What was once an obscure treatment in the herbalist community has become hugely popular in recent years for its potentially curative properties. Even before the farm bill passed in 2018 legalizing the cultivation of hemp, CBD oil was gaining traction in multiple states where recreational and medical marijuana had already been legalized.
And now that hemp production, and by association CBD oil production, has been legalized on a federal level, you can expect to see more and more products claiming to contain CBD and all of its benefits.
One already popular place to see CBD is in the pet supplement industry. Everything from CBD treats to hemp oil tinctures are available to help your dog's anxiety, arthritis, and even seizures.
But how effective are CBD pet treats and are they actually safe to give your pooch? In this article, we'll take a deeper look at CBD, its potential uses for your dog, and how to spot quality cannabinoid dog treats.
What is CBD?
If your collective knowledge of CBD is that its “something derived from pot that helps little kids with epilepsy,” you're not alone. CBD hysteria hit so fast that the abbreviation appeared just about everywhere before most people had any idea what it actually was.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a type of phytocannabinoid that is naturally occurring in the cannabis sativaplant species. Hemp and marijuana are each different strains of this species. CBD oil can be extracted from either plant, but hemp plants produce more CBD and are now legal to grow throughout the USA. No matter which plant the oil is extracted from, the level of THC (the psychoactive chemical found in pot) is going to be very low in CBD oil products.
How Does CBD Work and is It Safe for Dogs?
All mammals have receptors in their brains and bodies that are part of the endocannabinoid system. This system plays a huge role in regulating everything from hormones and emotions, to movement, to the immune system.
Phytocannabinoids, like CBD, work to help the body more effectively use its own cannabinoids while balancing the system as a whole.
As for how safe CBD is for dogs and other animals, there have only been a handful of studies so far on its efficacy and safety. One study with mice found that CBD in high doses can cause liver problems, but studies looking at dogs specifically have shown hemp and CBD oils can be used safely and produce some pretty outstanding results.
What Can CBD Oil Be Used For?
Given the numerous areas controlled by the endocannabinoid system, there is a long list of potential uses for CBD.
- Anxiety and stress – Because phytocannabinoids play such a large role in balancing emotions and stress hormones, using CBD oil for dogs with anxiety is a no brainer. Many owners report success using this supplement on dogs with separation anxiety and phobias, as well as general anxiety and nervousness.
- Pain and inflammation – Many endocannabinoid receptors are housed in the brain and play a huge role in pain management. CBD has also been shown to play a role in reducing inflammation. One recent Cornell University study showed significant improvement in pain levels in over 80% of arthritic dogs given CBD.
- Seizures – All those receptors in the brain also make CBD a promising treatment for epilepsy and other seizure disorders. One preliminary study from Colorado State University reported a reduction in seizures in 90% of epileptic dogs taking CBD compared to only 20% of dogs on the placebo.
- Cancer – CBD and medical marijuana have long been used to fight symptoms associated with cancer treatments, but some more recent animal studies have shown that CBD can slow tumor growth and kill cancer cells.
Of course, it seems like every day someone is finding new and promising ways to use CBD oil for both humans and dogs, so this list is only likely to grow.
What to Look for When Choosing CBD Treats for Your Dog
CBD certainly has the potential to help dogs with all types of behavioral and physical problems, but that doesn't mean that all CBD products are created equal.
Before running out to buy a boatload of CBD dog biscuits for your dog, here are some things to watch out for.
THC and CBD Content
You're unlikely to find products marketed to dogs and other pets that contain noticeable amounts of THC, but some pure oils intended for human use do contain trace amounts of this psychoactive compound. Since THC is dangerous for pups, only give your dog CBD products made from hemp (which is naturally low in THC) or marijuana sourced CBD that is labeled as having 0% THC.
Also, to avoid wasting your money on imitation products, only buy pet CBD treats that list how much CBD the product contains.
There is a lot of confusion surrounding the different substances that can be extracted from cannabis. Marketers will happily take advantage of that confusion by trying to sell you “calming hemp dog treats” that don't actually contain any CBD. Even products that do contain the right cannabis extracts are likely to only contain trace amounts of CBD.
Since most herbalists and natural vets recommend at least 1mg CBD per 10 pounds of body weight for dogs, don't waste your money on any products that contain less than 1mg per treat. If the bag doesn't clearly state how much CBD is included per serving, you can bet that it's far less than the recommended amount.
Hemp Seed Oil Vs. CBD Oil
One reason there is so much confusion when it comes to whether or not a product actually contains CBD is the use of hemp seed oil versus hemp oil.
Hemp seed oil has long been used in naturopathy as a dietary and beauty supplement full of healthy omega fatty acids. And, while hemp seed oil has its own health benefits, it doesn't contain any CBD. Phytocannabinoids are only present in the leaves, flowers, and stalks of cannabis plants, never the seeds.
Hemp oil, on the other hand, does contain CBD but in widely varying amounts depending on the extraction method. If a product lists the ingredient “CBD oil” or “PCR” (phytocannabinoid-rich), then you can feel fairly confident that the product does indeed contain high levels of CBD.
Some products will use CBD isolate in place of CBD oil or hemp oil. While this may seem like a good thing since at least you know exactly how much CBD is in the product, CBD on its own isn't nearly as effective as CBD used in conjunction with other phytocannabinoids, flavonoids, and oils naturally occurring in cannabis.
Look for products containing full-spectrum CBD oil or hemp oil with high amounts of CBD rather than those containing CBD powder.
Another reason CBD isolate is less desirable than oil is because of how the compound is extracted from the plant. Powdered CBD is highly processed and often exposed to high heat during extraction. It can also easily be mixed with synthetic additives, which are undesirable, especially in CBD chews for dogs and other hemp treats.
The best CBD treats for dogs are made with CO2 extracted oils. But keep in mind, even these kinds of quality oils can be degraded after extraction if they are exposed to heat. Many canine CBD treats are baked, which greatly reduces the amount and bioavailability of CBD in them.
The bioavailability and potency of CBD can also vary depending on what other foods it is taken with. If eaten with other high-fat ingredients, CBD may actually be better absorbed into your dog's system. But other ingredients may decrease how much CBD is available to your pup.
Even if you do find quality CBD animal treats, the total amount of CBD listed on the package may not be fully absorbed by your dog's system. That's because most treats are made with high-starch ingredients, not high-fat.
It's also worth noting that fatty hemp oil does not mix well with non-fatty ingredients which may result in some batches of CBD treats having higher concentrations of cannabinoids than others. Looking for treats and chews that have been independently tested for potency is a good way to make sure you aren't wasting your money.
The Bottom Line on CBD Oil Treats for Dogs
So is CBD a safe option for dogs? The short answer is yes. But you definitely want to do your homework before you run out and buy your dog the first CBD supplement you see.
CBD dog treats vary greatly in quality and ingredients. The best products are made with full-spectrum hemp oil and have the amount of CBD per treat listed on the package. Treats that are air-dried, not cooked at all, or have the CBD oil added to them after processing are far better choices than those that have been exposed to high heat.
For the sake of your dog's health and your wallet, make sure any product you consider has been tested for quality and has great reviews from other customers.
While CBD dog chews that meet these requirements definitely exist, they are harder to find. Your best bet may be to bypass the “treat” piece altogether and instead look for a quality CBD oil or tincture. These bottles typically contain pure CBD or hemp oil with few other added ingredients. All the above pointers on what to look for still apply when shopping for CBD in this form. These oils can be placed on your dog's tongue, or you can create your own CBD treats by dropping the right dose onto your pet's favorite snack.
Whichever route you choose, know that you do get what you pay for with CBD and using a cheap product is likely to bring less than stellar results. But a quality product may be the safe, all-natural answer to your dog's anxiety, arthritis, or other medical needs.
Lauri-Jo Gamble, et al. “Pharmacokinetics, Safety, and Clinical Efficacy of Cannabidiol Treatment in Osteoarthritic Dogs.” frontiersin.org, 23 July 2018.
Jon Johnson. “Everything you need to know about CBD oil.” medicalnewstoday.com, 27 July 2018.
Dana Murray. “CBD Oil vs. Hemp Seed: How to Know What You’re Paying For.” healthline.com, 20 March 2019.
Mary Guiden. “Preliminary data from CBD clinical trials ‘promising’.” colostate.edu, 19 July 2018.
Ann Pietrangelo. “CBD for Cancer: Can It Help? Maybe, According to Research.” healthline.com, 23 July 2019.
Sara Seitz worked in the pet industry for over a decade. In addition to being a certified dog trainer, Sara gained experience working as the general manager of a dog daycare and boarding facility, as the creator and manager of a pet sitting company, as a groomer, and as a dog behavior evaluator. She also has a bachelors in animal behavior from CSU. Currently, Sara works as a freelance writer specializing in blog, article and content writing.