CBD for Cats: Benefits, Side Effects, and More

By | last updated January 27, 2023

Evidence Based 13

As a cat owner, you want to do your best to make sure your feline friend enjoys a long and comfortable life. If you’re looking for natural remedies to help your cat with problems like stress, joint discomfort, or the general decline of aging, you may want to consider trying a CBD supplement. 

CBD is a cannabinoid abundant in hemp, a low-THC variety of cannabis. In humans, it may offer a broad range of health benefits, including reducing anxiety, relieving pain, and improving sleep.

While researchers are still studying the benefits of CBD for cats, the initial results appear promising. Here’s what you need to know.

Benefits of CBD for Cats

CBD research on cats and dogs is still in its early stages, so the scientific data on its uses and benefits is limited. However, pet owners are already using CBD for their cats, dogs, and other animals, and the results look promising (1, 2).  

Based on the current understanding of how CBD works in most animals (3), the benefits for cats may include:

  • Relief for nervousness, anxiety, and stress
  • Support for joint health and joint discomfort
  • Support for digestive health
  • Protecting against cognitive decline
  • Improved mobility

One small study conducted on 8 dogs and 4 cats tested how animals with behavioral problems like fear, aggression, and self-injury would respond to CBD. The researchers found that 10 out of 12 animals showed behavioral improvement during the 8-week treatment: “Four cases were rated as considerably decreased and six were decreased” (4).

Happy Pets, Happy Owners

We may not have a lot of clinical studies on CBD for cats yet, but we do have data collected from pet owners who use CBD to help their pets with a wide range of problems. In surveys, pet owners report turning to CBD to help pets not only with physical issues like pain and stiffness but mood and energy too. 

For example, the American Holistic Veterinary Medicine Association surveyed more than 600 cat and dog owners on their feelings about using hemp CBD products for their four-legged companions (1). The survey found that most people felt that they saw benefits like:

  • Reduced separation anxiety
  • Better sleep
  • Improved comfort and mobility
  • Less digestive upset
  • Improvement of skin conditions

Additionally, 89% of the pet owners rated CBD products as very safe, with a combined 93% saying it worked as well or better than standard treatments.

How Does CBD Work for Cats?

It might seem surprising that CBD could have many of the same benefits for our pets that it has for us. The answer to that puzzle lies in the endocannabinoid system or the ECS. The ECS is a complex array of receptors, enzymes, and endocannabinoids that plays a role in just about every part of the body. Most animals on Earth have an ECS (3).

To make this system work, humans and other animals naturally produce tiny molecules called endocannabinoids (endo meaning made within) that interact with the ECS. Think of endocannabinoids as the messenger that “talks” to the receptors in the ECS and tells them it’s time to get to work. 

How does this all relate to CBD? It’s simple: CBD is a phytocannabinoid (plant-derived cannabinoid) that’s similar to our endocannabinoids. Although it doesn’t interact with our cannabinoid receptors in the same way, it can still influence their function and have other effects, like increasing endocannabinoid levels by suppressing an enzyme that breaks them down (3, 5). 

What Does the ECS Do?

So we know that CBD can interact with the ECS…but why does that matter? Because the ECS is vital to nearly every function that our bodies perform (3). 

Although scientists are still learning more, we know the ECS is tasked with maintaining homeostasis, a healthy state of internal balance. To do this, it regulates many important processes, including: 

  • Sleep 
  • Gastrointestinal function
  • Brain functions including memory and cognition
  • Mood regulation
  • Stimulating appetite
  • Immune system modulation
  • Pain regulation

When you take CBD, it interacts with this complex and far-reaching system, supporting its many balancing effects. So it’s no surprise that CBD appears to have a broad range of effects on overall health and wellness. 

While we don’t yet know exactly how CBD affects cats, we do know that cats have an ECS that works much like ours. It’s very likely that CBD interacts with the feline ECS in similar ways. 

How to Give Your Cat CBD

If you’ve ever tried to medicate a cat—or even simply changed foods—you know it can be tricky to get your finicky friend to eat anything they’re not interested in. Luckily, CBD for cats comes in several forms, so you can try different options until you find something that works for your cat.

CBD Oil

Most pet owners opt to use CBD in oil tincture form. It’s not only versatile and widely available but also absorbed better than edible products when it’s applied sublingually (under the tongue) or to other areas with easily accessible blood vessels (6). 

Although CBD oil is not as well-absorbed when it’s swallowed, it still appears to be superior to edible CBD products like treats for cats and dogs (7). 

CBD tinctures can be given to your cat in a few ways, going from most to least effective:

  • Rubbed onto the gums
  • Massaged into the ears
  • Dropped directly into your cat’s mouth using the supplied dropper
  • Mixed into food, water, or applied onto treats

Mixing CBD oil into food is the least effective method because much of the CBD is lost in the digestive tract and liver before it can be absorbed, a phenomenon scientists call the first pass effect (8). It’s also difficult to ensure that your cat gets the full dose if they don’t finish their meal.

austin & kat cbd oil
An example of a CBD oil designed specifically for cats and dogs.

CBD-Infused Treats & Capsules

If your cat doesn’t like CBD oil, you can also find cat treats that are infused with CBD. Feed according to the dosage instructions on the package. Treats can be a good option for a picky eater but will not be as effective as oil tinctures because of the first-pass effect.

You can also use capsules, which are slightly more effective because the CBD is already dissolved in oil, improving its absorption. 

CBD Topicals

Topical products combine CBD with standard skincare ingredients like beeswax and plant oils. These products can be applied to any joints or areas of the skin like the ears and paw pads. Because they only work where applied, CBD topicals work best for localized relief. 

How Do You Choose the Best Product For Your Cat?

Just as you would when choosing a CBD product for yourself, you’ll need to do some research to pick the best supplement for your pet. Researching CBD products can be confusing, so here are some key points to keep in mind as you shop around: 

  • Opt for products labeled “full-spectrum” or “broad-spectrum.” Full-spectrum means it contains all the other flavonoids, terpenes, and other cannabinoids that naturally occur alongside CBD. Broad-spectrum includes most of the same compounds but does not include THC. These compounds are believed to work together to make CBD more effective than it is on its own (the “entourage effect”) (9).
  • While CBD oil is almost always hemp-derived, products labeled “hemp” or “hemp seed oil” are not CBD oil. They usually don’t contain CBD at all.
  • Studies have found that many CBD products are inaccurately labeled, so be sure to purchase high-quality CBD oil from a reputable brand (10). Quality CBD manufacturers will always provide certificates of analysis (CoAs) to back up their CBD and THC content claims. You should check these CoAs to ensure the product is labeled accurately. 

Dosage Tips

When you’re just starting out, keep in mind that every cat is an individual, and their response to CBD will be unique. 

The amount they need will depend on factors like their weight, genetics, age, the issue you’re addressing, and their overall health. The CBD concentrations of products will vary too, so check the product label for dosage guidelines. 

Here are some general dosage guidelines and tips to get you started:

  • A typical dosage range for cats is 2-6 mg for every 10 pounds of body weight per day. For example, a 10-pound cat would start with 2 mg per dose. 
  • Use the “start low and go slow” approach (11). Begin with the lowest dose recommended by the product manufacturer, and increase gradually as needed. 
  • You can give CBD once or twice daily; for example, if your cat shows signs of discomfort later in the day, you can give the dose during the evening
  • Be cautious of the THC content in your CBD product since cats can experience unpleasant effects from THC intoxication (12). Reliable CBD manufacturers make it easy to confirm how much THC you’re getting with third-party test reports. 

Is CBD Safe for Cats?

Although the data is still fairly limited, so far it appears that CBD is well-tolerated in cats just like in humans.

For example, two small studies tested various dosages of CBD on cats while monitoring their blood chemistry for changes (7, 13). At the end of each study, researchers assessed the cats and found no concerning changes in behavior or overall health. Blood chemistry remained stable throughout. 

A few cats displayed elevated liver enzymes, but these were not associated with any harmful effects and returned to normal once the CBD was discontinued. 

Still, you should use care when trying a new supplement with any pet, and CBD is no exception. If your cat is on prescription meds, don’t add a CBD supplement until you talk to your vet. 

Can CBD Make Your Cat High?

Since CBD is extracted from hemp, a variety of cannabis, it’s natural to wonder if it has the same euphoric effects. But don’t worry—your cat won’t get high from CBD. 

The only caveat is full-spectrum CBD products, which can contain small amounts (up to 0.3%) of THC. If you’re using a full-spectrum product for your pet, it might be possible for a cat to experience psychoactive effects but only if you administered a very high dose. 

It’s always best to stick to the smallest dosage that provides the desired effects. 

Support Your Feline Friend with CBD

While we’re still learning more about how CBD may benefit cats, for now, we can say that it appears to be a safe and well-tolerated alternative that you can easily try at home. Pet owners have good things to say about using CBD for cats, and it may be able to help your cat feel more playful, calm, and comfortable. 

Remember, CBD products aren’t always properly labeled, and they can contain harmful contaminants like pesticides and heavy metals. 

They can also contain more THC than the label indicates. Take your time choosing a trustworthy source for your cat’s CBD. Check reviews and third-party test results to make sure you’re getting a quality product.

References

  1. Kogan, Lori R., Peter W. Hellyer, and Narda G. Robinson. “Consumers’ perceptions of hemp products for animals.” J Am Holist Vet Med Assoc 42 (2016): 40-8.
  2. Milevoj, Nina, Nataša Tozon, and Katerina Tomsič. “USE OF CANNABIDIOL PRODUCTS BY PET OWNERS IN SLOVENIA: A SURVEY-BASED STUDY.” Slovenian Veterinary Research 59.3 (2022).
  3. Silver, Robert J. “The endocannabinoid system of animals.” Animals 9.9 (2019): 686.
  4. MOGI, Chie, and Takaaki FUKUYAMA. “Potential Clinical Impact of Cannabidiol (CBD) in Canine and Feline Behavior: An Open-label Clinical Trial.” Japanese Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2021): 37-42.
  5. Mlost, Jakub, Marta Bryk, and Katarzyna Starowicz. “Cannabidiol for pain treatment: focus on pharmacology and mechanism of action.” International journal of molecular sciences 21.22 (2020): 8870.
  6. Ramalho, Ízola Morais de Medeiros, et al. “Current trends on cannabidiol delivery systems: where are we and where are we going?.” Expert Opinion on Drug Delivery 18.11 (2021): 1577-1587.
  7. Deabold, Kelly A., et al. “Single-dose pharmacokinetics and preliminary safety assessment with use of CBD-rich hemp nutraceutical in healthy dogs and cats.” Animals 9.10 (2019): 832.
  8. Boehnke, Kevin F., Winfried Häuser, and Mary-Ann Fitzcharles. “Cannabidiol (CBD) in Rheumatic Diseases (Musculoskeletal Pain).” Current Rheumatology Reports (2022): 1-9.
  9. Russo, Ethan B. “The case for the entourage effect and conventional breeding of clinical cannabis: no “strain,” no gain.” Frontiers in plant science (2019): 1969.
  10. Bonn-Miller, Marcel O., et al. “Labeling accuracy of cannabidiol extracts sold online.” Jama 318.17 (2017): 1708-1709.
  11. Hazzah, Trina, et al. “Cannabis in veterinary medicine: a critical review.” AHVMA 61 (2020): 25.
  12. De Briyne, Nancy, et al. “Cannabis, Cannabidiol Oils and Tetrahydrocannabinol—What Do Veterinarians Need to Know?.” Animals 11.3 (2021): 892.
  13. Rozental, Aaron J., et al. “Pharmacokinetics of escalating single‐dose administration of cannabidiol to cats.” Journal of Veterinary Pharmacology and Therapeutics (2022).

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