A leading veterinary cannabis researcher explains what experts do and don’t know about giving animals CBD. CBD oil is growing in use among cat owners, but there is confusion among similar products and whether or not it is safe to use in cats.
CBD for dogs and cats: Is it safe?
A leading veterinary cannabis researcher explains what experts do and don’t know about giving animals CBD.
Danielle Kosecki is an award-winning journalist who has covered health and fitness for 15 years. She’s written for Glamour, More, Prevention and Bicycling magazines, among others, and is the editor of The Bicycling Big Book of Training. A New York native, Danielle now lives in Oakland where she doesn’t miss winter at all.
Analysts predict the CBD pet care market will reach $125 million by 2022, making it one of the fastest-growing segments of the CBD sector.
CBD advocates tout a myriad of benefits for humans — but can it help our four-legged friends too? The answer is complicated.
When Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, it wasn’t something veterinarian Stephanie McGrath thought much about day to day. But then the phone calls started coming. Pet owners and family veterinarians wanted to know what she thought about medical marijuana in relation to animals, and whether she was researching it.
This story discusses substances that are legal in some places but not in others and is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You shouldn’t do things that are illegal — this story does not endorse or encourage illegal drug use.
At the time, McGrath had no interest in cannabis and didn’t even know what cannabidiol (CBD) was, so she mostly ignored the topic. But the combination of receiving phone calls and seeing CBD products already lining pet store shelves made her realize she needed to get up to speed.
“Around 2013 or 2014, I started looking into what research was already out there and I realized that there was essentially no real, good scientific literature in the human world, let alone the veterinary research world,” says McGrath, assistant professor of neurology at Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “And so I started investigating whether it would even be plausible for me to conduct any research.”
McGrath went on to become one of the pioneering researchers in the field of veterinary cannabis but even with her early efforts, research (and regulation) has struggled to keep pace with demand, as people increasingly turn to CBD products to treat their pet’s pain, anxiety and seizure disorders.
Thanks in large part to the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp-derived CBD, analysts now predict the CBD pet care market will reach $125 million by 2022, making it one of the fastest-growing segments of the CBD market.
For such a rapidly growing industry, there are still a lot of unknowns. Below, what you need to know if you’re considering CBD for your furry friend.
What is CBD?
Dried hemp flowers, like those shown here, naturally contain higher levels of CBD than other varieties of the Cannabis sativa plant.
Picture Alliance/Getty Images
Cannabidiol is part of the cannabinoid family, a class of chemical compounds naturally found in the cannabis plant. Cannabinoids interact with the human body’s endocannabinoid system, which helps the body maintain homeostasis.
Unlike its cousin delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, CBD doesn’t produce a “high,” but it is psychoactive. In 2018, the US Food and Drug Administration approved Epidiolex, an oral CBD solution, to treat Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, two rare and severe pediatric seizure disorders. CBD is also being investigated as a possible treatment for pain , anxiety and schizophrenia symptoms in humans.
How is CBD administered to animals?
CBD pet care products come in many of the same forms you’re probably used to seeing for humans, including edibles (think: chewable treats and capsules), oils that can be added to food or placed under the tongue and topical creams or balms that are rubbed directly on the skin.
Like the CBD products meant for humans, each of these CBD pet care product types appears to have a different effect on the body — in dogs, anyway.
When McGrath started studying CBD in 2016, one of her first studies analyzed how three different delivery methods — a capsule, an oil and a cream — affected the way CBD moved through the bodies of healthy dogs.
Chewable treats are a popular form of pet care CBD.
Pharma Hemp Complex/Unsplash
“We measured the pharmacokinetics, which basically means you give the dogs a single dose of all three delivery methods and then you measure a bunch of different blood levels over a 12-hour period,” says McGrath. “So how quickly is the CBD absorbed, how high the blood concentration gets at that single dose, and then how fast the CBD is eliminated.”
McGrath found that, out of the three specific formulations they tested, the oil had the best pharmacokinetic profile, meaning it reached the highest concentration in the blood, stayed in the bloodstream the longest, and performed the most consistently across different types of dogs. The capsule also performed well but the cream less so. It performed too inconsistently for McGrath and her team to draw any conclusions.
These results line up with what we know so far about CBD absorption in humans, but the research is too preliminary to be used to make any medical decisions.
How does CBD work in animals?
It’s unclear — and a puzzle researchers are still trying to solve in humans as well. For instance, dogs have an endocannabinoid system but whether CBD interacts with it in the same way experts think it does in humans remains to be seen. For now, all McGrath knows is that in dogs, like in humans, CBD appears to be metabolized by the liver.
Are there any health benefits to giving your pet CBD?
Veterinary CBD research has focused primarily on dogs, leaving a lot of cat owners with unanswered questions.
Research is promising, but it’s still early. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in the journal Pain in 2020 found that “Cannabidiol possesses potent anti-inflammatory properties and significantly improved the mobility of large domestic canines afflicted with osteoarthritis.”
This research follows a 2018 study found that CBD can help increase comfort and activity in dogs with osteoarthritis.
In 2019, McGrath published a study showing CBD may help reduce the number of seizures experienced by epileptic dogs. But although these studies were well-designed and peer-reviewed, they’re still small and very preliminary.
“All we’ve basically done is give this drug to these dogs and said, OK, this is what we’re seeing,” says McGrath. “But whether or not the blood levels achieved are adequate enough to treat certain diseases, we don’t yet know.”
Still, McGrath is optimistic. Veterinarians don’t have a wide variety of drugs available to treat these conditions and some of the ones that do exist often come with debilitating side effects, such as weight gain and lethargy. “If CBD works, then I think it would hit the mark of being both effective and not carrying a lot of side effects,” says McGrath. “So that’s kind of what we’re hoping for.”
McGrath and other researchers nationwide are currently conducting larger studies on CBD’s effectiveness in treating osteoarthritis in dogs and cats, epilepsy in dogs and post-operative pain, but it will be a while before the results are published.
Until more is known, it’s best to talk to your veterinarian before giving your animal CBD.
Is CBD safe for animals?
CBD, in its pure state, appears to be safe and well-tolerated by animals, according to a 2017 World Health Organization report. However, both subsequent 2018 canine studies mentioned above noted an increase in the liver enzyme alkaline phosphatase (ALP) during CBD treatment.
As part of her study, McGrath ran a simultaneous liver function test to make sure the dogs’ livers weren’t failing and everything came back normal, so it’s unclear whether the elevated ALP levels were caused by something completely benign or could develop into a more serious problem long term.
“I would definitely be a little concerned about giving CBD to a dog that has known liver issues,” says McGrath. Similarly, because CBD appears to be metabolized by the liver, McGrath says she’d also be wary about giving CBD to a dog who already takes a medication that’s metabolized by the liver. “We don’t really know how these things interact right now,” she says.
The other big thing pet owners need to be aware of is quality control. Because the CBD market isn’t well regulated yet, CBD products can contain ingredients that aren’t listed on their labels — including THC, which is known to be toxic to cats and dogs.
When shopping for CBD pet care products, look for companies that support research and will provide a certificate of analysis, or COA, for every batch they sell.
One way to avoid potentially harmful ingredients is to only use products that come with a certificate of analysis, or COA (the batch number on the COA should match the number on the product’s label or packaging). A COA is issued when an independent lab tests the product to confirm its ingredients and potency, among other things.
Legally, CBD products must contain no more than 0.3% THC, which should be safe for animals. But there’s no reason to take chances. Whenever possible, stick to CBD pet care products that contain 0.0% THC and be on the lookout for symptoms of THC poisoning such as vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, restlessness and trouble standing.
Bottom line: “We haven’t found anything that’s super alarming about CBD,” says McGrath. “But on the flip side, we still know very little about it, and it’s really important for owners to know that and use it with caution until we have more information.”
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.
Is CBD Oil Good for Cats?
Adrienne Kruzer is a veterinary technician with more than 15 years of experience providing healthcare to domestic and exotic animals. She is trained as a Fear Free Certified Professional to prevent and alleviate fear, anxiety, and stress in pets.
Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM, is an accomplished veterinarian and writer with more than 25 years of experience in veterinary medicine, animal welfare, and conservation. She participates in The Spruce Pets’ veterinary review board and is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
CBD has grown in popularity for use in humans, dogs, and even cats, but there are still a lot of questions surrounding its use. Pet owners need to know what it might be useful for, whether or not it is legal, and the difference between hemp, CBD, Cannabis, marijuana, and THC. Knowing whether or not a product is safe, effective, and legal for a pet cat to use is of utmost importance in order to avoid harming your pet or breaking the law.
Is CBD Oil Safe for Cats?
There is unfortunately little research that has been done on the effects of CBD in cats. Based on anecdotal reports and limited study, CBD does appear to be safe for cats, but its effectivenss for the treatment of any condition has not yet been proven. Until more research has been done showing that CBD is in fact safe and effective, it is only prudent to use it under veterinary supervision.
What Is CBD Oil?
CBD is actually an abbreviation for cannabidiol, and cannabidiol is a phytocannabinoid, or specific type of molecule, that is made by and extracted from Cannabis plants. When extracted, CBD can be included in an oil that can be given orally to cats. It often contains coconut, hempseed, olive, avocado, or palm oil that acts as a carrier oil, similar to how many essential oils are made.
What Is the Difference Between CBD and Hemp Oil?
CBD and hemp oil are often confused with one another because both are sourced from Cannabis plants. Hemp oil may or may not contain significant amounts of CBD, but it is always extracted from a specific strain of Cannabis sativa called hemp that contains less than 0.3% THC, the phytocannabinoid that is responsible for the high of marijuana. CBD, on the other hand, can be extracted from either marijuana or hemp, although hemp-derived CBD is far more common.
Does CBD Oil Contain THC?
THC is the abbreviation for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and is the psychoactive component of marijuana. Marijuana plants contain significant amounts of THC; hemp plants do not. Many people who want to use CBD oil specifically look for THC-free or low THC CBD oils, which is why they are usually purchasing hemp-derived CBD. Any product containing significant levels of THC (higher than 0.3%) should not be administered to cats and may pose safety concerns.
Is CBD Found in Marijuana?
CBD can be derived from marijuana plants, but most growers are more concerned about the THC content. Marijuana should never be administered to cats regardless of how much CBD is in it. Hemp-derived CBD is legal and safer for cats than marijuana-derived CBD.
Why Is CBD Oil Popular for Cats?
Cat owners want to give their pets safe and effective treatment options, and some medications may have negative side effects or not work well enough to help their cat’s specific issues. The anecdotal, media, and early scientific success of CBD oil in people and dogs has caused it to grow in popularity for use in cats, too. Some owners report major successes in treating a variety of ailments in their dogs that were taking CBD oil after being unable to achieve it using other products. However, it’s important to remember that cats and dogs process medications and supplements very differently, and the safety and effectiveness of CBD is still being researched in cats.
Risks and Concerns in Using CBD Oil in Cats
Since there really isn’t any research that has been done supporting the safe use of CBD in cats, there is a lot still unknown. Whether or not there are side effects, especially with long-term use, the efficacy for use in supporting a variety of bodily systems, contraindications with medications, and administration amounts for specific uses in cats still need to be studied.
In addition to the lack of research, another concern with CBD oil is finding a consistent and pure source. There is almost no regulation over the manufacture of CBD so widely-available products may contain little to no active ingredient and/or be contaminated with potentially harmful substances. Consumers should talk to their veterinarian and look for a company with strict quality control measure to ensure products meet label claims before giving CBD to their cats.
If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet’s health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.
The Spruce Pets uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
Hilderbrand, R L. Hemp & Cannabidiol: What is a Medicine?. Missouri Medicine vol. 115,4 (2018): 306-309