The Reality Of Hemp CBD for Pets

In case you haven’t noticed, hemp CBD products have taken over the world and can apparently be used to either treat or cure just about everything.  It’s hard to go pretty much anywhere without seeing some sign or advertisement touting the amazing wonders of CBD products. In the pet world, CBD oil and treats are being marketed as a tool to treat arthritis, anxiety, GI issues, and even cancer management. You can get it in oil or treat form from a bazillion online vendors, pet stores, and even some veterinary professionals. If this wonder product is so great, why is there so much controversy surrounding it? I am not a CBD hater. I see the potential applications and am hopeful that it will stand the test of time and scrutiny. My issue is that this widely purchased product seems to have skipped all of the rigorous testing and inspection and has gone straight to the consumers. 

Let’s Start At The Beginning

What is CBD anyway? CBD is short for cannabidiol which comes from the cannabis plant, Cannabis sativa. It is the non-psychoactive part of the plant with the THC (the part that makes you high) removed to a very low or undetectable level. It was first discovered in the 1940s by Roger Adams at the University of Illinois when he separated CBD from hemp and studied its properties. The Cannabis sativa plant has several varieties that vary in levels of THC, CBD, and fiber content. The variety more commonly known as marajuana has a high THC content with a lower CBD concentration.  The variety known as industrial hemp is high in fiber, low in THC levels (0.3% or lower) and higher in CBD levels.

Is The Sale And Distribution Of CBD Legal? 

 In 2014 President Obama signed the Agricultural Act of 2014 allowing for study and farming of industrial hemp in limited amounts. An additional act in 2015 allowed for larger farming opportunities and took hemp off of the controlled substance list as long as the THC content was less than 0.3%. This distinction is important and yet confusing as far as the federal  government is concerned.

Industrial hemp is not a controlled substance according to the DEA but CBD is a different story. As far as the federal government is concerned, CBD grown from a hemp plant with THC levels of less than 0.3% is NOT a controlled substance. CBD derived from a marijuana plant with higher levels of THC IS a Class I controlled substance. This is just at the federal level, however. States have their own laws concerning CBD sales and distribution. Oral CBD products are still a gray area as far as legal sale and use is concerned. The state of Delaware allows for the legal use of marijuana with a medical card from a physician. CBD products in Delaware fall into two categories: oil with a CBD concentration of 15% or higher fall into the marijuana category and need a medical card, oil with a concentration of 7% CBD and 0.3% THC are unregulated and can be purchased by anyone. Currently, there is one FDA approved CBD based human medication, Epidiolex, which is used to manage seizures.

An Exploding Market For The Pet Industry

 In 2016, the first CBD oil marketed for dogs was launched. Sales of CBD related pet products has increased from $8 million in 2017 to $32 million in 2018 to and expected to rise to $1.16 billion annually by 2022. This is huge revenue for a product that is just now starting to have any scientific data evaluating dosing and effect on specific disease processes in dogs and cats. 

One of the many fears in the veterinary community is that consumers will reach for the all powerful CBD products first and consider a doctor’s evaluation and recommendations for a pet’s illness last. Another stumbling block between consumers and veterinary professionals is the lack of comfort that many doctors have even considering CBD applications with clients. One study showed that only 45% of the veterinarians participating in the study were comfortable talking about CBD topics with clients. Also the veterinarians that were more likely to discuss using CBD products in pets practiced in states that already had legalized recreational marijuana use. Pet owners are frustrated that they are not able to get the guidance from their veterinarians that they need. The bottom line is that the veterinary field needs to be open and informed about CBD products and how owners are using them. We need to educate ourselves so that we can then better educate our clients on when and how to use CBD products in our pets.

So What’s The Big Deal?

Quality Control Issues

The lack of regulation for CBD products is problematic for a variety of reasons. There is the obvious one of not really knowing if the product that is purchased actually has the amount of CBD listed on the package. Could be a little in there, could be a lot, maybe the amount listed on the package is just a ballpark estimate. Who knows? No third party source is checking and verifying package labeling. 

And to be clear, CBD is derived from parts of a hemp plant, but not all hemp sold on the market has CBD in it. The hemp seed and hemp seed oil has only trace amounts of CBD in it and is cheaper to produce. Unless you know all of the industry names of hemp that assume to have CBD in it, you may be purchasing a hemp based product that actually contains little to no CBD. Buyer beware!

Understanding The Label Of CBD Products Can Be Problematic.

A good product will have a clear label stating:  

Amount of active CBD per serving ,

Supplement Fact Panel, including other ingredients,

Net weight, 

Manufacturer or distributor name, 

Suggested use,  

Type of CBD used (Full spectrum, broad spectrum, or isolate)

Batch or date code


Most CBD products for pets are labeled for the total amount of CBD expected per bottle of oil or bag of treats. The recommended dosing by the manufacturer is then listed as the number of drops to administer or treats to give based on a pet’s weight range. With this packaging it is not clearly stated how many mg/kg you are giving per dose in a way that the average consumer can understand.

Who Determined How Much Was Enough For Pets? 

What I want to know is who determined what dose to give and how often to give it if there were not any trials or studies completed before 2018 to evaluate this for specific diseases? Recent studies have suggested a dose of 2 mg/kg twice daily for arthritis symptoms and 2.5 mg/kg twice daily for seizure reduction. That’s a great start but it is difficult for most consumers to take this information further and apply it to the CBD pet products as they are currently labeled.

Can you give too much? What happens to the body when you give too much? What are the symptoms of too much? What are the long term effects of CBD use at any dose? Some pet owners have been putting the value of CBD products in the same category as FDA tested and monitored prescription medications without the proper testing to determine how much and how often is appropriate. 

Are All CBD Products Absorbed The Same? 

There was a study done in 1988 that compared the bioavailability of CBD delivered IV and orally. In this study the CBD doses that were given IV were absorbed right away, readily detectable in the blood, and had a terminal half life of 9 hours. Oral CBD given as a powder loaded into gelatin capsules had much different results. Half of the dogs given the oral CBD never had any detectable levels of CBD present at all.  The other half of dogs given the oral dose had only 13-19% of the CBD bioavailable. A recent study done at Cornell used a proprietary brand of CBD delivered with olive oil. Their findings showed acceptable absorption with a terminal half life of 4-5 hours. Cornell hypothesized that the poor absorption in the 1988 study may be due to first pass effect (the liver readily metabolizes the product before it is able to reach blood levels) or that the delivery method of CBD effects absorption. This is important information that we don’t have full understanding of yet. Is that $70 bottle of CBD oil or bag of treats even being absorbed by your pet? Should it be given with food? Should it be a specific type of food (fatty?)? There are CBD powders available on the market today. Are we wasting our time even considering the powder forms or do they just need to be given a certain way? 

How Safe Is CBD For Our Pets? 

At this point we can say with certainty that CBD is metabolized in the liver. There is some research out there that suggests CBD may improve liver function in certain cases by reducing scar tissue from disease processes such as cirrhosis. In contrast, in both human and dog studies, elevated liver specific enzymes were reported in several of the participants. In fact, a recent study done on mice using high doses of CBD,  equivalent to the max dose of prescription medication Epidiolex, concluded that “ CBD differentially regulated more than 50 genes, many of which were linked to oxidative stress responses, lipid metabolism pathways and drug metabolizing enzymes. In conclusion, CBD exhibited clear signs of hepatotoxicity, possibly of a cholestatic nature.” So far, we are seeing some elevations in liver specific enzymes ALT and AlkPhos in animal trials using commercially available CBD products but not in every case. The general thought is that we really need to evaluate long term usage effects on the body to determine the significance of these early findings.  We also need to determine if there are specific groups of dogs that should not be taking CBD at all. 

What about cats? Cats seem to be from a different planet when it comes to processing some medications. A study published in 2019 had results indicating that cats may absorb or process CBD differently than dogs: showing lower serum concentrations and adverse effects of excessive licking and head-shaking during oil administration.

Fun fact: hemp plants have long been used to cleanse the soil of heavy metals and other contaminants. They are what we call phytoremediators.  Where the hemp plant is grown and the type of chemicals used during the growing process are very important to the long term safety of the resulting CBD product. Cheaper hemp imported from overseas may contain unhealthy levels of mercury, lead, and arsenic as well as unwanted chemicals such as pesticides. These hemp plants are planted as cover crops to pull toxins out of the soil and then they exported for the ever growing CBD industry. One survey of 240 of the top selling human CBD lines found heavy metal contamination in over 70% of the products tested. Ideally, any hemp being processed for consumption should be grown organically and be tested for contaminants every step of the process.  

Does CBD Affect Other Medications? 

The short answer is yes. Since CBD is processed in the liver, it may compete with medications being taken that are also metabolized by the liver thus increasing their blood levels. In the veterinary world, many of the patients who are being given the CBD oils/treats are either arthritic or epileptic. The medications that most likely have been prescribed by a veterinarian for these ailing pets include NSAIDs and Phenobarbitol. These drugs are cleared by the liver just like CBD. What can we see when these prescription medications are combined with CBD? We can see the potential for unwanted side effects and a stressed liver

Proceed With Caution And Education

The pet CBD industry is a multi-million dollar powerhouse that is increasing exponentially every year. Consumers are reaching for CBD products as a way to give their pets some relief from a huge list of diseases and conditions. The fact of the matter is that there are more claims for CBD benefits than there is scientific proof. Research is showing that there may be a reasonable application for CBD use in pets with seizures and potentially arthritis pain. Scientific study has also revealed some concerns regarding delivery for bioavailability and general safety that needs further investigation. The legal gray zone that CBD has lived in for the past few years has allowed an industry to explode for consumers while the necessary safety regulations have lagged behind. It’s time for the veterinary community to stop running away from CBD and to start figuring out what role it will play in veterinary care.

Consumer Bottom line: Use CBD products with caution until the safety protocols are developed to protect your pet from doing more harm than good when taking them. Stick to organic CBD and preferably a brand that has withstood the rigors of scientific study.

Veterinary community: We need to educate ourselves about potential CBD applications because this trend is not going anywhere and our clients need our direction.  Pet owners are relying on us to help them navigate the wild west CBD industry with sound medical advice based on the facts as we learn them.

The Evolving Veterinary Hospital in a Demanding World

Trying to Stay Relevant

The field of veterinary medicine never stands still. We are a profession that is continuously growing and changing to meet the needs of our patients. In the last twenty years or so, this growth seems to have exploded with new services and treatment options available for pet owners to choose from. Our practice is a prime example of a general small animal practice trying to stay relevant in a climate where owners are wanting the best of the best for their animals (yet at a reasonable price!).

From Products to Services

The current trend for a successful veterinary practice is to focus on services rather than products. When I first started in this field (many, many years ago), the veterinary hospital was a place of one stop shopping. It was a place to get vaccines, parasite control, medications and food. Now, owners have low cost vaccine clinics and online retail available at the tips of their fingertips. We all have had that conversation with an owner price shopping around for the flea product or heart worm preventative that their doctor recommended but at the lowest price. You can even get veterinary only medication filled at Walmart now. With this expanded change in availability of veterinary products for owners comes a shift in our focus as a hospital. What can we provide that our clients want and can’t get somewhere else? Continue…

Managing the Hyperthyroid Cat: From Diagnosis to Treatment Options

Hyperthyroid cat getting radioactive Iodine injectionInjection of radioactive iodine, I-131An Explosion of Thyroid Disease Since the 1970’s

Before the 1970’s hyperthyroidism was not a common condition seen in our feline pets. So what’s changed to cause such a dramatic increase in diagnosis? The answer is that we just don’t know. Some suspect that it may be related to the chemicals that we surround ourselves with every day such as the plastics that line the cat food cans or the flame retardant chemicals in our clothes, rugs, and mattresses. As researchers continue to study the possible causes of this endocrine disease, veterinarians and pet owners need to focus on how to diagnose and manage hyperthyroidism successfully.

What is Hyperthyroid Disease?

Hyperthyroidism is a common disease diagnosed in many of our older feline patients (average age at diagnosis is 13 years old). In these patients an excessive amount of the hormone thyroxine, also known as T4, is produced by overactive thyroid glands leading to a variety of symptoms which include:

  • weight loss
  • increased appetite
  • increased activity or restless behavior
  • “crabby” or aggressive behavior
  • increased heart rate
  • GI signs such as vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • increased urination

This excess of the hormone that regulates an animal’s metabolic rate is a result of abnormal growth of thyroid cells referred to as a thyroid adenoma. In most cases theses growths are benign and very responsive to treatment. In 1-2% of cases the abnormal growths are malignant and may involve different treatment options than will be discussed today. Continue…