Can CBD really help dogs with stress, anxiety, aches and pain?

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In the last few years of his life, Pancake struggled with his mobility. “He had the regular kind of illnesses a lot of old dogs get,” his owner, Jesse Freidin, a fine art dog photographer, said over the phone. Pancake, a 20-pound Boston terrier, started to lose his sight and would often seem physically stiff — especially after a hike, one of his favorite activities.

“The only thing the vets would say was, ‘stop hiking — stop doing the things the dog loves to do because it’s taxing on his body,’” Freidin recalled. “I’m smarter than that. I wasn’t about to reduce his quality of life so he could live longer.” So Freidin went searching for a natural supplement that could ease the dog’s pain. Based on the recommendation of a friend, Freidin started adding a CBD oil made specifically for pets to Pancake’s treats or in his food about once a week, especially after hikes and other physical activity.

In his older age, Pancake had a brain tumor and Freidin said he “could tell he was out of sorts and anxious because things were happening to his body and he couldn’t feel at ease.” But as far as Freidin could tell, the CBD oil helped. “I think it let him recover a bit — he wasn’t as achey and I think it helped him be a little less anxious.”

Just as people are increasingly taking the cannabis derivative to ease their anxieties, they’re similarly turning to CBD to ease the woes of their fur babies. Pet products with cannabis are on the rise: At SuperZoo 2018, the largest national show for pet retailers, an increasing number of products with CBD and hemp extracts were on display, Pet Food Industry reported. Veterinarians, too, are stepping out in support of cannabis as a functional ingredient for pets, though the American Veterinary Medical Association noted that CBD products are not a panacea and can be misused. “The concern our membership has is worry about people extrapolating their own dosages, looking to medicate their pets outside the realm of the medical professional,” board chairman Michael Whitehair told the Associated Press. “This is an important reason for us to continue the research.”

Harley, a five-year-old Jack Russell/chihuahua mix, has always been a nervous guy. “My dude is scared of the world. Or he was,” his owner, Pam Mandel, said in an email. “He used to lose it, pacing in the middle of the night when the street sweeper came through, and he also used to be pretty upset on garbage day.” Mandel hated seeing her pet in such distress and purchased peanut butter dog treats made with CBD oil from her local pet store. Since giving Harley the treats, he’s certainly chilled out. While Mandel said her pup requires something a little stronger for “hugely stressful events,” like fireworks on July Fourth, Harley has benefited from CBD oil, seeming calmer on long car rides.

Much of the research that does exist looks promising: A recent study from Cornell found that a twice-daily dose of 2 milligrams of CBD per kilogram of the body weight of the dog taking it can ease pain and promote activity in dogs with osteoarthritis. As he watched CBD do wonders for veterans he was volunteering with and for his service dog, Dante, Ian Quinn was encouraged to start his own CBD-infused pet line, Phyto Animal Health. He saw somewhat immediate results in increased mobility and appetite in Dante, and how CBD helped shrink a tumor in a friend’s dog and mitigated seizures in another. “I started studying cannabis about 10 years ago,” Quinn said over the phone, explaining how he wanted to “understand the different receptor sites for pain management.” Launched on Jan. 1, 2018, his CBD treat company works with a board of clinical advisers and veterinary scientists to ensure the ingredients are safe and effective for pets.

Phyto Animal Health

Those invested in the cannabis industry are eager for new legislation to emerge because it will simplify the research process and, hopefully, help sell their products. “Right now there’s a gray area with anything hemp-related since it’s a Schedule 1 drug on the DEA list,” Michael Rubenstein, founder of Jade Harvest Hemp said over the phone. “Until that’s changed in the Farm Bill, there are no regulations except for state regulations.” Rubenstein launched Jade Harvest in June 2018; a chiropractor by day, he has recommended CBD to his human patients for pain management and saw room in the marketplace to provide this same relief for pets.

“Pets have a lot of issues, from anxiety to being nervous around storms and not having a sense of calm.” Pets, like humans, have endocannabinoid systems, he said, which is how our bodies manage homeostasis.

“I really got into this because I’ve always been a pet lover and pets can’t really tell you what’s wrong,” Rubenstein said. For now, Jade Harvest offers CBD salves and chicken- and bacon-flavored CBD oils. Unlike many supplements and vitamins that promise results that can’t necessarily be seen, Rubenstein said pet owners often see changes in their animal “within a week or two,” when using CBD. “It basically enhances a sense of calm in the body,” he said. “It really helps them calm down.”

Michael Rubenstein/Jade Harvest Hemp

While Quinn says that “every animal can benefit from taking CBD and our products,” he admits that there’s a lot of misinformation around medicinal cannabis. Knowing where the product is sourced from and how it’s vetted is key. “When it comes to supplements of any kind, when you buy cheap you get cheap, Gary Richter, veterinarian and author of The Ultimate Pet Health Guide, said over the phone. “These are not the kind of things you should necessarily be bargain shopping for. Go with a reputable company and do some research first.” Both Quinn and Richter stressed the importance of acquiring a certificate of analysis from the manufacturer, which will prove that the product contains what it claims on the label.

All of Phyto Animal Health’s products undergo a vigorous testing process to ensure no pesticides, fertilizers, microbes or other potentially harmful ingredients have entered the product, Quinn said. The most popular product, the HempBone Bacon Apple Donuts, contains 4 milligrams of CBD per treat and are free of common dog allergens including corn, wheat and soy. While Quinn sees a number of CBD pet products hitting the market, he said eventually the companies that form for profit, without care for quality, will soon “go by the wayside.”

sommart sombutwanitkul/Shutterstock

“We know from scientific literature for people that there are a lot of legitimate medical uses for cannabis,” Richter said. “When we look at the results of what happens when people have appropriately treated their pets with cannabis, in many cases the results are undeniable.” While medical cannabis products can be effective for pets, it’s crucial to first consult with a veterinarian before distributing, said Richter.

It can be nerve-wracking to give your pup something and not know its impact, so working with a professional can be helpful. For pet parents whose vets aren’t willing to advise on alternative medicine like cannabis, Richter said resources like books, expert-run webinars and continuing education classes may be able to provide guidance. CBD treats are “obviously not the cure-all for everything,” Richter said, and like any other medication, they should be used with “an appropriate level of caution and under medical supervision.”