The Ultimate Guide to CBD Oil for Cats

a kitten sleeping in its owner's arms

As cannabis-based treatments become more popular for humans, many cat owners have started to wonder if these alternative treatments can help out their pet. Despite the expanding market for CBD pet products, there has actually been very little research done about the effect of CBD treatments on animals — and though their positive effects on people have been well documented, experts warn that there may be unexpected consequences. Despite the lack of research, we’re here to share what little is known about CBD for cats so that you can decide whether you should treat your furry friend with this mysterious substance.

Marijuana Plant with the Chemical Composition Written on the Photo
Hemp plants look almost identical to marijuana because they’re so closely related.

So, what is CBD anyway?

You probably have a vague association of CBD with marijuana in your head, which is certainly not wrong, but the CBD oil that we’re talking about here is actually derived from hemp. It’s important to make that distinction because while marijuana and hemp are very closely related, being two varieties of cannabis, hemp products often contain much less THC than marijuana products. 

THC is tetrahydrocannabinol, a compound that’s known for its psychoactive properties. Essentially, it’s what gives marijuana users a high. CBD (cannabinol), on the other hand, is more often used for its medicinal and healing properties. Because CBD oil is a product derived from hemp that contains less than 0.3% of THC, it’s legal in all states, and it won’t get your cat high, except in the case of an overdose.

How does it work?

When CBD enters the body, it interacts with the endocannabinoid system, which is the same in all mammals. This system can be broken down into endocannabinoids, which carry messages throughout the body, and cannabinoid receptors, which receive those messages and translate them into an effect on the body. The receptors can be broken down even further into CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors.

Clip Art Image of How CBD is Received by the Receptors
One of the ways in which CBD works to the body’s benefit is by modifying receptors so that certain messages won’t be received. In this case we can see that CBD is blocking our old friend THC in order to lessen its negative side effects, such as anxiety and short term memory impairment. Image courtesy of Foria Wellness

CB1 receptors are located in the brain and central nervous system and can control mood, memory, motor function, or feelings of pain. CB2 receptors can be found in the immune system, and they control responses to pathogens, like inflammation. Your body naturally produces the endocannabinoids that serve as commands for the receptors, but it can also destroy them using enzymes so that they don’t continue to send signals to the receptors. One of the ways in which CBD interacts with this system is by inhibiting the enzymes that destroy certain endocannabinoids, specifically those that function to make us feel good. It can also modify the receptor’s ability to bind to certain endocannabinoids, promoting some messages while inhibiting others.

So that’s a lot of fancy science talk, but the bottom line is that sometimes the body’s endocannabinoid system can be thrown out of whack, whether that be by an overactive immune system, stress, diet, or exercise, and one of the best ways to balance it out is to use CBD oil — for humans and cats alike. 

What are the benefits of CBD oil for cats?

Although CBD is not a miraculous cure-all, because it interacts with the very important endocannabinoid system, it can be used as a treatment for many ailments. It may not cause these illnesses to vanish, but it will work to lessen some of the unpleasant side effects and make your kitty more comfortable. Common ailments that CBD has been used to treat include:

  • Inflammation
  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Cancer
  • Chronic pain
  • Nausea
  • Seizures
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Anxiety
Grey Cat Laying on a Bed With White Sheets
Lethargy can be a sign that CBD oil is having a negative effect on your cat.

Side Effects and Risks

CBD is generally thought to be quite safe for cats, though there has been little research into the long-term effects of its use. Short-term, it can cause gastrointestinal upset and lethargy, both of which can be stopped by discontinuing the treatment. There’s a risk that your cat may be allergic to CBD oil, especially if she happens to be allergic to grass. If you notice any serious changes to your cat’s health, you should always, always contact your vet. Every cat is different, and every cat will have a different reaction to the treatment, though it’s usually not adverse. To gauge how your cat reacts to CBD oil, you should always start her off on very small dosages, then up the dosage if she doesn’t have a negative response.

A larger risk than any side effects is that of overdosing. Because the market for CBD oil is unregulated by the FDA, you will never know exactly what’s in your CBD oil or if the dosage is correct. Overdosing can cause your cat to experience uncomfortable side effects, such as a lack of coordination, oversensitivity to stimuli, vomiting, and the loss of bladder control. If you notice any of these symptoms, visit your vet immediately.

Orange and White Cat Licking its Paws
One of the ways to give your cat CBD oil is to drop it onto her paw so that she’ll lick it off.

How to administer CBD oil to your cat

To allow your cat to experience the effects of the oil immediately, you can apply it to under your cat’s tongue, where it will absorb quickly through the mouth’s mucus membranes. Your cat may not be down with this method, however, so you can also mix the oil into her food or water — it’ll just take around 45 minutes to kick in.

Charcoal Cat Licking Can of Hemp Treats
Treats will certainly convince your cat to swallow their CBD, but if left to their own devices, they may overdose. Image courtesy of CBD Products with Verde

Outside of CBD oil, there are also CBD treats and capsules that may be easier to convince your cat to consume. Capsules are great because they contain a set amount of CBD, making it easier to determine your dosage, and they’re easy to hide in food. As of now, there are few options for CBD cat treats. They also may not be the best option because they make it harder to determine dosage, and there’s always a chance that your cat will raid the treat bag and overdose. 

Speaking of dosage, it’s very important to make sure that your cat doesn’t overdose, so what exactly should your dosage be? It’s a complicated question because dosage can vary based on your cat’s weight, the ailment you’re treating, and how your cat reacts to treatment. Consult with your vet before starting treatment, and always start out small — around 1 to 5 mg, erring on the side of 1, then slowly and steadily increasing the dosage, given that there are no adverse reactions. 

How to find good CBD products

The lack of regulation regarding CBD products means that you have to do your own research. Good CBD products for cats do exist, they just may be mixed in with those that will do your pet more harm than good. Here’s our checklist of what you should look for when purchasing a CBD treatment.

  • Organic - your CBD should be completely natural and organic to ensure that you won’t be feeding your cat any of the harmful chemcials that can be found in pesticides
  • Certifications - you should look into the company selling the product and make sure that they are properly certified
  • Analysis - any CBD product worth its salt should offer an analysis that will tell you exactly what ingredients are inside, and how they’ve been tested
  • Concentration - some CBD products have a concentration that is too low to be effective, making them a complete waste of money

To make life even easier than you, here are some examples of good CBD products for cats.

HolistaPet’s CBD Cat Treats

Brown Bag CBD Cat Treats
Your cat won’t be able to resist these salmon-flavored tidbits. Image courtesy of HolistaPet.

HolistaPet’s CBD treats are a great option for a picky feline. They’re made of entirely natural ingredients, with the only active ingredient being CBD. Because each treat contains exactly 2 mg of CBD, it’s easy to keep track of your dosage, although you should still be careful to store these treats in a secure place. These treats have also been tested and approved by third party.

HempRx for Pets

Brown Dropper Bottle of Hemp Oil for Pets
This oil is completely organic and pure. Image courtesy of Boulder Holistic Vets

HempRx has only one ingredient — whole hemp plant essential oil — which makes it great for sensitive cats who should only be introduced to one substance at a time. It’s also completely organic and, because of the extraction technique used, contains no traces of solvents, heavy metals, or any other harmful substances. It’s easy to dose, with 0.5 mg per drop.

Though CBD oil remains a controversial and mysterious topic, with a lack of research and misinformation combining to form a shroud of negative stigma, it just might be the treatment your kitty needs to be more comfortable. Consult your vet about it and proceed with caution, but as of now, there’s little reason that you should disregard CBD oil as a treatment option. 

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