CBD for Pets
Categories: Excerpt General
As more and more people begin to integrate cannabis into their health and wellness regimens, the question naturally arises: can this help my pets, too?
While cannabis has been used to help alleviate pain and suffering in animals for thousands of years, we’re just now rediscovering its veterinary applications. Of course, there are lots of things to take into account before deciding whether cannabis products might be right for your furry friends.
One chief consideration: cats and dogs can’t just be treated as “mini humans” when it comes to dosing. Both have different endocannabinoid systems from us—and no way to communicate their sensitivities. Generally, CBD—the non-psychoactive compound in cannabis—is what cannabis-friendly vets recommend for cats and dogs.
CBD: A Patient’s Guide to Medicinal Cannabis—Healing Without the High helps readers make informed decisions about what kind of cannabis product might work best for their pets. The excerpt below includes handy charts on dosage administration; what types of cannabis to consider for specific conditions; and guidelines for safety.
Cannabis oil, which is usually diluted in a carrier such as olive oil or coconut oil, is one of the simplest ways to administer the medicine to pets. It can be added to food or given directly by mouth. Preparations of a highly concentrated extract (CO2 or alcohol extraction are the cleanest methods) are diluted in the carrier to make appropriate dosing possible. Without dilution, the concentrated extracts (especially those containing THC) are difficult to dose with accuracy in small animals. Using undiluted concentrates greatly increases the chance of accidental overdose.
In addition to oils, cannabis-infused treats are available for pets. Most of these are CBD treats made from hemp and are sold over the counter nationwide. Hemp-based CBD treats have little to no THC, are very safe, and are often effective for mild to moderate aches and pains. Most practitioners agree, however, that, when higher doses are needed, hemp-based CBD treats and supplements are not as potent as those made from marijuana.
Cannabis oils, salves, or sprays can be used on pets with skin allergies or even for arthritis and back pain. The cannabinoid receptors in the skin and hair follicles provide both surface (skin) and deeper (muscle and joint) relief. Many of these animals otherwise require steroids or other medications that may have harmful side effects. The effects of topicals in some patients are nothing short of amazing. Topicals are a great option for pets, although sometimes fur may need to be shaved and it is important to prevent the pet from licking off the medicine.
Smoking and Vaping
Under no circumstances should any attempt be made to dose a pet with cannabis by blowing smoke or vapor into its face. Pets have highly sensitive respiratory systems that are not equipped for this type of delivery. In addition, it is currently impossible to accurately dose medicine for pets this way. There may come a time when accurate dosing is available through a metered dose inhaler, such as is used with pets and people to administer asthma medication. Until then, stick to oral and/or topical administration only.
Choosing a Cannabis Product for Your Pet
With the advent of CBD products and effective low-dose THC therapy, cannabis products are becoming more common for treating animals safely and effectively. “The results are almost immediate,” says Darlene Arden, a certified animal behavior consultant. “Elderly dogs are running around like puppies, and their last months or years are far more comfortable. Those with cancer are no longer in any sort of pain. It increases the appetite. In other words it improves the quality of life. Not surprisingly, few veterinarians are prescribing medical marijuana yet, but I think we’ll see a trend that way once some testing is done.”
“Marijuana should be dispensed under medical care,” Arden continued. “I think the benefits far outweigh any negative connotations, if it’s used judiciously, people are educated about how to use and store it, and it is carefully dosed to the size of the dog.”457
There may have been a day when CBD was “riding the coattails” of THC when it came to how people viewed cannabis as medicine, but no more. CBD has become a major player in its own right. THC and CBD are both highly active compounds that overlap in their pharmacological use. However, while both can be effectively used for pain, inflammation, and treatment of cancer, CBD has particular affinities for treating conditions such as gastrointestinal disease and seizures. The primary goal when using cannabis as medicine in pets (and people) is determining which compounds can be used most safely and effectively.
Like all botanical medicines, cannabis is made up of many active compounds. It is theorized that there is a synergistic effect between these chemicals that ultimately is greater than the sum of its parts. This phenomenon, known as the “entourage effect” (see p. 25), is one of many reasons utilizing a whole plant as medicine is often better than attempting to isolate a single compound for pharmaceutical use. In the future, the full spectrum of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids within cannabis will be utilized to achieve the greatest medical effect. For now, however, product selection is most commonly based on the ratio of CBD to THC.
The relative ratio of CBD to THC is as important to successful treatment as is the actual amount of each compound present in a medication. THC and CBD each mimic a different neurotransmitter in the endocannabinoid system and thus have different effects on the body. The individual amounts of THC and CBD in a formula create a medicine that affects the body relative to the specific ratio used. For example, a formula that is well suited to fight cancer often will have a higher THC content, whereas one designed for seizures will have a higher CBD content. Since formulas can be created with specific ratios, it is possible to create medicines to help a wide variety of conditions.
When choosing a cannabis product for use in pets, it is imperative to know both the concentration of the medicine and the ratio of CBD to THC. The table below is a guide to product selection for specific diseases or conditions and the most appropriate CBD-to-THC ratio.
Recommended CBD: THC Product Ratios for Specific Diseases or Conditions
CBD:THC DISEASE OR CONDITION High CBD, low THC
(between 4:1 to 30:1)
Stroke or head injuryAnxiety, restlessness (as an aid for
pets who are not sleeping well)
Equal CBD and THC (1:1) Inflammatory bowel disease
Cancer, especially involving tumors
Spinal cord injuries
Low CBD, high THC
(between 1:4 to 1:20)
Severe pain such as advanced arthritis or cancer pain
Cancer, especially involving tumors
For many conditions and in smaller pets, it is beneficial to begin with a lower-THC, higher-CBD medicine. This allows for a greater margin of safety and, if needed, acclimation to THC, which helps limit the chances of toxicity. Depending on the pet’s response to the initial product, changes to higher-THC doses can be made under veterinary supervision.
Guidelines for Product Selection
- CBD products made from hemp can be safe and effective, provided they come from high-quality plants and are manufactured safely, but this can be a challenge (see p. 203 for more on hemp vs. medical cannabis–grade products). It’s a good idea to research companies and manufacturing methods thoroughly before purchasing.
- Complete and accurate labeling of medical cannabis is critical for safety and success with medicine containing THC. Product labels should contain both the concentration of CBD and THC (usually expressed in milligrams) as well as the ratio of CBD to THC.
- Always begin at a low dose and slowly work up as needed (see dosing information in the next section). This process will limit the chances of adverse reactions.
- Think of cannabis as a prescription-strength medication. Use it with appropriate caution and always consult your veterinarian at every step of the way.
Safe and Effective Dosing
We know cannabis is a complex combination of various forms of THC, CBD, terpenes, and flavonoids. It is, however, impractical to calculate the concentration of all of the compounds present in a given plant as a means of determining dosage. Since THC and CBD are the most biologically active cannabinoids, medical cannabis dosing is based on these two components.
When determining the dosing of cannabis for pets, the primary necessity is accurate labeling. Without this information, carefully calculated doses mean nothing. Assuming the product being used is labeled accurately, the other consideration to take into account is the biphasic dosing curve.
When purchasing a product specifically designed for pets, determining a dose should be easy: simply follow the directions on the label. But, even with CBD, and as stated previously, it is still advisable to start at the low end of the dosing range provided and slowly increase over time. This will prevent excessive sedation, which can occur even with CBD products.
Cannabis products produced for human consumption may have dosing information on them, but, once again, dogs and cats are not “small humans.” Dosing them as such may result in a trip to the emergency room.
The following dosage guidelines for dogs and cats have been derived from a combination of research data and veterinary experience. Recommendations vary by individual and condition, so always consult an experienced veterinarian prior to giving cannabis to your pet.
- Dose: 0.1–0.25 mg/kg/day
- Calculated dose should be divided for twice-daily dosing
- Start low and slowly increase to develop tolerance and adjust for the biphasic dosing curve
*Although the amount of CBD in a given medicine is important, THC is the compound
in cannabis that has the potential for toxicity. Thus, THC is always the limiting
factor for any product containing THC. In order to prevent toxicity and a trip to the
emergency room, accurate dosing is critical. Consult your veterinarian to assist you
with the dosing calculations.
- Dose: 0.1–0.5 mg/kg/day
- Calculated dose should be divided for twice-daily dosing
- Doses up to 5 mg/kg/day have been reported for difficult seizure cases
- Start low and slowly increase to adjust for the biphasic dosing curve
457 Claudia Bensimoun, “Medical Marijuana for Dogs,” Animal Wellness Magazine, https://animalwellnessmagazine.com/medical-marijuana-for-dogs/.
458 Ray Wright, personal communication with the authors, January 15, 2017.
Medical Disclaimer: This page is for educational and informational purposes only and may not be construed as medical advice. The information is not intended to replace medical advice offered by qualified physicians or veterinarians.