Cannabis could help pets with seizures or pain, research suggests. Here's what to know before trying it.
Cannabis isn’t just for humans. Researchers are increasingly studying the substance’s effects on animals, including horses, birds, cats, and dogs.
Some evidence suggests cannabis could potentially help pets with seizures and chronic pain. A small, preliminary study out of Colorado State University (CSU) last year found that dogs with epilepsy who were given CBD orally had fewer seizures than dogs who were given placebos. (CBD is an approved seizure treatment for humans in the form of the medication epidiolex.)
For another study, published in June 2018, researchers from Cornell University gave CBD oil to 16 dogs with osteoarthritis every 12 hours for four weeks. They found that the dogs who got the CBD oil had less pain than the dogs who were given a placebo. The pups’ pain levels were assessed using the Canine Brief Pain Inventory (CBPI), a method that looks at how a dog’s daily functions like walking are impacted by pain.
Robert Silver, an integrative veterinarian, told INSIDER that the National Animal Supplement Council has given a number of CBD products its quality seal of approval, a sign that pet parents are increasingly seeking out the alternative treatment.
More research on the effectiveness of cannabis for pets is needed— CSU has launched a larger clinical trial for CBD in dogs — but Silver told INSIDER that these preliminary findings about CBD are promising.
” All species seem to respond well [to cannabis] because our bodies, whether a dog, human, pigeon, or even jellyfish, have a system called the endocannabinoid system,” he said.
When a person, dog, or other animal ingests cannabis, the molecules fit into the endocannabinoid system’s receptors. As a result, a person might feel THC’s psychoactive effects, or in the case of CBD products, potential feelings of calm or pain relief. Dogs, cats, and other animals could feel these effects too.
Not all cannabis products are okay for pets — some can be deadly
Stephen Cital, executive director of the Academy of Laboratory Veterinary Technicians and Nurses, warned that many cannabis products on the market are not safe for pets. In the past decade, emergency calls about pets getting high from accidentally eating marijuana edibles or flower have increased 765%, according to The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Silver said THC-containing products can speed up an animal’s heart and potentially lead to death if they consume too much, so non-psychoactive CBD is a safer option for pets.
The dosing of these products, of course, differs for humans and animals.
“Cats and dogs have different endocannabinoid receptors than humans, so they react to it differently. So human ratios aren’t necessarily appropriate for small animals,” Cital said.
Plus, many edibles designed for humans contain chocolate, a known toxin to dogs. Some also have have xylitol, another toxin.
In the clinical trials completed thus far, researchers have given dogs CBD oil in a ratio of 2 milligrams for every kilogram the dog weighs (so heavier dogs get more CBD oil). Before these studies, Cital said, dosing was “totally trial and error.”
Silver said that clinical dose is a good place to start for pets.
“[That] dose twice daily y ou should give a couple of weeks to a month to see how it works,” he said. Cital said keeping a journal of your pet’s daily habits and sharing it with the vet is the best way to determine if they are reacting well to CBD treatment.
Discuss options with your veterinarian before giving any cannabis product to your pet
Before administering any cannabis-based products to your pet, Silver and Cital both recommended speaking to a veterinarian. A vet can look over an animal’s medical records to determine what kind of treatment their condition requires and whether CBD products could be an option.
If CBD makes sense for your pet, Cital said, vets can also suggest high-quality products, since not all are tested or approved by the Food and Drug Administration Some cannabis products could contain heavy metals or have less CBD content than a product’s packaging may suggest. A 2017 study from Johns Hopkins looked at 84 CBD products from 31 companies and found that 26% had less CBD than advertised.
“[The vet] will have you track appetite, movement, and sleep cycles at home and then evaluate it and say how things are progressing and change the dose based on that,” Cital said.
Silver warned, however, that CBD should not be used for emergency situations with pets, and should instead be a supplement to other medication a pet might be prescribed.
” The only thing that concerns me is that it may cause pet owners to reach for CBD instead of seeing the doctor,” he said.
Cital also noted that an animal’s “anxiety could be more of an environmental thing that doesn’t even need any medications or CBD products.”
Not all vets are willing to offer advice about cannabis products, though.
“U nfortunately, when it comes to these conversations with owners, techs and vets don’t learn about cannabis as a therapeutic option in vet school or tech school,” Cital said. Even if a vet is educated on the subject, he added, they may choose not to discuss it for legal reasons.
Still, Cital believes cannabis has the potential to benefit pets in a way similar to humans, though more research is still necessary.
” Anecdotally, we have had good success with the products out there,” he said.
The effect of CBD for dogs with seizures
McGrath and colleagues recently conducted the first randomized controlled clinical trial ever to assess the anticonvulsant effect of CBD for dogs with seizures. This article reports on their study, and discusses the following:
- Seizures in dogs
- The goals of the study
- Findings of the study
- What do the findings mean?
- Adverse side effects
Seizures in dogs
About 1-6% of dogs suffer from idiopathic epileptic seizures (meaning: seizures with unknown cause). As such, epilepsy is the most frequent neurological condition in dogs. Currently, the most commonly used pharmaceutical treatment in epileptic dogs is phenobarbital or potassium bromide.
Anti-epilepsy medications, however, are ineffective in about 20-30% of epileptic dogs. In addition, many dogs experience side effects of these medications. Therefore, many dog owners have sought out other treatment methods, including cannabis products, such as CBD.
The FDA has approved the oral administration of pure CBD to treat epilepsy in humans. Additionally, the FDA rescheduled the approved drug as a Schedule V substance. So far, however, nobody has conducted any rigorous research to assess the effectiveness of CBD in treating epilepsy in dogs. This study that we are presenting is the first randomized controlled clinical trial to assess CBD for dogs with seizures.
The goals of the study
McGrath and colleagues evaluated the following:
- What is the effect on seizures of giving CBD short-term to dogs in addition to standard anticonvulsive medications?
- What is the effect of CBD on the concentration of phenobarbital and bromide in the blood of these dog after 12 weeks?
- Are there any adverse side effects of CBD administration?
The researchers advertised the study, and dog owners brought in their dogs who:
- had at least two seizures a month for at last 16 weeks,
- took at least one conventional antiepileptic medication,
- had no obvious brain damage as reason for their seizures,
- had no infectious diseases that might explain their seizures,
- had blood levels of phenobarbital and bromide within therapeutic range, or were receiving labeled doses of zonisamide or levetiracetam, and
- had no additional serious illness.
Owners brought in 248 dogs, but only 26 met the eligibility criteria. These eligible dogs then participated in a randomized controlled double-blind study, which means that:
- a computer program randomly assigned the dogs into two groups
- one group was getting CBD and the other group was the control group getting placebo
- neither the veterinarian nor the owners knew whether the dogs were getting CBD or placebo (double-blind)
CBD for dogs with seizures
Dog owners supplemented their dog’s prescribed medication with:
- either 2.5 mg/kg CBD in oil form orally two times a day for 12 weeks
- or placebo oil twice a day for 12 weeks
The cold-pressed hemp oil had a concentration of 100 mg of CBD/mL, and only trace amounts of other cannabinoids, such as THC, cannabinol, cannabigerol, and cannabichromene. Chicken flavoring was added to enhance taste. The placebo was chicken flavored hemp oil with no cannabinoids, so nobody could sense the difference between CBD oil and placebo.
Dog owners brought their dogs back for blood checkups and physical examinations every 4 weeks. In addition, they had to keep a diary about seizures, regarding their:
Owners also had to complete a behavioral assessment of their dogs, which evaluated the potential side effects of the treatment and the anxiety of the dogs.
Findings of the study
Scientists compared the average monthly number of seizures for:
- before and after the study, for each dog
- dogs that received CBD versus dogs that received placebo
Altogether 16 dogs successfully completed the study. Dogs treated with CBD had a significant reduction in the number of monthly seizures (from 4.0 before to 2.7 after, a 33% reduction in seizures). As a comparison, dogs in the placebo group had no reduction whatsoever in the number of seizures.
Dogs treated with CBD had increased serum alkaline phosphatase (ALP) activity. However, serum bromide and phenobarbital concentrations were the same in the CBD and in the placebo group, or before vs. after the treatment.
In terms of aggression, anxiety, fear, trainability, excitability, and rivalry, there was no difference between the dogs that received CBD vs those that received placebo. The researchers also noted no adverse psychoactive effects in any of the dogs that received CBD oil.
What do the findings mean?
Since this was the first randomized controlled double-blind experimental study ever to assess the effect of CBD for epileptic dogs, the authors were unable to compare their results to prior studies. They noted that no established data exists in veterinary medicine to advise about effective doses, appropriate dosing intervals, and CBD blood concentrations.
In addition, no established therapeutic regimen about how to give CBD for epileptic dogs exists either. The authors decided to give CBD for epileptic dogs twice a day, because that is what they consider as customary in human therapy. Furthermore, the half-life of CBD in dogs is roughly between 120 to 200 minutes, so that also suggested at least twice a day dosing.
They also used a sophisticated formula involving the ratio of body weight to body surface and converted the customary 1.5 mg/kg CBD human dose to 2.5 mg/kg CBD for dogs. However, the daily recommended starting dose for Epidiolex is 2.5 mg/kg every 12 hours, with a maximum limit of 10 mg/kg every 12 hours.
Therefore, the authors wonder if their conservative approach to dosing might have resulted in doses that were too low for the dogs. They recommend future studies that evaluate different (higher and lower) doses as well.
Adverse side effects
One quarter (3 of 12) of the epileptic dogs in the study that received CBD developed adverse effects . One of the dogs had severe epilepsy to begin with, so its worsened conditions was most probably not due to CBD. The other two dogs developed ataxia . The authors concluded that this ataxia was probably an adverse side effect of CBD treatment.
As we saw, there was no difference in the blood serum levels of the anticonvulsive medications in the CBD treated vs placebo treated dogs. This suggests that CBD does not influence the breakdown of these two medications in dogs.
The authors are unsure what the clinical importance of increased serum ALP activity is, which they observed in the CBD treated group but not in the placebo group.
CBD Oil for Seizures in Dogs – the first thing to try?
Using CBD oil for seizures in dogs is something that is being suggested more and more frequently online. Is it something that you should definitely be giving your dog with seizures? Does it matter if they have epilepsy or if the seizures are caused by another condition?
Today I’m discussing some things you need to think carefully about before giving your dog CBD oil to treat their seizures.
Okay, so let’s get onto the first question and the first one is from Payal who’s got a seven-month-old Beagle who says, for the last month he started to get seizure attacks and within the last two months he’s had six seizures, six attacks and he’s asking, can I help him know how he can use CBD oil to treat the seizures?
What amount of CBD oil should be given? Any brands that I can recommend? Can I recommend which CBD oil would be best to help this dog?
Causes of seizures in dogs
So the first thing I’m going to say is that we really need to try and determine the cause of the seizures.
There are a number of different causes of dog seizures:
So in a younger dog, epilepsy is definitely one of the main differentials, although this dog is quite young. Normally epilepsy starts maybe from about a year old although it can be from six months so it certainly fits in from that point of view.
When to start epilepsy treatment
Now, if we’re talking about epilepsy as a whole, then we also need to think about when do we want to start treatment for these seizures.
So generally, that’s if a dog has had two or more seizures in a six-month period. Certainly if they’re having more than one seizure a month, we also want to think about treating them if they’ve not recovered between seizures or if they’re having severe seizures or if the recovery in general is very long. So that’s kind of some triggers to start treatment.
Treating other seizure causes
If the seizures aren’t caused by epilepsy, then we really need to try and address the underlying cause.
So we also get development problems and anatomical problems in younger dogs. So that can be things like fluid on the brain, water on the brain, and we need to be addressing those causes. It could be a liver shunt or something like that, which can also cause seizures.
So we don’t want to assume that just because it is a young dog or maybe they otherwise seem to be pretty normal, that epilepsy is the cause. We also need to think about trying to find out the underlying cause, because if it’s not epilepsy, then often they won’t respond as well to anti-seizure medication alone. We will need to give other treatments, give other drugs, use other interventions to try and get these pets seizure free, or certainly to reduce the frequency and the severity of the seizures.
The best epilepsy and seizure medication?
Now next, when we’re thinking about treating seizures, we need to think about choosing the best anti-seizure medication for that individual. So with drugs like phenobarbital and imepitoin, they’re our first line of drugs that we use to treat certainly epilepsy in dogs. We know how effective they can be, we know what to expect with long-term administration, we know how to monitor for potential side effects and that’s really important.
CBD oil for Seizures in Dogs
So if we think of CBD oil, the research actually into its use to control seizures is just in its early stage. There are some current investigations going on, some current studies being run, we don’t know exactly the details yet and we don’t know which dogs they’re going to be most effective in.
Do we need to use the CBD oil with additional medication? Are there concerns with giving it? Will it actually make things worse? Are there side effects that we need to know about?
So although these studies are starting to run, we need to think about why we’re going to try a drug that we don’t know much about. We don’t know how well it’s going to work and all those other things. Why are we thinking about using a drug like that when we’ve got other drugs in our arsenal, if you’d like to treat seizures and certainly to treat epilepsy.
Treating other conditions with CBD
So we need to be clear. There’s a lot of information online, there’s a lot of hype, there’s a lot of people who are very enthusiastic about the use of CBD oil and about its treatment for any number of conditions from epilepsy, which is certainly one, from arthritis and pain and we’ve actually got a little bit of information about its use as a painkiller, from an anti-cancer drug, from an anti-allergy drug, and from an anti-anxiety point of view.
CBD oil is being touted as the next big thing to treat pretty much anything.
We really need to be careful and if you want to know more about this topic then I’ve actually written about it in a lot of detail in my review of the use of CBD oil in dogs based on the actual evidence available to us, not just the hype!
I’ve also got another article about the risk of marijuana poisoning. So if you’re thinking well, medical marijuana might be an option. Well, that’s something we really need to consider because actually the THC in that can be dangerous. So you definitely need to know about that if you’re thinking of using any kind of medicinal marijuana products.
CBD oil dosing
As for what dose to use and what supply to use, supplies are really going to depend on where you are in the world. If you’re thinking of using a CBD oil, we definitely want to be using a product that has had some independent analysis done to confirm that actually it’s got what it says it’s got and it’s got low to zero THC in it.
That’s going to vary depending on where you are in the world, so I wouldn’t like to give you any kind of brand.
And as for dose, I make a point of actually never giving doses for drugs because I don’t think that’s the place for me. I don’t think it’s the place for anyone online. I think dosing, and individual treatment plans should be overseen and recommended by an individual vet after examining that patient. I think that’s the only sensible way, that’s the only safe way to go about treating an individual.
Dog CBD Products
If you do want to trial CBD in your dog, then an example of products that meet these strict quality criteria are the CBD tincture, chews, and treats produced by the company cbdMD whose independently analyzed pet products include: