CBD for Pets

The market for CBD has grown in recent years, and not just for people. Companies are now marketing a variety of CBD oils and chews for dogs and cats.

But federal regulators and the nation’s main veterinary association are saying, “Hold your horses.”

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a compound found in the cannabis plant. It doesn’t cause a high — that’s the THC, a separate compound — but some (human) users tout it as a way to ease anxiety or relieve pain, among other purported benefits. (The Food and Drug Administration says there’s limited data on CBD’s risks and effects, and warns that some CBD products “are being marketed with unproven medical claims.” The only CBD-based product approved by the FDA to date is a medication to treat seizures from certain rare, severe forms of epilepsy.)

According to surveys and anecdotal reports, many pet owners say they believe CBD has helped their dogs or cats with seizures, anxiety or pain. But little research has been done so far.

The American Veterinary Medical Association says that while “cannabinoids such as CBD appear to hold therapeutic promise” for treating epilepsy and easing osteoarthritis-related pain, “the available scientific evidence pertaining to their use in animals is currently limited.”

In an August 2020 report, “Cannabis in Veterinary Medicine,” the AVMA noted that in one study of 16 dogs, CBD seemed to reduce seizures. A handful of studies, with similarly small samples, have also found evidence suggesting CBD reduced pain in dogs suffering from osteoarthritis (though another study, published this year and using different metrics, did not find evidence of an effect).

But more research is needed into the safety and efficacy of CBD for pets, including the potential long-term effects, the AVMA says. Additionally, most of the studies to date are of dogs, leaving cat people with even less guidance.

Similarly, a literature review published last winter in the Journal of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association called the results on epilepsy and osteoarthritis promising, but said larger-scale trials are needed.

The AVMA has also raised concerns about quality control in the CBD market, citing a 2019 study of 13 CBD oils marketed for use in pets. Testing showed that at least seven had levels of CBD that differed significantly from what the label said, and 12 of the 13 had a THC content above the threshold that Canada allows for hemp.

“The AVMA continues to encourage well-controlled clinical research and pursuit of FDA approval by manufacturers of cannabis-derived products so that high-quality products of known safety and efficacy can be made available for veterinarians and their patients,” the organization says.

For its part, the FDA notes that it has not approved any CBD-based animal health products and can’t vouch for their safety or effectiveness. The agency “recommends that you talk with your veterinarian about appropriate treatment options for your pet.”