all about using pharmaceuticals,” added Judkins, who utilizes many alternative treatments in his practice, including herbal and nutritional medicine, acupuncture, chiropractics and homeopathy.
“Whether it’s legal or not, when I prescribe a medication, I want to see solid medical evidence that it’s going to work,” Colbern said.
Does CBD work?
That’s the million-dollar question.
“It’s kind of hard to gauge with a dog because you can’t ask them, but a lot of people report that their pets are less skittish, less anxious, less painful,” said Stacy Page, owner of Market Street Wellness in Medford. “Plus they sleep better, and that helps them heal.
“CBD is definitely becoming more mainstream,” he added. “It really helps older dogs with arthritis. They can get up and go outside on their own or go up the stairs again.”
Page and his wife, Meredith, make CBD tinctures, oils and biscuits — even bacon flavored, for the finicky eaters — and they use their own tincture product on both of their dogs, Chewy and Ginger.
CBD helps Chewy cope with his separation anxiety; and Ginger, diagnosed with cancer, is taking the oil to “give her a better quality of life. She’s happy and comfortable.”
“I do think it’s beneficial with chronic pain, but it’s not going to be effective for acute severe pain,” Judkins said. “It’s not a panacea. It’s not curing cancer, and even with epilepsy it’s only marginally effective, and it’s not really a good appetite stimulant. But it has been useful for anxiety. Really, it’s just another herb. The whole thing about hemp is overblown. It’s a fad now that will settle down over time.”
“We don’t have a consistent product,” said Colbern, who spent years as a biotechnology research scientist involved in the development of new drugs in both animals and humans.
“We have a bunch of different people making a bunch of different things, so how do you compare potency? Stability?” she asks. “The same is true of CBD oil use in humans. When you make a drug, you must be able to precisely replicate it over and over to be able to say it’s a valid drug. That process requires a lot of research, testing and clinical trials to determine potential efficacy, safety and dosages. We just don’t have the data yet.”
Is CBD safe for animals?
Page says when buying any cannabis — whether for human or pet use — to choose products labeled with “a Certificate of Analysis from a reputable lab that shows both CBD and THC percentages, and also test results for mold and contaminants like heavy metals, fungicides and pesticides.”
Consumers can also look for a seal from the National Animal Supplement Council, an organization committed to “elevating and standardizing the animal health supplement industry.”
“A lot of people just go online to buy CBD products — and that’s concerning,” Page said. “And especially online, we tell people to avoid companies that don’t share their COA.”
The Pages sell a lot of oil-based CBD pet products, and Judkins agrees that oil-based is best for pets. The Pages buy CBD oils that have been tested for potency, pesticides and heavy metals. Then, when they make their own products, they test for potency again, “to make sure we have the right milligrams in there.
“But they can’t get too much CBD, it won’t hurt them,” Page believes. “If they do get a lot, with all the oil, they may get diarrhea, or they may sleep too much for a while.”
Colbern isn’t so sure.
“Animals metabolize oils and products differently than humans, so without more research, we won’t know if a given CBD dose is efficacious — or safe. We do know that dogs are exquisitely more sensitive to THC than humans are. We’re seeing dogs coming into clinics that ate somebody’s stash, and they’re urinating all over themselves, have really slow heart rates, and they’re really stoned. We’ve seen an uptick in that since marijuana was legalized.”
Colbern also points out how “people can buy untested herbs and oils for human consumption from health foods stores, because these substances have essentially fallen through the cracks and are not legislated for.” She explained that this is because “many decades before the explosion of products that we see on the shelves of health food stores today, a judgment was made that supplements didn’t need to be regulated.
“It could be said that the CBD industry is capitalizing on this hypocrisy and omission, but that doesn’t mean that professional doctors, who are scientists, after all, are going to buy in.”
“Start low and go slow,” is the mantra Page goes by. “We always tell people, whatever the recommended dose is, to start with half of that.”
Another resource, Veterinary Cannabis (veterinarycannabis.org), an organization founded by Dr. Casara Andre, provides practical science-based education to veterinarians and the cannabis industry regarding CBD products, dosing, potential interactions with other drugs and more.
While CBD is believed to cause few side effects, according to Andre, cannabis can interact with some drugs. Plus, combining CBD with other drugs may enhance the effects of pharmaceuticals, thus she recommends careful observation and to disclose any changes to one’s veterinarian.
Page said a common recommendation is to start with about 1 milligram of CBD oil per 10 pounds of body weight twice-a-day and then to closely monitor your pet’s reaction. And many feel that it’s easier to scale dosages up or down with tinctures rather than biscuits or other treats.
Judkins, who has been practicing for 30 years, says, “CBD hemp is a gateway herb and I am grateful for that. For me, the best thing is that it helps get people into using other herbs.
“What’s rewarding is when clients see their animals getting better on more natural medicines, then they think, ‘would this work for me?’ Maybe they’ll seek a more natural health care provider. So by working with pets naturally, you can get people inspired, and that informs their whole views on health care, medicine and nutrition. We’re all mammals; humans are just another animal as far as I am concerned.”
Reach Illinois Valley freelance writer Annette McGee Rasch at firstname.lastname@example.org.