The Ultimate Guide To CBD Oil For Dogs

a dog stretches up to eat a cbd oil treat from its owner's hand

We all want our pets to lead the best lives possible, but disease, chronic pain, and even more normal, everyday discomforts, like allergies, can get in the way of that. It’s easy to feel helpless in the face of these larger issues, but  in fact there are tools you can use to make your pup feel like a new dog. CBD oil may or may not be one of those tools. You, as the guardian of your dog, have to make a decision about whether or not CBD oil is an appropriate treatment, maybe with the help of your vet, if they’re authorized to discuss it with you. Our goal in this post is to provide you with all the information about CBD oil for dogs so that you can decide properly.

Hemp Plant on a Table with Hemp Oil in a Jar
CBD oil is derived from the hemp plant, which is a close relative of marijuana. Image courtesy of Market Research News.

What Is CBD Oil?

CBD stands for cannabidiol, which is a compound that can be extracted from any Cannabis sativa plant. CBD is often confused with THC, tetrahydrocannabinol, but the two compounds carry out vastly different functions within the body. CBD is more medicinal, mostly connected with maintaining homeostasis, while THC is the psychoactive compound that provides the sensation of being high. 

Though both compounds can be found in marijuana, CBD oil is derived from another variety of Cannabis sativa — hemp. This means that all CBD oils contain less than 0.3% THC, so they won’t get your pup high. Because all hemp and hemp-derived products that contain less than 0.3% THC are fully legalized under the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, you also won’t have to worry about all the confusing legality surrounding marijuana.

However, just because it’s legal doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily safe. Because CBD products are considered by the Food and Drug Administration to be supplements, they don’t undergo the rigorous testing that other medicines do before they’re released to the larger public. This lack of research and regulation means that some CBD products may be unreliable or contain varying levels of active ingredients. If you decide to go forward with a CBD treatment, be sure to do your research on the product you’re purchasing before giving it to your pup.

How Does CBD Oil Work?

CBD interacts with a system that’s quite important in the body of all mammals, and even some other animals, though you may not have heard of it — the endocannabinoid system. This system is distributed throughout the body, and it works with others, like the immune system or the nervous system, to affect mood, sensation, metabolism, energy, muscle control, and more. 

Ho CBD1 and CBD2 Affects the Body
Like humans, dogs have endocannabinoid receptors all over their bodies. Image courtesy of Green Leaf Origins

The endocannabinoid system consists of endocannabinoids, which deliver messages, and receptors, which receive those messages and translate them into action. The two types of receptors are CB1 and CB2, which work with the nervous system and immune system, respectively. While receptors are somewhat fixed and permanent, endocannabinoids are much more ephemeral. They’re first generated naturally by the body (usually), then once they’ve successfully delivered their message to the proper receptor, they’re destroyed by an enzyme.

So where does CBD fit into all this? CBD is actually neither endocannabinoid nor receptor. It’s a phytocannabinoid, which you can think of as a kind of overseer for all the processes carried out within the endocannabinoid system. CBD can tweak the system in many ways, but there are two main methods through which it exerts its influence. 

Before the endocannabinoid even reaches the receptor, CBD can bind to the receptor to change its shape, effectively blocking it off from the endocannabinoid. In this way, CBD can be used to mellow out some of the negative side effects of THC (an endocannabinoid), like paranoia or short term memory impairment. CBD can also encourage endocannabinoids to proliferate by occupying an enzyme that would otherwise destroy a certain endocannabinoid. That way, it can continue to deliver a positive message throughout the body. 

While the body normally produces its own endocannabinoids, this assembly line can be very easily disturbed by disease, stress, lack of sleep, or even a change in diet. By adding more CBD to the system, you’re allowing the body to reign in endocannabinoids that produce negative effects, and encourage those that have positive effects. Though it’s not curing any of the basic problems that caused the imbalance in the first place, an extra dose of CBD can allow your pup to feel more comfortable. 

Dalmatian Dog Being Fed Water by Girl in Black Dress
If your dog often refuses food or has trouble eating, CBD oil may be able to help.

What Are The Benefits of CBD Oil for Dogs?

Because CBD is heavily involved in the endocannabinoid system, which is directly linked to the nervous and immune systems, CBD products can decrease the negative effects of many ailments. However, it is not a miraculous cure-all, as some mistakenly think. While it works to decrease the ill effects of these diseases, it will never be able to cure the underlying issue. This makes it great for many pups and people with chronic illnesses. Other ailments with which it may be able to help include:

  • Arthritis
  • Seizures
  • Anxiety
  • Cancer
  • Appetite 
  • Inflammation
  • Asthma
  • Chronic pain
  • Nausea
  • Diabetes

Keep in mind that because of the lack of research on this topic, many of these claims are purely anecdotal — it’s up to you to decide whether to believe them or not.

Black and White Dog Laying on a Chair Looking Sleepy
One of the common side effects of a CBD treatment is lethargy.

What Are The Risks And Side Effects of CBD Oil for Dogs?

Because of all the precautions you often hear surrounding cannabis products, you may expect CBD oil to be a dangerous medicine with many possible side effects. In fact, CBD oil is actually a relatively safe medicine, at least in the short term. The scientific community is still unsure of the long-term side effects, especially for animals. 

The only real risk is that of overdose, which leads to THC toxicity — essentially, your dog being high for a couple days at most. This may sound non-threatening, and maybe a little bit fun, but it’s certainly not fun for your pup. The sensation will be uncomfortable for them, and they may have trouble eating or even standing. Common signs of an overdose include vomiting, dilated pupils, lethargy, and urinary incontinence — loss of bladder control. If you spot any of these signs, take your dog to the vet immediately. In rare cases, overdoses can prove to be fatal. 

Your dog may also experience drowsiness, diarrhea, itching, dizziness, or vomiting as side effects of the CBD treatment. These side effects are usually mild and recede as the CBD is absorbed. You can stop any negative side effects by stopping the treatment. If your dog has been on the treatment for an extended period of time already, you should slowly decrease the dosage of CBD oil. As with any new substance, there is a possibility that your dog will be allergic to CBD oil, especially if they have a grass allergy. Though CBD is not known to have any negative interactions, you should talk to your vet about any possible interactions with other medications before committing to the treatment. 

To stop side effects and avoid the risk of overdose, you should start your dog out on a very small dosage, then slowly increase it until your pup experiences all of the positive effects with none of the negative. Most side effects result from an initial dosage that is too high.

Brown and Tan Dog Laying on Floor Licking Paw
If you drop the oil on your pup’s paw, they may just lick it straight up.

How Do I Administer CBD Oil to my dog?

CBD products for dogs come in three basic forms: tincture (a bottle of oil with a dropper), capsules, and treats. Each has their strengths and weaknesses. Tincture is the most easy to dose out, with each drop containing a set amount of CBD, and likely contains the least additives. On the other hand, picky pups won’t like the taste, although an easy way to administer the oil is by mixing it into food or placing a drop on a treat. 

Capsules may contain a larger dose than is in a drop of tincture, which makes them convenient for dogs who are already on a well-established CBD treatment schedule. It may be difficult to get your dog to swallow one whole, so you can break open the casing and mix the oil inside with your pup’s food if all else fails. 

Treats are the tastiest option, but they usually contain the lowest dose of CBD and the highest amount of dubious additives to make them yummy. They’re usually best for dogs with less serious issues, or those who simply refuse to take their medicine through any other means. Be careful to keep the treats well out of reach when you’re not around to supervise.

CBD oil is still quite the question mark, so it’s really up to you to decide if it could benefit your pup. As of now, it seems to be a relatively safe option, but I would just advise you to use caution if you decide to move forward with a CBD treatment. Keep an eye on the news surrounding this subject as well — it should be interesting to see the studies that are sure to emerge.

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