The Benefits and Risks of Using Cannabis for Pets

Jessica McKeil May 13, 2021 1 comment

It’s undeniable, medical cannabis is booming, but is it the best medicine for our pets?

Not only are patients enjoying better access to cannabis, there has also been a tsunami of new research proving its potential medicinal value. Pet owners are also attracted to the possible medicinal benefits of cannabis for pets. If cannabis works so well for humans, why can’t its therapeutic value be extended to our four-legged, furry companions? So, what are the benefits and risks of using cannabis for pets?

Cannabis for Pets: How Does it Work?

To understand cannabis for pets, pet owners must first grasp cannabis as a medicinally valuable plant. Much of the plant’s therapeutic potential comes from the natural chemicals it contains, including over hundred compounds called cannabinoids. Different strains or chemovars means different combinations of cannabinoids, creating a unique cannabinoid profile.

The most famous cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Scientists have already linked these compounds with multiple medical benefits as far-ranging as pain relief, inflammation, epilepsy, and palliative care.

Cannabinoids are unique in the way they interact with a physiological system called the endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system is a network of receptors and chemical messages which is continuously working to keep the body in balance, which means regulating pain, appetite, mood, memory, and more. Most mammals have an endocannabinoid system, including pet owners and their pets.

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The cannabinoids from cannabis fit nicely into the endocannabinoid system, stepping in where needed if the system isn’t in balance and needs extra support.

Much like with their human companions, the endocannabinoid systems of cats and dogs also regulate their appetite, mood, and pain. Dogs and cats, as mammals, have a remarkably similar endocannabinoid system to humans. But, there are some very important differences. The benefits and risks of using cannabis for pets all come down to understanding those variations.

BENEFITS AND RISKS OF USING CBD FOR PETS represented by somewhat quizzical looking dog and cat

What are the Benefits of Cannabinoids for Pets?

The research exploring therapeutic applications of cannabinoids in veterinary medicine is far less advanced than for their human owners. Veterinarians have been very cautious about recommending cannabis for animals, although this is slowly changing. Some vets now support CBD for pets.

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Recently, a few noteworthy studies have come out specifically looking at the benefits and risks of using cannabis for dogs.

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CBD for Chronic Inflammation in Osteoporosis in Dogs

One of the most common reasons people consume CBD oil is for the alleviation of chronic inflammation and joint pain associated with arthritis and related disorders. In 2018, Frontiers in Veterinary Science published a study looking at CBD for the treatment of osteoporosis in dogs.

The researchers were from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University. Their research ultimately proves that CBD alleviates pain and helps to increase activity among the canine participants. Combined with other measurements, their results strongly suggest CBD can reduce pain and inflammation in dogs.

CBD for Seizures in Dogs

In mid-2019, a paper from the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association detailed how CBD could significantly reduce seizure activity in dogs with intractable idiopathic epilepsy. However, as the authors noted, some confusing results warrant further research into CBD for canine-epilepsy. The benefits and risks of using cannabis for pets weren’t entirely clear.

Common Side Effects From CBD Treatment Tolerable in Dogs

In a 2018 publication entitled “A Report of Adverse Effects Associated With the Administration of Cannabidiol in Healthy Dogs,” researchers from the Department of Clinical Sciences at Colorado clinical studies looked at the risks associated with canine-CBD consumption.

Following a six-week course of treatment among thirty beagles, the researchers concluded: “CBD appeared to be well tolerated in dogs.” They did note that all dogs in the study experienced diarrhea, although it didn’t seem to be severe enough to warrant removal from the study.

What are the Risks? Appropriate Cannabinoids for Pets

Although there are many similarities between the endocannabinoid systems of humans and mammals, there are vital differences pet owners should know.

Not all cannabinoids are appropriate for use with pets, and pet owners need to be aware of this to keep their pets safe.

The primary concern is THC. As an intoxicating compound, THC is not appropriate for pets, especially dogs. Research shows that dogs have a higher concentration of CB1 receptors (a type of cannabinoid receptor) in their brains. Because of the higher number and specific locations of these CB1 receptors, THC can easily overwhelm their system. In other words, dogs are significantly more susceptible to THC-toxicity. Veterinarians occasionally report deadly overdoses in dogs linked to the consumption of THC.

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Pet owners must source pet-specific brands of cannabis oil or hemp-derived products to eliminate the risk of accidental THC consumption. These products legally contain under 0.3 percent THC, or no-THC at all, making them safe for consumption by pets.

How to Administer Cannabis for Pets

What’s the best way to give dogs and cats a daily dose of CBD? There are four types of CBD products for pets which make daily dosing easy:

  • CBD oils
  • Topical CBD
  • CBD infused treats
  • CBD capsules

As is the case with humans, pets tend to have preferences. It may be impossible to give a finicky cat a dose of CBD oil every day, but they could eagerly gobble up CBD infused treats. The same goes for dogs. Perhaps they tend to spit out pills, but don’t seem to mind a dose of CBD oil mixed into their favorite food. Pet owners know their pets best and should choose an appropriate format to make daily administration easy.

Since pets can’t communicate what they feel to their owners, owners must pay close attention to their pets as they begin dosing with CBD. Watch for changes in appetite, mood, and physical activity.

The most common adverse reactions are mild, including mild-to-moderate diarrhea, and reduced appetite. If the adverse effects are serious, always cease treatment.

Start with the smallest possible dose, as listed on the product label. Over the coming days, increase slowly and watch for changes in behavior. Increase dosage based on the pet’s weight, up until positive benefits are noted without severe side effects.

BENEFITS AND RISKS OF USING CBD FOR PETS represented by relaxed dog on a bed

A Summary of the Benefits and Risks of Using Cannabis for Pets

Cannabis contains hundreds of naturally occurring compounds called cannabinoids which interact with the endocannabinoid system of humans and other animals, for possible therapeutic benefit. The endocannabinoid system of pets and their owners is quite similar, but, there are crucial differences owners need to be aware of.

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Pets do not react well to all cannabinoids. Although the research is still unfolding, it’s clear that THC is toxic to pets (especially for dogs). The accidental ingestion of THC can lead to expensive vet bills, and there have even been reports of deadly overdoses. Pet owners should always stick with pure CBD formulations, preferably derived from hemp.

The benefits and risks of using cannabis for pets are still under preliminary investigation. There are hundreds of owners talking about the benefits of CBD for pets, but what about the science? Reports from early scientific studies suggest CBD for dogs may help reduce the effects of inflammatory diseases like osteoporosis and seizure frequency in epileptic disorders. Thus far, CBD seems well tolerated with minimal side effects among canines. More anecdotal evidence suggests similar results for cats.

While the evidence is so far supportive of CBD for pet care, owners should speak with their veterinarian before beginning treatment. Always use CBD pet products as directed, and dose based on the weight of the pet. It may take several days for benefits to appear. In the meantime, owners should always titrate slowly and pay close attention to their dog or cat’s behavior.

Author avatar

Jessica McKeil

Jessica McKeil is a freelance writer focused on the medical marijuana industry, from production methods to medicinal applications. She is lucky enough to live in beautiful British Columbia, Canada where the cannabis industry is exploding. When not writing, she spends much of her time exploring in the coastal forests.

1 comment

  1. Great information thank you very much. Question: We have been giving our dog HEMP oil for aging and so forth.

    What is your viw on dogs getting HEMP OIL ? Best wishes …JD.