If you have an anxious or ailing pet, you may have questions about using CBD oil for dogs. But as with any pet-care trend, information on CBD ranges from the fairly solid to the downright egregious.
It can feel pretty intimidating. If you love your dog, you want to know exactly what you’re giving them. We get it — and we’re here to help.
Consider this your primer on CBD for dogs (and other pets as well). We’ll start with the basics of what CBD is and how it might help your dog. We’ll introduce the early scientific literature we have to draw on. And because getting started can be the most intimidating part, we’ll also talk to a veterinarian to get their recommendations.
Ready to get expert advice on using CBD for dogs? Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
In this article, we’ll cover some of the main questions that pet owners may have about CBD oil for dogs, including:
- What is CBD?
- Differences between THC and CBD for dogs
- How CBD may be able to help dogs
- Veterinary conditions and CBD
- How to use CBD for your dog
- Safety and side effects
- Recommended products: CBD oil for dogs
What is CBD?
CBD, or cannabidiol, is a cannabinoid — a naturally-occurring compound that is extracted from cannabis plants. It won’t make you high, it’s federally legal (though state laws vary), and there is a growing body of research that points to its healing properties.
But how does it work? CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system, which is present in most animals. If you didn’t learn about this system in Biology class, that’s because it wasn’t discovered until the 1990s.
The endocannabinoid system is an interrelated network of chemicals and receptors known as CB1 and CB2. This system works to maintain balance within our bodies. Researchers have discovered that the endocannabinoid system plays a role in mood, sleep, appetite, inflammation, and pain regulation — and that’s just the beginning.
CBD works by binding, blocking, or otherwise influencing the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system. These receptors are located throughout the brains and bodies of humans and animals.
It’s also a powerful antioxidant and has neuroprotective properties.
And, as we said, CBD works without making you high. That is because it can’t bind to the CB1 receptor — the endocannabinoid receptor responsible for causing intoxication. This segues neatly into a discussion of the CB1 receptor’s favorite cannabinoid, THC, and its effect on dogs.
Cannabis for Dogs: CBD vs. THC
CBD is not the only cannabinoid. In fact, it’s one of over a hundred of these chemicals that scientists have identified, each of which has its own properties.
Like CBD, THC also comes with a list of possible benefits. But its one major drawback (when used medicinally) is that it can make you high. Because of this, the amount of THC in a plant is what differentiates federally legal hemp from the controlled varieties of cannabis known as “marijuana.”
THC’s euphoric effects are a concern when it comes to humans who want to take advantage of the medical benefits of cannabis. It’s even more of an issue for dogs, though. To find out more about why this is the case, we spoke to Dr. Angie Krause, a CBD-friendly veterinarian based in Boulder, Colorado.
“Overall, dogs have more CB1 receptors (the receptor responsible for psychoactivity), but especially in the cerebellum, the part of the brain that’s responsible for balance. Dogs that have had too much THC can get ‘static ataxia’ — where their legs splay out and they get really wobbly. Dogs are so much more affected by THC than cats or even people are.”
This is a major concern for vets, who frequently treat dogs suffering from THC toxicity. These cases usually result from the pet binging on their owner’s cannabis edibles.
Dog owners can choose to avoid THC altogether by choosing a CBD isolate based product. A full-spectrum product (which by law must contain less than 0.3 percent THC) can also be a good option. Dr. Krause stresses that dog owners really need to be vigilant about checking third-party lab reports, though. This is the best way to ensure that THC is only present in trace amounts.
Is There Any Research on CBD Oil for Dogs?
Any legitimate source of information on CBD for dogs should point out that scientific research is in the very early stages. Until recently, the research on cannabis and pets has been limited to studies that confirmed THC toxicity in dogs.
Other than that, most of what we have learned about how CBD affects animals is taken from research on lab animals like mice, rats, guinea pigs, or from clinical studies on humans. Those results have demonstrated the effectiveness of CBD in the treatment of many disorders, from anxiety and epilepsy to joint pain and all manner of inflammatory disorders.
But in the last couple of years, veterinary researchers have begun to look specifically at CBD for dogs and other pets, with a few recent studies bringing promising results to light.
- Cornell University recently published the results of their randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind crossover study which showed that CBD can offer significant benefits for dogs with osteoarthritis. Over 80 percent of dogs in the study using CBD showed decreased indicators of pain and increased mobility.
- In 2018, Dr. Stephanie McGrath and her team at Colorado State University performed a pilot study which looked at the safety and efficacy of CBD for dogs with epilepsy. They found that 90 percent of dogs had fewer seizures when taking CBD oil, compared to about 20 percent on placebo. In her words, “This pilot study is important and it does seem like there is a positive effect from the use of CBD for dogs with epilepsy.”
- Dr. McGrath’s team is currently conducting a double-blinded cross-over study looking at CBD for client-owned dogs with epilepsy, using the dosage information they gained in their pilot study. Those results aren’t in yet, so keep your ear to the ground!
- A pilot study looking at CBD for dogs with arthritis in is also in the works at CSU.
Hopefully, the research that is just beginning to take place on dogs and other pets will resolve some of our unanswered questions in the coming years. In the meantime, we have a slew of early studies on humans and other animals that do indicate CBD’s benefits.
What Conditions Can CBD Help?
While we’re awaiting the results of these up-and-coming studies, we can learn a lot from research that has already been completed on other animals and humans. These studies form the basis of much research that is ongoing today, as well as giving veterinarians a place to start with dosage and possible side effects.
We won’t go into detail about every single disorder that CBD can possibly help with. An exhaustive list isn’t even possible at present. But these are some of the most common problems for which pet owners are looking to CBD for treatment.
Fear and Anxiety
Whether it’s thunderstorms, the Fourth of July, or just plain genetics that brings on your pet’s anxiety, it’s pretty hard to watch a loved animal feel afraid.
Fear is an instinctual response to a threat that is either real or perceived, and that fight or flight response can be pretty overwhelming. Beyond the unpleasantness of watching your pet suffer, fear and anxiety can bring on all sorts of unwanted behavior like biting, excessive barking, or sleeplessness.
More and more dog owners are turning to CBD for help with their pets’ anxiety. Most people probably rely on the anecdotal evidence that CBD helps with anxiety, but there’s some hard scientific research to back it up as well.
- This 2015 review of scientific literature on CBD as a treatment for anxiety concludes that CBD has considerable potential as an anxiolytic treatment.
- For animals with intense fear from trauma, a 2016 study showed that mice treated with CBD displayed reduced fear memory response symptoms.
- A 2012 study showed that CBD helped block predator threat stress in rats.
None of these studies were performed on dogs but, combined with anecdotal evidence, there’s good reason to expect that dogs will also benefit from CBD’s calming properties.
Pain and Inflammation
Veterinary medicine has come a long way in recent decades, with the result that dogs and other pets are living longer than ever. That’s wonderful for pet owners, but with advanced years come the ailments of old age — like pain and inflammation from arthritis or other conditions.
There is extensive evidence, however, that CBD can help with pain from numerous sources, without the deleterious side effects of pharmaceuticals. Above, we cited the most recent research coming out of Cornell University which showed CBD to be very effective at improving pain scores and mobility in dogs with arthritis.
Other studies of CBD for arthritic dogs are in the works, but there are several other studies showing CBD to be a powerful anti-inflammatory — the root cause of so much pain in humans and animals.
And CBD has also been shown to help with neuropathic pain as well as pain from diseases like cancer. The beauty of CBD is that it can work on many levels at once, increasing pain-regulating neurotransmitters and reducing inflammation.
The symptoms of epilepsy in dogs range from the seemingly innocuous, like muscle twitching or drooling, to the scarier symptoms of immobility and loss of consciousness.
A seizure can be preceded by a dazed or confused expression or bumping into things, but even if you recognize the signs, what can you do to prevent it?
Abnormal bursts of electrical activity in the brain can cause seizures, and sometimes this is the result of other, underlying conditions (like brain tumors). But dogs are much more likely to suffer from unexplained seizures due to a genetic predisposition for epilepsy.
Anticonvulsant drugs help some dogs, though many dogs continue to experience seizures even while on medication. Side effects are a big drawback for these medications…
But CBD is a proven anti-convulsant, and has actually been approved by the FDA for use as an anti-seizure medication for humans. And its good safety profile is one reason that researchers are so interested in CBD for epilepsy.
Currently, Dr. Stephanie McGrath’s team at CSU is conducting a major clinical trial, studying the effects of CBD on treatment-resistant epilepsy in dogs. The pilot study that the team completed last year gave important information about dosage and safety for CBD. The next stage in this extensive ongoing study should yield important information about CBD’s anticonvulsant properties.
Few things are more devastating than a cancer diagnosis, and questions about treatment certainly aren’t easy.
There are so many different kinds of cancer, but by definition, all cancers start with uncontrolled cell growth. That means that the normal process of cell death is not taking place, and cells begin to accumulate over time, creating tumors.
It’s important to state that the research on CBD for cancer is in the early stages. There are early studies though, that indicate that CBD may help to promote healthy cell death, or apoptosis.
- This 2013 study found that CBD induced apoptosis in human lung cancer cells
- This 2006 study considered the role of CBD-induced apoptosis in human leukemia cells
- A 2011 study of CBD found that it helped coordinate the process of apoptosis with another process called autophagy, which refers to the body’s ability to take apart and essentially recycle dead cells.
These studies are promising, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions about how CBD works on cancer. There is a growing amount of anecdotal evidence, though, suggesting that CBD can be an effective treatment.
As always, it’s important to tell your vet you’re considering using CBD as a treatment. This is especially true if you’re using it alongside other conventional treatments.
How to Use CBD for Your Dog
We’ve covered a lot of information here, and now we can move on to the practical questions of how to get started with CBD for your pet.
This can be the most intimidating part for many pet-owners because there really are a lot of things to think about. Can I talk to my vet about CBD? How do I find a good CBD company? What kind of dose should I start with? What about side effects?
We’ll take these questions one at a time, and hopefully, take some of the angst out of deciding if this is the right product for your dog.
Talking to your vet about CBD
Let’s start with the first question: “Can I talk to my vet about CBD?”
The short answer to that question is “yes!” But whether or not your veterinarian will be able to advise you on CBD usage is a bit more complicated.
You can always raise questions about CBD yourself, though. Vets can give answers that will help you know if CBD is a safe option for your pet. Some vets get around state laws by “sharing information” (especially if the client has raised the question of CBD themselves) rather than explicitly prescribing or giving direct instructions about CBD.
But a recent survey found that many vets just don’t have the necessary information to give advice about CBD for dogs. It may take some research to find a vet who is knowledgeable about how to use CBD for animals.
According to Dr. Krause, that will only get easier: “There is a push. When I go for continuing education now there’s usually a handful of lectures about cannabis. I think five years from now, people are going to be able to have better conversations with their veterinarians. Once vets get better educated [about cannabis] — and that is happening.”
But whether or not your vet can help with dosage instructions or product recommendations, it is important to keep her in the loop about what you’re giving your dog. Drug interactions are a possibility with CBD, and your vet needs the whole picture of your dog’s health and treatment.
CBD oil dosage for dogs
Finding the right dosage for your pet can be tricky, but according to Dr. Krause, her most common experience is that pet owners tend to under-dose:
“Generally what I find is that people give such a micro-dose, especially with products that are labeled for pets, that the dose is sometimes almost nothing. Some people will see benefits even from that tiny dose, but often it’s: ‘I tried CBD and it didn’t work.’ When I start asking questions, most of the time I’ll find out that they barely dosed their dog.”
Dr. Krause cites a good standard starting dose of CBD as .5 mg of CBD per kilogram (of the animal’s weight), twice per day. She’s found, though, that for many people taking a formula like that and translating it into a dose for their pet can be a major stumbling block. So we’re going to lay it out very clearly:
- To figure out your pet’s weight in kilograms (kg), you can divide their weight in pounds by 2.2.
- To calculate the correct dosage, you multiply your pet’s weight (in kilos) by 0.5. If your dog weighs 15 kg, the dosage would be 7.5 mg CBD, twice per day.
Next, you’ll want to find a product that will work with that dosage.
CBD oils make this kind of dosing relatively easy, and some companies will make it even easier by telling you how much CBD is in each drop of oil.
If that information isn’t on the website or bottle label, it is always worth a phone call to customer service to find out.
With CBD, always start low and slowly increase the dose every 4-7 days.
Frequently the low dose will be effective, but higher doses (2-3 mg CBD/kg twice daily) may be necessary.
Choosing a product
Once you know your dosage, you’ll need to find a good product. We’ve got some suggestions of companies to check out (see our top recommendations below, or visit our full ranking of the best CBD oils for dogs), but here are some guidelines for finding a reputable company:
- Organic: CBD should be extracted from organic hemp, preferably sourced from American farms (due to better oversight). This is important since hemp is a bioaccumulator, meaning it literally sucks contaminants out of the soil.
- Transparency: Look for companies that are open about their ingredients, as well as their sourcing, extraction, and manufacturing processes.
- Testing: Any reputable company should have third-party lab reports for their CBD. And preferably these will be analyses of the finished product, rather than just the CBD extract or isolate. This will assure you that the CBD (and THC) potency is what they claim it is. If lab reports aren’t on the website, get in touch with customer service.
- Red Flags: If a company is dodging your questions, buy CBD from someone else. There are good, transparent companies out there. Don’t waste your time (or money!) on those that aren’t up to snuff.
CBD Oil for Dogs: Side Effects and Concerns
CBD has a good safety profile and any side effects should be minimal. These could include dry mouth, lowered blood pressure (with higher doses), or drowsiness. Your dog should be acting normal, though, so if you’re seeing pronounced symptoms, discontinue use of the product and see your pet’s veterinarian.
If you do choose to use a full-spectrum product for your dog, be sure to scrutinize third-party lab reports to make sure the THC content is minimal (less than 0.3 percent). As we discussed above, dogs are extra sensitive to THC. Pet owners need to be vigilant to avoid THC toxicity.
The other risk with using CBD oil for dogs is the possibility of drug interactions. If your dog is taking other medications, be sure to let your vet know that you are considering using CBD. They can tell you if this is a safe option for your pet.
And finally, don’t let the noise around CBD fool you into seeing it as a passing trend. The research is in the early stages, but there’s good reason to believe that CBD will be here for the long haul — even if it isn’t a miracle cure for every ailment.
In Dr. Stephanie McGrath’s words: “This is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more to do.”
Our Recommended CBD Oils for Dogs
Ready get started? Below, you’ll find a few of our choices for CBD oils for dogs. These selections are based on third-party potency testing, hands-on evaluations, and thorough company research.
Want to compare more products? Check out our full ranking of the 15 Best CBD Oils for Dogs and Other Pets.
Editor's Choice: CBD Oil for Dogs
Best All Around: Pure Hemp Botanicals
Pure Hemp Botanicals is at the top of our list of CBD oils for dogs. They offer quality ingredients and great pricing, and you can choose from a variety of different potency options. Save 15% with code: cbdhack15.
Highest Potency: NuLeaf Naturals
NuLeaf Naturals offers a potent full-spectrum CBD oil that also contains substantial amounts of secondary cannabinoids like CBC, CBG, and CBN. Save 20% with code: cbdhacker.
Best Full Spectrum: 4 Corners Cannabis
4 Corners Cannabis controls every step of their manufacturing process, from planting their own variety of hemp to shipping the final product. Their full spectrum extract includes cannabinoids like CBC, CBG, and CBDV.
Save 15% with code: Hacker15.
Best Flavor: Roxy Pets by Hemplucid
Hemplucid’s Roxy Pets line combines USDA-certified organic hemp with carrier oils selected specifically for pets. Their CBD oil for dogs is formulated with a chicken-flavored hemp seed oil blend to please even the pickiest pets.