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What to Know About CBD for Pets

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Medicinal hemp products have not been subject to rigorous FDA oversight, but many pet product companies tout multiple health benefits for pets. In addition to potential health claims, the anxiety-reducing potential makes it an attractive “natural” option for pet parents with fearful pets.

Rob Silver, DVM, a holistic veterinarian and founder of, and veterinary pain specialist Robin Downing, DVM, from weigh in on the subject. Updates have been provided from Stephen Cital, RVT, SRA, RLAT, VCCS, CVPP, VTS- LAM (Res. Anesthesia), director of education and development at

Hemp Data for Pets?

Unfortunately, few studies offer clear guidance for veterinarians or pet owners. That makes species-appropriate recommendations nearly impossible. Dr. Downing believes that “whole plant” extracts versus single-agent extracts should be further examined.

Joe Wakshlag, DVM, at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, has completed a CBD study that demonstrated pain reduction in dogs with osteoarthritis. Cital says that while not clinically significant, ALP increases were noted for animals in the study that were on NSAIDS at the same time, and that a CSU study saw the same thing, along with diarrhea. Dr. Downing says important details about the formulation, manufacture, certificate of analysis, and sourcing of raw material must be determined, but feels hopeful and excited by the results.

At least five published studies using phytocannabinoid-rich hemp products show bioavailability in both dogs and cats, Cital says, with evidence suggesting better bioavailability of CBD products when given with a meal. He says it is also critical to understand that pharmacokinetic studies from will vary product to product depending on the concentration of the product’s phytocannabinoid constituents, carrier oil, and dose.

Auburn University has data (as yet unpublished) on theoretical drug interactions that have not proven to manifest in the clinical setting. Slow dissemination of these studies can leave veterinarians without good information for making recommendations of CBD products. This is complicated by legal restrictions, which vary from state to state.

Confusing Hemp and Cannabis Terms

Definitions of marijuana, cannabis, and hemp depend on the use and the content of THC.

The word “marijuana” refers to the cannabis plant containing the psychotropic component tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is a controlled substance. “Hemp” refers to the industrial cannabis product used for rope, textiles, and other products. Hemp may contain no more than 0.3 percent of THC.

Both marijuana and hemp are members of the cannabis family of plants. The flowers of this plant may contain more than 100 different cannabinoids. CBD oil most commonly appears in pet hemp supplements.

Complicated Marijuana Drug Laws

The law ties veterinarians’ hands because marijuana is not legal in most states and is still illegal at the federal level. “Any investigator who is funded by federal monies runs the risk of having that funding withdrawn if they are found to be in violation of federal law [e.g., assessing products that remain illegal at the national level],” says Dr. Downing.

With passage of the Farm Bill of 2018, hemp products no longer fall under the same legal restrictions as marijuana. As of January 2020, California is the first and only state that has adopted laws protecting veterinarians from penalties for discussing use of marijuana for pets with clients. They are, however, restricted from profiting by recommendation of a marijuana product. On the other hand, most states don’t forbid or discourage veterinarians from discussing use of hemp products with pet owners.

What to Consider

Look for red flags on cannabis products, such as misspelled words on the label or no phone number to call to ask questions. Packaging should indicate strength of formulation and recommended dosage.

Products should also come with a certificate of analysis. “This is a way for a producer to affirm and assure the public that what they produce is consistent, not contaminated, and has a specific concentration of active ingredients,” says Dr. Downing. “Reliable companies are interested in acquiring and repeating independent analyses.”

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Amy Shojai ( is an IAABC-certified behavior consultant (cats/dogs), and Fear Free certified pet care expert. She’s the award-winning author of more than 30 pet care titles including MY CAT HATES MY VET and MY DOG HATES MY VET: Foiling Fear Before, During & After Vet Visits.

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