Can CBD Help Pets With Anxiety?

an owner gives their husky a cbd oil treatment

Anxiety is not just a human problem — pets get anxious too, especially when left without the comfort of your presence for long periods of time. This often manifests itself in behaviors that we find irritating, like destructive tendencies (i.e., “my dog ate my homework”) or a nice, fragrant present all over the new carpet. It’s easy to simply get angry at your pet, or attribute bad behavior to bad training, but in fact your pet is dealing with their fear in the only way they know. So, once you become aware of this problem, the question becomes: how can I ease my pet’s anxiety? Can CBD oil actually help my pet?

What Is CBD?

CBD is a convenient abbreviation for cannabidiol, which is a compound that can be found in the cannabis plant, and is often extracted and used for its medicinal properties. Though CBD is often associated with marijuana, CBD oil and other medicinal CBD products are actually extracted from hemp, a close cousin of marijuana. Because it is extracted from hemp, CBD oil contains less than 0.3% THC — tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive compound that causes sensation of being high — and is also completely legal in all 50 states under the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018.

a composite image showing hemp vs marijuna
Hemp and marijuana are closely related, both being varieties of the Cannabis sativa plant. Image courtesy of Essential Health.

Even though it’s legal, CBD treatments have not been widely accepted by the veterinarian community, and most veterinarians refrain from discussing CBD treatments because they are restricted by law from “administering, prescribing, dispensing, or recommending cannabis for their patients,” though in some cases the legality is fuzzy because it depends heavily on specific state laws. On top of this, CBD products are currently considered to be supplements by the Food and Drug Administration, so they aren’t required to undergo any testing before they are put on the market. This means it’s the consumer’s responsibility to make sure that the product they purchase is legitimate, and although they can ask for input from their vet, the vet may not be able to give any advice.

How Can CBD Ease Anxiety?

In general, there aren’t many studies about CBD as a treatment for pets, but there are even fewer studies about CBD as a treatment for anxiety in pets, but what scientists do know is how CBD works on a micro level. CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system, which is at work in humans, all other mammals, and even a few non-mammals. Because of this, CBD should theoretically work the same for pets as it does for humans, but of course, all bodies are different, even between members of the same species.

The endocannabinoid system plays many leading roles within the body, contributing to mood, energy, sensations, metabolism, muscle control, and more. To put it simply, the endocannabinoid system’s job is to ensure that the body maintains homeostasis.

a diagram showing the endocannabinoid system
Many of the roles of the endocannabinoid system are fulfilled by its interaction with the central nervous system, taking place in the synapse that you see here. Image courtesy of Medium: CBD Origin.

There are essentially two parts of the endocannabinoid system: endocannabinoids, which buzz around the body acting as messengers, and receptors, which receive the messages from endocannabinoids and translate them into actions. This system is usually quite self-sufficient — your pet’s body produces its own endocannabinoids naturally — but the problem comes when this system begins producing too much or not enough of a certain endocannabinoid. In the case of anxiety, it’s likely that your pet’s body is not producing enough 2-arachidonoylglycerol, or 2-AG, an important endocannabinoid that regulates mood.

So what can CBD do to help? CBD is actually neither an endocannabinoid nor a receptor. Instead, it’s a phytocannabinoid that has an indirect but important influence on the endocannabinoid system as a whole. CBD can either use this influence negatively or positively.

By negative, I don’t necessarily mean bad, I mean that CBD has the ability to block part of the natural chain of events that occurs within the endocannabinoid system, therefore restricting it. It does this by binding to a receptor, which changes that receptor’s shape so that the endocannabinoid can no longer fit into the receptor to deliver its message. Most of the time this actually has a positive effect on the body as a whole. For instance, by binding to certain THC receptors, CBD can lessen the negative side effects of THC, such as paranoia or short term memory impairment.

In the case of anxiety, the positive function of CBD is more important. Once an endocannabinoid has completed its job, it’s usually destroyed by an enzyme so that it can’t continue to deliver its message to various receptors. However, CBD can occupy the enzyme that would destroy a certain endocannabinoid — say, 2-AG — so that if the body is not producing enough of that particular endocannabinoid, the ones that are already there can continue to deliver their message around the body. So, at least in theory, CBD should be able to make your pet calmer and happier.

What Are The Risks And Side Effects Of CBD Treatments?

So we’ve seen the good side of CBD — what about the bad? As of now, there are very few short-term side effects caused by CBD, and because of the lack of research on this topic, we have absolutely no knowledge of any long-term side effects. The known short-term side effects include lethargy, dizziness, itchiness, or vomiting, but these side effects should recede as the CBD is absorbed.  If you’re concerned that your pet is experiencing these side effects, you can stop them by stopping treatment. When your pet has already been on the treatment for a while, ease them off of it by reducing the dosage. There is also a possibility that your pet may be allergic to CBD, especially if they’re already allergic to grass.

A dog taking a nap after CBD oil treatment
Drowsiness and lethargy are common, but not unpleasant, side effects of CBD treatments.

In terms of risks, the largest is that of overdose, resulting in THC toxicity. This means that your pet will be high for at most a few days, which may not sound serious, but in fact is a very uncomfortable experience for your pet. They may have trouble eating or standing and will experience symptoms such as vomiting, dilated pupils, lethargy, or urinary incontinence. Your best course of action in case of an overdose is to visit the vet. While it is rare, THC toxicity can prove to be fatal.

Which CBD Treatment Should I Buy?

With the new-found popularity of CBD, the market is booming with various CBD products — I even saw CBD-infused water at my local grocery store. With so many alternatives in an unregulated market, it can be difficult to know which of these products to trust, and even harder to decide on one to purchase.

A cat receives a treat from her owner
CBD treats have become a common way of administering CBD, but which treats are actually the best for your animal?

Here are some tips for finding the right CBD treatment for your animal:

  • Go organic. You may not be convinced that organic food is worth the price, but when picking up a CBD treatment, it’s important to make sure that the product is organic so that you won’t be feeding your pet any toxic pesticides.
  • Don’t trust the process. Some methods of processing, like those using petroleum-based products such as hexane and butane, can contribute toxic ingredients to the CBD treatment. These methods are a cheaper way of extracting CBD, so watch out for them if you’re trying to be budget conscious.
  • Check the THC content. In all hemp-derived products, the THC content should be less than 0.3% because if not, the product is illegal. However, it’s always worth checking just to make sure that your pet will not experience THC toxicity with a normal dosage.
  • Make sure it’s certified. Any reputable seller will proudly display the independent lab results and certificate of analysis that verifies their product.

How Do I Administer A CBD Treatment?

CBD is very easy to give to your pet, no matter the form you choose. Three general treatment methods are available to most pets: tincture (a bottle of oil with a dropper), capsules, and treats. Tincture can be mixed in with food or water, as can capsules if broken open, or dropped around the gums and or under the tongue, where it will absorb more quickly. Treats are the easiest form to administer because they’re so tasty to your furry friend, but just be careful to keep them well out of reach so that your pet won’t accidentally overdose. Treats also contain more additives than the other two forms, which can make them less effective.

Speaking of overdosing, let’s talk dosage. Though this is by no means a hard-and-fast rule, a very general recommendation for dosage is that it should be between 0.05 and 0.25 grams per pound of body weight, administered twice a day. You should start off at the bottom of this scale, then slowly work your way up until you begin to notice the effects of the treatment. Keep a close eye on your pet as they begin this treatment, and if you notice any negative side effects, either reduce the dosage or stop the treatment altogether. If your CBD treatment comes with a dosing chart, use that because it will take into account any added ingredients that may interfere with dosage.

While it seems that CBD is generally an effective treatment for anxiety in pets, be sure to exercise caution and keep an eye on new research. The unregulated nature of the market for CBD as well as the lack of research surrounding it makes it a somewhat dubious treatment, but it also has the potential to make both you and your pet more comfortable.

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