CBD for Dogs

Does CBD have any medical uses, and can it be used safely for pet dogs?

What is CBD?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a naturally occurring chemical substance that is an active ingredient in marijuana.  It is not a narcotic and has no psycho-active effects – unlike THC, the other major compound found in marijuana and hemp. In the past year, it has been extensively marketed as a beneficial treatment for a number of health issues and has turned into a huge industry.  You can’t drive past a strip mall without seeing stores advertising CBD products.

What is it used for?

CBD products are available in capsules, pills, topical creams, lotions, oils and tinctures, food additives, smoothies, gummies, vaping products and pretty much any other form that can be taken internally or applied to skin1.  They are marketed as treatments for a huge array of ailments, including anxiety, PTSD, chronic pain, arthritis, cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, autism and Alzheimer’s disease2,3, in both humans and animals.

Does it work?

Does it?  We don’t know.

There is clinical evidence that CBD is effective in treating some forms of childhood epilepsy.  And early studies suggest that CBD has some effect on insomnia and anxiety in humans, and in treating anxiety in humans.  Early studies indicated that it may have some use as an anti-inflammatory4.   However, later testing showed no pain-relieving or anti-inflammatory effects in dogs5.

Recent testing has also shown that CBD was not effective in reducing anxiety in dogs, either alone or in combination with other medications.  In fact, it seems to reduce the effectiveness of other medications when used in combination with them6.

The FDA has issued warnings to several companies, ordering them to stop making unproven claims about CBD’s effectiveness.  However, these warnings have little effect, and the FDA is essentially playing whack-a-mole in trying to reign in consumer fraud regarding CBD.

Adding to the confusion is that dogs have entirely different digestive systems than humans and produce different digestive enzymes.  Products designed for human consumption don not always work with dogs.

What are the issues with it?

First of all, there’s a serious lack of testing.  And much of CBD testing has been of questionable quality, relying on owners’ and veterinarians’ impressions of effectiveness rather than objective testing.  An AVMA spokesman estimates that the placebo effect of CBD studies can be as high as 40% 7.   As discussed above, when controlled testing takes place, efficacy claims are placed in serious doubt.

Being an unregulated product, there is no way of knowing whether the contents of a pill, cream or other form of CBD actually match what’s on the label8.   Further, its available in a wide range of forms.  We don’t know it should be administered or what dosage may be effective – if it has any effect at all.

We do know that it can cause liver damage and that it can affect other medications.  It can also cause mood changes and stomach upset9.

What’s the bottom line?

CBD has some interesting possibilities, but we have to wait for the scientific process to prove or disprove the marketing claims.  It is probably safe in that it won’t cause harm to your pets, although side effects have been noted, but we have no reason to believe that it will be effective in treating any physical, emotional or mental conditions.  And we don’t know how it may interact with other drugs, how it should be administered, what form it should take and what dosage is needed.  Further, until it is regulated in some form, we have no way to know what’s in those pills or gummies that are sold online or over the counter.

My advice:  If you think your dog needs medication for some condition, talk to your vet.

References:

  1. Beginners guide to CBD.  Retrieved from Your Guide to CBD (healthline.com)
  2. Mother Jones. (December 2018) Sorry, Hipsters. CBD Will Not Solve All Your Problems. Retrieved from Sorry, Hipsters. CBD Will Not Solve All Your Problems. – Mother Jones
  3. Hazekamp, A., (2018), The Trouble with CBD Oil, Medical Cannabis and Cannabinoids 2018 (1). 65 – 72. doi: 10.1159/000489287
  4. Grinspoon, P. (August 24, 2018), Cannabidoil (CBD) – What We Know and What We Don’t. Harvard Health Publishing.  Retrieved from Cannabidiol (CBD) — what we know and what we don’t – Harvard Health Blog – Harvard Health Publishing
  5. Mejia, S., Duerr, F. M., Griffenhagen, G. and McGrath, S. (2021). Evaluation of the Effect of Cannabidoil on Naturally Occurring Osteoarthritis-Association Pain: A Pilot Study in Dogs.  Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association 57 (2), 81-90. doi:  5326/JAAHA-MS-7119
  6. Morris, E. M., Kitts-Morgan, S. E., Spangler, D., McLeod, K. R., Costa, J. H. and Harmon, D. L. (2020), The Impact of Feeding Cannabidoil (CBD) Containing Treats on Canine Response to a Noise-Induced Fear Test. Frontiers in Veterinary Science (2020).  doi:  3389/fvets.2020.569565
  7. DVM360, CBD in Pets, retrieved from CBD in Pets (dvm360.com)
  8. Grinspoon, et al.
  9. S. Food and Drug Administration. What You Need to Know (And What We’re Working to Find Out) About Products Containing Cannabis or Cannabis-Derived Compounds, Including CBD.  Retrieved from:  What You Need to Know (And What We’re Working to Find Out) About Products Containing Cannabis or Cannabis-derived Compounds, Including CBD | FDA

Seresto collars

There has been great deal of interest and reporting about the EPA’s report on dog illnesses and fatalities linked to the Seresto flea and tick collar.  Like most dog owners, I’m interested in this reporting.  But I’m bothered by the reporting for much different reasons than most others whose comments I’ve seen.

The story, which first appeared in USA Today on March 2nd,  (www.usatoday.com/story/news/investigations/2021/03/02/seresto-dog-cat-collars-found-harm-pets-humans-epa-records-show/4574753001/ ), states that 1,700 pet deaths have been attributed to Seresto collars.  As stated in the article “Seresto, one of the most popular flea and tick collars in the country, has been linked to hundreds of pet deaths, tens of thousands of injured  animals and hundreds of harmed humans, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency documents show.   Yet the EPA has done nothing to inform the public of the risks.”  The article provides a link to the EPA’s website, containing an aggregate summary of pet deaths attributed to Seresto collars from 2012 through 2020.   The report contains information about the total number of reported illnesses and deaths, along with reported severity of the illnesses.  However, that’s all the information that was provided.  The article doesn’t provide any amplifying information about the data collection.

For example, the article provides a link to the aggregate reporting of pesticide incidents attributed to Seresto, but does not state the source of those incident reports.  There is no explanation as to whether the incidents were reported by private citizens, veterinarians, state agencies or the manufacturer.  Every one of these potential sources can contribute to the EPA’s database, with varying degrees of reliability ( www.epa.gov/pesticide-incidents/introduction-pesticide-incidents ).  And, although part of the data collection for incident reporting, the aggregate database cited in the article contains no information about the probability that the incident was accurately reported.

The fact that the article apparently used raw data without further examination leads to some questions about the data itself.  For example, in previous investigations of flea and tick treatments, the EPA has found that a significant number of incidents were based on improper use of the products, including applying the wrong amount of treatment for the animals’ weight or age, or using the product for the wrong species of pet ( www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/safe-use-flea-and-tick-products-pets  ).  The EPA has addressed concerns with other topical flea treatments by requiring modifications to their safe use ( EPA Evaluation of Pet Spot-on Products: Analysis and Plans for Reducing Harmful Effects | Protecting Pets from Fleas and Ticks | US EPA ).

Although the article questions the safety of Seresto collars, it fails to consider how many reported incidents may be inaccurate.  Or how many deaths and illnesses are attributable to other causes.  Or how many reported incidents are the result of incorrect use.  For example, one active ingredient in Seresto collars, imidacloprid, has been found to have no adverse side effects when applied topically, but is extremely toxic when ingested ( www.dogaware.com/articles/wdjmdr1.html ).  This raises the possibility that dogs licked or chewed on a collar, or that the insecticide was ingested by excessive grooming or licking a hot spot, rather than becoming ill through normal use.

All this is not to say that the Seresto collars should not be re-examined for safety concerns and that mitigations may be needed.  And there is clear evidence that the EPA has been lax in enforcement in recent years.  But the article took one data element that is used to evaluate product safety, and drew somewhat inflammatory and potentially misleading conclusions from it.  We need to be mindful that this is only part of the story.