Danish dog owners are medicating their pets with unlicensed cannabis products – is it safe?

Danish dog owners are medicating their pets with unlicensed cannabis products – is it safe?

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Medical cannabis, often in the form of cannabidiol (CBD) oil, is one of the most recent trends in the human health and wellness world. Unsurprisingly, this trend has made its way to our pets, with a recent study suggesting that 38% of surveyed Danish dog owners routinely gave their pets some form of cannabis product.

Because many people actively promote the use of CBD to support their own health and wellbeing, the use of CBD oil for pets is attracting increased attention from vets and pet owners alike.

Previous studies suggest that 80% of dog owners in the US and Canada had bought cannabis products for their pet. While availability and regulatory differences might account for this variance, it is clear that cannabinoids are regularly being given to pets globally.

It is important to note that CBD doesn’t contain the psychoactive substance THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) that is responsible for some of the serious effects seen in pets after accidental ingestion of cannabis and derivatives, so its use won’t make your pet high or give them the munchies.

But, is CBD safe for our pets and could it be a useful addition to our pet’s healthcare regime?

Can CBD help our pets?

The use of CBD oil by people to support conditions such as chronic pain, migraines, anxiety and epilespy has led many people to consider its use for their pets, who often suffer from similar conditions.

While anecdotal reports of the benefits of CBD use are typically positive, many studies have failed to find an effect. This means that its value as a potential therapeutic aid remains poorly understood.

However, in line with increased interest in CBD to support human health, research is exploring potential benefits for pets, too, with some interesting outcomes.

Pet benefits

CBD oil has been shown to significantly reduce the signs of stress in dogs during travel and separation – two areas of concern for many pet owners.

For dogs suffering from osteoarthritis, CBD oil resulted in increased activity and decreased pain scores, as assessed by a vet. Indeed, 36% of respondents in the Danish study indicated that they used cannabinoids for pain management in their pets. This group also reported high perceived efficacy of CBD in managing their dog’s pain.

For dogs with skin irritation as the result of allergy, CBD reduced itching but not skin damage or lesions. In the Danish study, 11% of respondents reported using CBD to help their dog with allergies, and the perceived outcome was good.

While CBD is typically given as drops or oil added to food, hemp-based treats can also be used. Giving CBD-infused treats to pets suffering from noise anxiety, however, failed to show a positive outcome.

Hemp-based dog treats
CBD-infused treats won’t help with noise anxiety.
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CBD challenges

In many countries, treating pets with CBD is not authorised or approved. In the UK, only a vet can prescribe a human CBD preparation for a pet.

Cannabidiol is considered a complementary medicine and vets advise that it should not be used in place of proven treatments. CBD could also interact with prescribed drugs in ways that aren’t currently known.

Toxicity reports are rare, and healthy dogs appear to tolerate long-term, daily doses of CBD. However, side-effects such as vomiting, diarrhoea, lethargy and difficulty moving have been recorded in dogs. Side-effects in cats include excess licking and salivation, pacing, vomiting and grimacing. We still don’t have good safety and efficacy data, and effective dose rates are unclear.

A significant challenge in being able to identify consistent outcomes in CBD use is the variability in quality, preparations and potency of the active ingredient. CBD can also be provided in edible treats, oils and supplements or as topical creams to be applied to the skin. These all have different uses, making outcome comparisons tricky.

There is also the potential for mislabelling and contamination of CBD products, and production and distribution regulation is poor. This can make it difficult for pet owners to make informed, safe and effective choices for their pets.

While the use of CBD for pets appears to be common, the potential downsides and concerns do need to be considered. How much CBD can be safely administered to our pets for effective use across a range of conditions remains largely unknown.

If you are thinking about using CBD for your pet, always speak to your vet in the first instance – they will be able to advise you on the safest and most legally appropriate way to do so.

The Conversation

Jacqueline Boyd is affiliated with The Kennel Club (UK) through membership, as Chair of the Activities Health and Welfare Subgroup and member of the Dog Health Group. Jacqueline is a full member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT #01583) and she also writes, consults and coaches on canine matters on an independent basis, in addition to her academic affiliation at Nottingham Trent University.