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Are CBD Products For Pets Helpful or Harmful?

In the last few years, CBD products have gone mainstream. They’re seemingly everywhere, and in so many things. And while there are many CBD supplements, massage oils, muscle rubs and beauty products marketed to humans, there is also a booming market for CBD items for pets. In fact, a relatively recent report from Nielsen and Headset, a company that provides analytics on the legal cannabis industry, shows hemp-based CBD pet products will make up 3 to 5% of all hemp CBD sales within the U.S. by 2025. The report also found that 74% of CBD buyers have pets. On top of that, pet products saw more than $9.4 million in sales at regulated adult-use cannabis retailers in California, Colorado, Nevada and Washington combined.

But is CBD actually safe for your pets? We recently asked similar questions about raw dog food, and found that despite the surging interest in raw pet food, these products can actually be dangerous for your precious pups.

To find out if CBD is really safe for pets, we consulted a few veterinary experts. In this article, we hope to answer your questions about whether CBD for pets is helpful or harmful.


What Is CBD?

CBD, aka cannabidiol, is one of the many compounds (cannabinoids) present in the cannabis plant. However, this particular cannabinoid is not psychoactive, meaning it won’t get you (or your pets) stoned. There are tons of different cannabinoids, such as Delta-8 THC, and many cannabis proponents believe they have a variety of medicinal benefits without the druggy side effects that come from smoking or consuming marijuana recreationally or medicinally.

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Most importantly, because CBD does not contain the controlled compound THC, the cannabinoid in marijuana that gets you high, it’s classified as a legal hemp product in most cases (more on this below).

You may have seen many new CBD storefronts open in your area, and that’s because CBD has been treated as a bit of a miracle drug — capable of providing many of the alleged medicinal benefits of cannabis — pain relief, anti-nausea properties, soothing anxiety — without getting you high.

“Humans and animals all have an endocannabinoid system (ECS). When CBD oil is consumed, it can activate your dog’s ECS, says Dr. Joseph K. Rosentel, DVM, the Vice President of Product Development and Supply Chain at Pet Releaf, a company that sells hemp-derived CBD for humans and pets. “The ECS then creates a two-way communication system between the brain and other systems in your pet’s body, such as the nervous system, immune system, digestive system, and more,” he says.

CBD products for pets and humans work by activating the body’s ECS, which can have a variety of effects on the body and mind.


Are CBD Products for Pets Legal and Regulated?

In the United States, the 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) and derivatives of cannabis with extremely low concentrations of the psychoactive compound THC (no more than 0.3 percent THC) from the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act. That opened the floodgates to the new CBD industry.

“All hemp-derived CBD products and their constituents are legal in all 50 states if they contain a THC percentage of 0.3% or below,” says Rosentel. “But though they are legal, they are not regulated,” he says.

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This lack of standardized quality can be confusing for pet owners. “There’s no way for a consumer to know what’s actually in the product, if it’s safe, or if it’s potentially contaminated with other substances like THC or even highly concentrated synthetic cannabinoids,” cautions Jo Myers, a DVM working with JustAnswer, a platform that connects people with vetted experts. “We are accustomed to a certain level of quality control when it comes to our foods and medications; that infrastructure does not exist for CBD products. The product might not even contain CBD,” she says.

Still, pet-marketed CBD products are popping up everywhere, and this lack of official information can be confusing. “In general, veterinarians do not see safety issues as a result of this high level of usage,” she says. “However, veterinarians have good reason to be reluctant to discuss CBD and THC products with pet parents because we are heavily regulated and licensed medical professionals. We potentially put our licenses at risk if we discuss such things with pet owners,” she says.

Can CBD benefit my pet?

The evidence in regards to the benefits of CBD products for pets is still a little murky. “At this point, we do not have good scientific studies that conclusively show there is any benefit at all from CBD products,” says Myers. There are loads of anecdotal reports of people reporting benefits from these products for treating everything from allergies to arthritis pain to cancer. Still, nothing that holds up to scientific scrutiny; we don’t have the evidence yet,” she says.

So while some of the studies being conducted about CBD and THC use in pets may be encouraging, more are needed to help decide if CBD for pets is helpful or harmful.

Harmful Ingredients To Watch Out For

“Scientific studies have been carried out demonstrating relatively frequent contamination of CBD products with THC, metals, metalloids, pesticides, and synthetic cannabinoids,” says Myers. “As a dog owner, research scientist and veterinary professional, this is the most compelling reason to avoid using these products,” she says.

In fact, while THC can be potentially dangerous for both cats and dogs depending on how much they consume, there are CBD products marketed to them that may actually contain low THC levels. “While in the vast majority of cases it does not appear to be dangerous for a dog or cat to ingest THC, it doesn’t take much to cause pretty profound effects and can make your fur baby sick for 24 to 48 hours,” she says.


The Signs of THC Intoxication in Pets

If you’re giving your pets CBD products, be on the lookout for possible signs of THC intoxication. The American Kennel Club has more information on THC and pets.

Symptoms of THC intoxication for dogs include: 

  • Profound lethargy or sedation
  • Difficulty walking normally, being wobbly
  • Being jumpy or having an exaggerated startle reflex
  • Dilated pupils
  • Head bobbing
  • Disorientation
  • Vomiting and nausea (sometimes)
  • Urinary accidents
  • Lowering of the body temperature
  • Loss of consciousness, when severe

Typical symptoms of THC intoxication for cats include most of the things described for dogs, but also:

  • Wandering aimlessly
  • Vocalizations
  • Altered behavior, including aggression and attacking people
  • Agitation
  • A general impression that the cat is seeing and responding to things that are not there, hallucinations

The Bottom Line: It’s Hard To Know How CBD Will Affect Your Pets

The bottom line is though there are a ubiquitous amount of CBD products being marketed to us to purchase for our pets, there is a wide range of quality and very little regulation. You should ask your vet for pointers and advice whenever giving your pets a new treatment. That’s the best way to decide if CBD for pets is helpful or harmful for you to use.

If you are determined to try CBD for pets, watch their behavior closely following the treatment and contact your veterinarian or a pet hospital if something seems amiss.


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