Dogs give us unfailing loyalty, love, and affection. In return, devoted dog owners are always looking for ways to keep their pup as comfortable and healthy as possible. These days, many are turning to CBD as a way to help their canine companions with health concerns ranging from separation anxiety to joint inflammation.
CBD is a naturally-occurring compound found in hemp that appears to have a variety of health benefits in humans. Although research on CBD in dogs is ongoing, it seems to help with many of the same issues we experience.
Let’s take a closer look at the science behind using CBD for dogs, its potential benefits, and how to best use it.
Table of Contents
- Benefits of CBD for Dogs
- How Does CBD Work for Dogs?
- How to Give Your Dog CBD
- Dosage Tips
- Is CBD Safe for Dogs?
- CBD for Dogs: A Simple Option for Overall Wellness
Benefits of CBD for Dogs
Researchers are studying CBD as an option for a variety of health issues in dogs, including:
- Seizure disorders
- Pain and inflammation
- Anxiety, including separation anxiety and noise phobia
- Joint problems and decreased mobility
- Cognitive decline caused by aging
- Digestive problems
- Skin conditions
- Behavioral problems
In one 2016 survey of 631 pet owners, 371 of whom used CBD products for their dogs: (1)
- 64% reported moderate to serious improvements in pain
- 75% reported improved sleep
- 69% reported improved anxiety
- 70% reported reduced inflammation
- 88% reported reduced seizures
- 92% reported reduced nausea
- 88% said CBD helped with thunderstorm or fireworks phobia
The survey also mentioned many other potential benefits, with the majority of responders saying CBD had a moderate-to-great effect.
In a similar 2019 survey out of Canada, 66% of dog owners said hemp and marijuana products were more effective than conventional medications at relieving pain, 55% said the same for improving anxiety, and 33% for helping with sleep (2).
One area of particular interest in the medical community is the use of CBD to control seizures. The FDA has already approved a CBD-based medication for the treatment of seizures in humans and it can likely help dogs with the same problem.
One 2019 placebo-controlled study found that dogs who received CBD-infused oil twice daily for 12 weeks showed a “significant reduction in seizure frequency” (3).
CBD may also be able to help with common behavior problems in companion animals, such as fear, aggression, repetitive behaviors, and self-injury.
A 2021 Japanese study found that giving 8 dogs and 4 cats a twice-daily dose of CBD resulted in noticeable improvements of behavioral problems (4). Of the 12 animals studied, 10 showed a decrease in problem behaviors by the end of the 8-week study.
Skin conditions are also a common problem among dogs, and CBD may be helpful here as well. A 2022, 4-week trial of 32 dogs found that an equal ratio of CBD and CBDa significantly reduced itching (5).
Arthritis & Joint Issues
One of the most common reasons pet owners give for using CBD with their dogs is pain relief (1, 2, 6). Multiple studies have tested the use of CBD to relieve pain and inflammation in dogs suffering from arthritis and other joint problems:
- One 2018 study looked at whether CBD was safe and effective in reducing inflammation and pain in dogs with osteoarthritis. Throughout the 8 week trial, dogs were given CBD oil or a placebo. Researchers concluded that 80% of dogs showed an improvement in mobility and pain when treated with CBD as compared to the placebo (7).
- Another 2021 study by researchers at Baylor College of Medicine also examined the short-term treatment of osteoarthritis in dogs using CBD (8). This study, too, found that a daily CBD regimen was safe and effective in helping dogs with OA pain. Researchers concluded that “administration of liposomally-encapsulated or high-dose naked CBD…was associated with significant improvements to quality of life as quantitated by both owner and veterinarian.”
- CBD may also help reduce pain for dogs with OA who take prescription anti-inflammatory drugs like gabapentin and amitriptyline. One study conducted in 2020 found that dogs treated with CBD for 12 weeks along with their prescription anti-inflammatories “showed a meaningful improvement” in pain as compared to dogs who received the drugs alone (9).
- A 2020 pilot study looked at the use of CBD in 37 osteoarthritis dogs for three months (10). They were given full spectrum CBD oil every 12 hours, at doses ranging from 0.3 mg/kg to 4.12 mg/kg. All but 2 dogs showed significant improvement in their pain while using CBD.
Did you know? CBD may also help cats with many of the same issues.
How Does CBD Work for Dogs?
We can trace most of CBD’s effects back to the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a network of cannabinoid receptors, enzymes, and endocannabinoids (11). This system is present in humans and most animals, including dogs and cats.
It helps the body maintain homeostasis—the state of being in balance. The ECS regulates many essential bodily functions, including:
- Cognitive functions
- Digestion and appetite
To activate this system, the body produces molecules called endocannabinoids. These molecules bind to cannabinoid receptors in the ECS, helping it modulate (turning up or down) the appropriate system in the body.
CBD is structurally similar to endocannabinoids. It’s known as a phytocannabinoid—a cannabinoid found in plants. CBD can also interact with the ECS, producing similar effects to endocannabinoids.
In particular, research suggests that CBD can increase the levels of anandamide, one of the two main endocannabinoids, by suppressing an enzyme that breaks it down (11). It may also change the function of cannabinoid receptors (12).
Aside from its effects on the ECS, human and animal research has also shown that it affects dozens of other molecules and receptors, such as the ones used by serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in stress, sleep, mood, and other cognitive functions (13).
It’s quite likely that CBD also has these varied effects in dogs.
How to Give Your Dog CBD
CBD can be given to dogs in a variety of ways, including:
- Edibles, such as treats and CBD-infused foods
Each form has pros and cons, so you may wish to try a few kinds to find what works best for you and your pooch. Some forms are more readily absorbable than others, so be sure to consider that as you shop around.
The best way to give CBD to your dog is by using a CBD oil tincture, as it’s the most easily absorbed form. For most owners, it’s quick and easy to give CBD oil by simply rubbing the tincture onto your dog’s gums or ears.
Letting your dog swallow or lick up CBD oil or adding it to their food are other options, although they’re less effective because CBD much of it will be lost in the digestive system and liver before reaching the bloodstream (14).
CBD treats or foods that include CBD are a convenient way to give your dog CBD. However, as mentioned above, CBD isn’t as effective when it must pass through the digestive system before being absorbed.
If you do choose to give your dog treats, make sure to choose ones that are made specifically for dogs. Not only can edibles intended for humans contain too much THC for dogs, but they can also contain ingredients like chocolate or artificial sweeteners that can be toxic.
Some owners opt to use CBD capsules for easy dosing. Capsules contain CBD in a carrier oil like sesame, olive, or coconut oil.
Again, capsules have lower absorption rates than oil applied to the gums or inside the ears because they pass through the digestive system where much of the CBD will be broken down. But they’re more absorbable than most edibles because CBD is a fat-soluble compound, so fats help the body absorb it (15).
CBD topicals are applied directly to the skin. They may help provide targeted relief for localized issues like rashes, hot spots, or pain. One of the biggest pros to using topicals is that they can be applied directly to the affected area.
How to Choose a CBD Product for Your Dog
As you shop for CBD, you’ll find three main kinds of CBD extracts on the market: full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, and pure CBD. Here’s a quick breakdown of what these terms mean:
- Full-spectrum: Full-spectrum CBD products contain all of the compounds found in the hemp plant, including CBD, other cannabinoids, terpenes, and small amounts of THC (less than 0.3%). Full-spectrum products seem to be more effective than CBD in isolation, possibly because all of these compounds work in harmony together (a theory called “the entourage effect”) (16).
- Broad-spectrum: CBD products labeled as broad-spectrum also contain multiple compounds from the hemp plant, but remove the THC.
- CBD isolate: Products labeled as pure CBD have had all other compounds removed.
Keep in mind that CBD labeling is often inaccurate, especially with low-quality products (17). When purchasing CBD for your dog, it’s especially important to be sure that the amount of THC on the label is accurate.
While full-spectrum products are the best way to benefit from the entourage effect, dogs are more sensitive to the effects of THC than humans so you have to be cautious (18).
Be sure to buy from manufacturers that conduct third-party lab testing and actually check the certificate of analysis (CoA) for the given product to make sure the levels of CBD and THC are appropriate and accurate.
Every dog will respond differently to CBD based on their breed, weight, age, overall health, and other individual factors. Researchers have observed that effective dosages among individual dogs can vary widely (10).
Follow these tips as a guide:
- It’s safest to start with a low dose and increase gradually until you see the desired effect (19)
- Consult the label of your product for specific recommendations on dosage
- Generally, you can start with 2-5 mg of CBD for every 10 lb of body weight
- You can dose as needed or once or twice daily
You know your dog and their normal behavior best, so it’s important to observe them carefully when beginning CBD treatment. Watch for side effects such as tiredness, sedation, digestive upset, and nausea. Try reducing the dose if you feel your dog experiences any issues.
Is CBD Safe for Dogs?
While the research into CBD for dogs is still developing, the evidence so far shows that CBD is safe and well-tolerated in dogs.
Several studies have tested various dosages of pure CBD while monitoring dogs for signs of adverse effects and found no concerning changes in blood chemistry or behavior (7, 15, 20). The most commonly reported side effect found in a survey of dog owners was sedation (1).
Elevated liver enzymes have also been found by some studies. While this effect doesn’t appear to be harmful in itself, if your dog has pre-existing liver problems you should consult your vet before adding CBD to their routine.
One 2020 study of a 1:20 THC:CBD extract reported some neurological side effects in 5 out of 6 dogs who were given higher doses (10 mg CBD/0.5 mg THC per kg of body weight). These included hyperesthesia (increased sensitivity to stimuli, like being startled by hand movements) and swaying.
However, none of the effects were serious, and low and medium doses (2-5 mg CBD/0.1-0.25 mg THC/kg) showed no side effects (18). These effects are a good example of what dogs may experience when given a high dose of a full-spectrum CBD product.
Finally, you should always talk with your vet before using CBD with your dog if your dog takes any other medications due to the possibility of drug interactions.
Can CBD Make My Dog High?
No worries on this front—CBD can’t make your dog high. Unlike its cousin THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the compound responsible for the “high” associated with marijuana use, CBD does not produce any psychoactive effects.
However, you should be aware that full-spectrum CBD products can contain up to 0.3% THC.
Research suggests that dogs have more cannabinoid receptors in the brain than humans and thus are more susceptible to THC intoxication (21).
While THC intoxication isn’t typically dangerous unless very large amounts are ingested, a dog can have an uncomfortable experience with symptoms such as vomiting, drooling, hypothermia, and stupor if they consume enough THC (22).
CBD for Dogs: A Simple Option for Overall Wellness
Scientists are still learning more about how to use CBD for dogs and what it can help with. So far, we can safely say that current evidence suggests CBD may be beneficial for dogs in managing a variety of conditions, including anxiety, pain, and inflammation.
While more high-quality research is needed to fully understand the efficacy of CBD for dogs, pet owners around the world are already reporting promising results.
It’s best to talk to your vet before starting your dog on any new supplement, including CBD. With the proper precautions, CBD could be a good option for helping your dog stay playful and healthy for years to come.
When choosing a CBD product for your pup, make sure to look for a reputable brand that uses third-party testing to ensure quality and purity. You may also want to consider choosing a brand that specializes in pet CBD products.
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Gleb is a freelance writer from Vancouver, Canada specializing in CBD and cannabis. He’s read thousands of studies on CBD and other supplements, helping him translate complex science into plain language. Gleb has tried and reviewed dozens of CBD brands and products, written third-party testing reports, and knows the CBD industry inside and out. When not writing, he likes to kickbox, travel, and tell everyone how awesome intermittent fasting is.