Murray, Stan Jacobson’s 11-year-old Labrador retriever, was having trouble going up and down the stairs. He didn’t jump as high as he once did while playing fetch and walks were a bit slower than usual. Murray’s arthritis was getting worse.
â€śMy veterinarian wasn’t too helpful,â€ť Jacobson said, â€śeven though I broached the subject. I live in Boulder, Colorado, where both medical and recreational marijuana is legal for adults, not for dogs.â€ť Anecdotally, some pet owners have reported that they use CBD oil for dog seizures, but legal barriers remain for medical professionals.
Veterinarians are not legally allowed to prescribe or recommend CBD products to their clients, even in states where it’s legal for adult use, which makes understanding CBD oil dosage for dogs difficult, if not impossible. That’s the case for Worcester, Massachusetts, veterinarian Karen Fine of the Fine Veterinary House Calls and Central Animal Hospital.
â€śI’m not allowed to prescribe it because of federal regulations,â€ť she said.
While she is well aware of the anecdotal information she receives from her clients, she and other veterinarians can lose their licenses if they prescribe CBD products to their patients. CBD is categorized by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a Schedule I controlled substance. So far, 47 states have legalized CBD for humans, but not for pets.
According to the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), medical doctors can prescribe CBD to their human patients; veterinarians cannot use it to treat animals.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA) notes on its website that veterinarians cannot prescribe CBD products to their clients because, â€śstate laws legalizing use in people do not apply to cannabis use in animals.â€ť
Where CBD is permitted as a pet remedy is tricky. California passed legislation allowing veterinarians to discuss the use of CBD products with their clients. In other states, however, veterinarians can answer questions about CBD only if the client brings it up first.
A survey from the Veterinary Information Network (VIN) found that 63% of veterinarians are asked about using CBD at least monthly and 8% are asked daily.
Martha Lang’s calico cat, Kitty, hates loud noises. â€śThunder and fireworks are the worst,â€ť she said. â€śShe’s so skittish during a thunderstorm and I’ve come to hate July 4. I heard CBD oil is good for calming pets. So, I tried it, and it works.â€ť
Lang, who lives in Newton, New Jersey, buys CBD oil for cats online.
Anecdotally, CBD has been used for joint pain, arthritis, appetite stimulation, seizures, nausea, stress, anxiety, back pain, symptoms of cancer, and gastrointestinal issues. CBD products come in a variety of forms, too, including tinctures, capsules, and chew treats.
Fine, a holistic veterinarian, relies on both traditional veterinary medicine and traditional Chinese medicine in her practice, which includes using acupuncture and Chinese herbs to treat cats and dogs. Despite being open to alternative forms of medicine, she remains cautious.
â€śI don’t like to use the word conservative,â€ť she said, â€śbut when it comes to treating animals, I am. That’s because there’s still a lot that we don’t know about CBD use for pets.
â€śCBD is a supplement and in general most supplements are not tightly regulated,â€ť she said. â€śBuying CBD is confusing, too. Often you don’t know what you’re getting. Some people sell CBD oils they’ve made in their homes. And the products online and in stores vary greatly in the amount of CBD in the products.â€ť
Kirsten Waratuke, DVM, DABT, and Toxicologist for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Animal Poison Control Center, agreed.
â€śCannabinoid or CBD pet treats-which are also called hemp treatsâ€”oil, and tinctures are becoming increasingly popular for both human use and pets as well. At this point, more research is needed to look at what effects CBD has in pets to better understand how it may best benefit them.â€ť
The DEA classifies marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance. The confusion lies with CBD and hemp. Hemp is defined as cannabis with 0.3% or less of THC. Since it has less than 0.3% of THC it was removed from the Schedule I classification after the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill.
â€śAt the same time,â€ť Waratuke said, â€śCongress preserved the FDA’s current authority to regulate products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds. This means that there are no FDA (Federal Drug Administration) approved cannabis or CBD products available for pets. Often, products that are available are marketed as hemp-based to skirt around the current legal status of marijuana and CBD.â€ť
Pet owners are confused about CBD dosage for dogs and cats–is it based on body weight? Are there dosage charts? What’s in the product? The later has been addressed by a 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that examined 84 CBD-infused products produced by 31 companies. The study found only 30% of the products contained CBD that was within 10% of the amount advertised. A few of the products contained small amounts of THC, despite being labeled as THC-free.
Without knowing what we’re buying, it’s impossible to know how much CBD oil to give dogs or cats. Some bottles list dosages, others don’t, making it impossible to say how much and how often to give. Also, a pet’s size needs to be taken into account. A toy poodle wouldn’t receive the same dose as a Doberman.
According to Waratuke, â€śMore research is needed as there is no known appropriate dose for pets and we don’t know the long term effects of using CBD.â€ť
Not knowing if using the product now will have an adverse effect later gives Waratuke a lot of pause. â€śThe main issue in CBD is quality control. A concern is that there is no consistency from batch to batch,â€ť she said. â€śWhat may be a ‘dose’ in one batch may be an over-or underdose in the next.â€ť
Canine epilepsy is the top cause of recurrent seizures in dogs. Medications that treat canine epilepsy have many side effects in some breeds. Some dog owners use CBD oil for dog seizures, but does it work?
Stephanie McGrath, DVM and veterinary neurologist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, is the lead researcher for the American Kennel Club’s Canine Health Foundation’s study on testing CBD to treat epilepsy in dogs. She’s trying to find an answer.
â€śThere’s still so much to learn about inheritance of epilepsy, the influence of genes and epigenetics, the role of nutrition, the role of changes in the bacterial population of the intestinal tract, and other potential risk factors â€” we are investing in research in these areas,â€ť McGrath said. â€śSo, in some ways, while it is too soon to tell outcomes, you see the real need for more research.â€ť
She’s also studying adverse effects caused by CBD given to healthy dogs. McGrath explained, â€śOverall, the product was well tolerated clinically. However, clinically significant adverse effects, particularly diarrhea and elevations in serum ALP levels, are noteworthy and warrant further discussion and research.â€ť ALP is alkaline phosphatase, a protein found in all body tissues.
There’s more data on dogs than on cats, even though there are roughly 86 million owned cats, compared with 79 million owned dogs in the U.S. Cat people tend to have two or three cats per household, while dog owners tend to have one dog. Even with those impressive numbers, little is know about the appropriate CBD oil dosage for cats.
â€śResearch is needed,â€ť Fine explained, â€śbecause there is so much we don’t know about CBD’s effect on dogs and in cats.â€ť
Fine worries about the lack of information regarding how CBD interacts with other medications pets may be taking. â€śAnd there’s less oversight and testing of pet products than for ones we humans use,â€ť she said.
â€śAnother issue is that the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center has had dogs develop the same signs as THC ingestion after ingesting CBD only-products because of the lack of regulation,â€ť Waratuke said. â€śWe just want to warn all pet owners to keep all marijuana/CBD products out of paws reach at all times to prevent unintended ingestions.â€ť