CBD Oil for Cats: What You Need to Know
As cat owners look for ways to keep their kitties happy and healthy, they’re starting to explore alternative treatments not previously considered by Western medicine. Among these alternative treatments is cannabis oil.
This isn’t much of a surprise, considering that more people are turning to cannabis as a natural treatment for their health issues and research studies have consistently shown the plant’s positive impact on inflammation and other ailments. However, as studied as cannabis’s effect on humans may be, there have been no official major scientific studies into its impact on pets.
So, is cannabis safe for cats? And what sorts of ailments might it treat?
What Is CBD Oil?
Cannabis plants contain more than 100 active compounds, but the one most often used for medicinal purposes is cannabidiol, or CBD. CBD differs from cannabis’s major active compound, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), in that it does not have a psychoactive effect, meaning it will not get users “high.” CBD oils contain a high concentration of CBD and can be used for therapeutic purposes.
“There are not many classical medical studies that explore the effects of CBD oil in cats,” says Dr. Daniel Inman, a veterinarian at Burlington Emergency Veterinary Specialists in Williston, Vermont. “While we don’t recommend CBD oil for our patients, holistic veterinarians are using it to treat a variety of ailments, including inflammation, anxiety and pain.”
Inman is careful to specify that CBD oil is often used to subjectively increase comfort and improve quality of life in pets, not necessarily cure ailments. This type of treatment should be advised by your veterinarian and not initiated without their consent.
Is CBD Oil Safe for Cats?
Although there have been no scientific studies that specifically investigate the impact of cannabis on pets, Dr. Gary Richter, a holistic veterinarian and owner and medical director of Montclair Veterinary Hospital and Holistic Veterinary Care in Oakland, California, says that CBD oil is generally safe for cats. However, there can be some adverse effects to giving your cat CBD oil, including gastrointestinal upset and some sedation, both of which can be relieved by discontinuing the use of the oil.
“I think the bigger issue, from a medical perspective, is making sure that animals are dosed appropriately. This means that the CBD oil is having the effect you want it to have, and that you’re not accidentally overdosing,” he says.
Dr. Liza Guess, a clinical assistant professor at the Ohio State University Department of Veterinary Medicine in Columbus, Ohio, says that the lack of official, documented research into the effects of cannabis products for cats would make her hesitant to recommend them.
“I have heard that, in humans, marijuana products can be used for neuropathic pain, intractable seizures, anxiety, and appetite stimulation. I have plenty of medications in each of those categories [that are not cannabis] that have been safely used in cats for years that I am very comfortable using and understand well,” she says. “These medications have gone through rigorous studies and are approved by the FDA. Why would I want to use a poorly understood treatment that I can’t guarantee is safe or even effective?”
She adds that the FDA does not regulate the CBD products that are available on the market, so consumers can’t be sure that they’re giving their pets the dosage that they think they are.
“Pet owners looking to give their animals CBD oil should do their due diligence before purchasing anything online,” Richter says. “The marketplace is very much a ‘buyer beware’ environment, and people should be sure that the product they’re buying has been laboratory tested for both content, as well as contaminants like bacteria, fungus, and heavy metals.”
Also, it’s worth noting that while CBD oil is typically quite safe for cats and dogs, cannabis plants are not. “There is plenty of documentation of marijuana toxicity in cats, for those that nibble on the plants,” Guess says.
Inman adds that as an ER veterinarian, he often sees marijuana toxicity in the animals that come into his practice. “You can usually tell if a pet has gotten into someone’s marijuana. And, in more severe instances, I have had to hospitalize animals until the effects have worn off.”
Is CBD Oil Legal?
Regardless of how well CBD products work for cats, there is also the issue of legality. If a cannabis product contains less than 0.3 percent THC, it’s classified as “hemp,” which is not a restricted substance. Most, if not all, CBD oil fits this description. The bigger issue is discussing this course of treatment with your veterinarian.
“In a perfect world, your veterinarian would be able to discuss this treatment as an option for your pet, but depending on where you live, your veterinarian may or may not be legally at liberty to have this conversation with you,” Richter says. “Even if you live in a state where cannabis is legal, it can be illegal for a veterinarian to tell a pet owner how to appropriately use these products.”
There are activists looking to change these laws, Richter among them.
“For example, there’s a bill being brought to the California State Legislature to debate the use of medical cannabis for animals and veterinarian involvement,” he says. “There’s a very robust conversation going on right now about it whether or not veterinarians should be able to discuss and recommend cannabis for their patients, and, if so, exactly what that looks like.”
Being able to discuss all types of treatments with your veterinarian is key, and Richter advises checking in with your vet before giving your pet any sort of cannabis. “There’s no reason to ever start giving any kind of medication or supplement without having a conversation with your veterinarian first,” he says.
Cannabis and CBD products are the latest trend in human medicine. More and more people are turning to cannabis as a natural treatment for their health issues due to it’s purported positive impact on inflammation and other ailments. CBD oil has recently become popular due to its availability online, as well in many local pet stores, grocery stores, and pharmacies. While there are many unknowns about CBD, pet owners are starting to wonder if CBD could help their pets.
What is CBD Oil?
CBD oils contain a high concentration of the medically promising compound cannibidiol (CBD). CBD is a component of both the marijuana plant and it’s close cousin, the hemp plant. Almost all of the CBD oil on the market is sourced from hemp. CBD is different from THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the compound responsible for the euphoric “high” that marijuana smokers experience. CBD oils must contain less then 0.3% THC, so should not cause any psychoactive effects.
The effects of CBD on the body are still being researched, but it is believed that CBD activates a number of receptors in the body that affect body temperature, pain perception, inflammation, sleep, appetite, and cognition. While there is little scientific evidence, CBD oils are marketed to help with medical conditions such as seizures, anxiety, osteoarthritis, appetite stimulation, and inflammation.
There are currently several clinical trials in progress hoping to better understand the effects of CBD in dogs and cats. One of the most anticipated studies is Colorado State’s clinical trial to test the effects of cannabidiol on dogs with unresponsive epilepsy. There are also ongoing studies to test CBD’s effects on osteoarthritis, as well as studies aiming to determine a more accurate dosing regimen.
Is it safe?
While a preliminary safety study at Colorado State University suggests that CBD is safe in dogs, dosages and frequency are still unknown. Since the FDA does not regulate CBD products on the market, consumers can not be sure that the products they purchase have the listed amount of CBD, if any at all. Products should come with a suggested serving size, but these are likely estimates. Common side effects may include sedation and gastrointestinal upset.
It is important to remember that while CBD products are typically safe, marijuana plants and it’s products are not. Due to dogs having the highest concentration of CB1 receptors in studied mammals, dogs are more sensitive to THC than humans and other animals. Marijuana toxicity can cause drooling, sedation, disorientation, weakness, and neurologic dysfunction. Always keep cannabis products stored safely away from pets and children.
Is it legal?
Like most things with marijuana laws, the legality of CBD products is unclear. While CBD oil has <0.3% THC, it is a marijuana derivative and is considered a Scheduled 1 Controlled Substance by the DEA. The American Veterinary Medical Association released a statement to all veterinarians in January 2018 stating the following:
- “Marijuana and its derivatives are ILLEGAL and not approved by the FDA for ANY medical use.”
- “Even in states where medical marijuana is legal, it is illegal for a veterinarian to prescribe marijuana for animal use. “
- “There are no FDA-approved marijuana or hemp products for use in animals”
You may be able to buy CBD oil at a pet food store, but due to it’s DEA classification, veterinarians may be putting their medical license in jeopardy by recommending it. While Tennessee legislators are currently working to change the classification of CBD-related products, the Tennessee Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners has not come forward to let veterinarians know how to handle CBD products.
CBD is extremely promising and has the potential the change the way we treat many diseases, but there are still many unknowns. We encourage pet owners to proceed with caution when it comes to CBD. While your veterinarian may not be able to officially recommend or prescribe CBD oil and cannabis products, we recommend discussing treatment of your pet with your veterinarian prior to initiating any therapy.
If you choose to use CBD oil in your pet, research products and ensure that the company you choose has a good reputation and does adequate product testing. Recent FDA testing on several over the counter CBD oils showed little to no CBD in the majority of their products. While we are optimistic that CBD may be a favorable treatment option for pets in the future, more research is needed before we can determine its true benefits. We also caution that pet owners should consider CBD a supplement that could possible increase their pet’s comfort and quality of life and not expect is to cure specific ailments.
Your pet on pot, or even CBD: Not a good thing, a vet toxicologist explains
John P. Buchweitz does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Michigan State University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
My family and I were on vacation in Florida recently and took advantage of a free afternoon to do some gift shopping for local memorabilia – not your ordinary T-shirts and key chains. Our adventure took us to St. Armand’s Key, part of Sarasota, and the many unique shops there.
While meandering between shops around the outdoor circle, my daughter, 14, was often quick to ask the locals, “Can I pet your dog?” She was missing her dog, Belle, who was being boarded back home and thought it would be a good idea to get her something too.
In our efforts to find Belle a gift, we stumbled upon the most unlikely of shops – a store that proudly advertised CBD (cannabidiol) for you and your pets. CBD is a chemical derived from the cannabis plant, but it does not contain THC, the chemical in pot that makes people high. Nonetheless, CBD appears to be the molecule of the moment after the Food and Drug Administration approved a drug in June 2018 that contains a CBD derivative to treat some forms of epilepsy.
Now, in all honesty, I was quite hesitant to make my way in, but there were quite a few dogs and their owners entering and exiting with various products – not all appearing to be CBD-related. So, I looked at my wife and said, “Why not?”
As a board-certified toxicologist at a major veterinary diagnostic laboratory, I have had experience working with a broad spectrum of poisoning incidents in all types of animals, including our companions. Recently, our lab has seen an increase in the number of positive tests for marijuana in dogs, many of whom may have accidentally ingested edible forms of marijuana. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has reported a more than 700 percent increase in calls related to marijuana to its poison center in 2019.
As a dad and as a toxicologist, I welcomed the idea of answering my daughter’s questions about CBD and other chemicals in marijuana that are making their way to our pets. But, of course, I had to start with providing her with some context.
‘Why would people give it to their pets?’
Several items caught my daughter’s attention and, of course, she chuckled with amusement. In that moment, though, she began to ask some great questions: “What is CBD and hemp, and why would people give it to their pets?”
I first reminded her of the most recent election. In 2018, we saw the number of states that legalized marijuana for medical and recreational use expand to 33, including our home state, Michigan. Because of this legalization, there was also a marked expansion in the quantity and types of marijuana-related products available to people and pets, including hemp and CBD oils and pet treats.
So, what is the difference and significance of these products? Marijuana – also known as Cannabis sativa – is comprised of somewhere between 66 and 113 different cannabinoid compounds. Of these, recreational use of marijuana is sought after for the psychotropic “high” produced by delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Humans either smoke marijuana or convert it into butters or oils for baked products – most notable of these are the often joked about “brownies” – or other edibles such as candy, or they may use the oil itself.
These edible formulations are more problematic for our household companion animals as these are more likely to contain higher concentrations of THC. And, they often include other ingredients that may independently cause harm to your pet such as chocolate, sugar and xylitol, a sugar substitute.
We have received cases at the veterinary diagnostic laboratory in which animals have been either inadvertently or intentionally exposed to marijuana products.
THC is known to be toxic to dogs. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, common signs of marijuana toxicosis that owners may notice include inactivity; incoordination; dilated pupils; increased sensitivity to motion, sound or touch; hypersalivation; and urinary incontinence. A veterinary exam can reveal depression of the central nervous system and an abnormally slow heart rate. Less common signs include restlessness, aggression, slow breathing, low blood pressure, an abnormally fast heart rate, and rapid, involuntary eye movements. In rare cases, animals can have seizures or become comatose.
Hemp differs from marijuana in that it has a significantly lower THC content with predominantly more CBD. In a sense, this lessens the chances that an individual or pet will experience the negative side effects of THC, as CBD doesn’t exert the same psychoactive potential. However, there are no regulations on the chemical makeup of hemp products and therefore no way of really knowing, apart from relying on manufacturers’ labels for batch-to-batch variability in THC content. Additionally, very little is known regarding the long-term health effects of chronic exposure to these products, or about their use in conjunction with other medications.
Last, many CBD oils have claims of even higher purity than hemp. Similarly, though, these products are not regulated and therefore may still exhibit variability in chemical makeup. Additionally, many of the claims about cannabinoids’ effectiveness are anecdotal and have not yet been scientifically proven. This means that doctors of humans and animals remain somewhat skeptical about the potential benefits to their patients.
Why you shouldn’t give pot to your pets
So, why do people give these products to their pets?
For marijuana itself, my answer to my daughter was blunt. It is simply ignorance, or an abusive behavior that spawns from negligence. There are no good reasons to give your pet a “high” regardless of whether the product is legal for human medical or recreational purposes.
Pets are not people. Many prescription and over the counter drugs as well as foods that are safe for humans are not safe for pets. For example, alcohol is also toxic to pets and while some owners may think it’s funny to let their pets drink their beer or liquor, it can in fact be quite dangerous for the animal.
As for hemp and CBD oils – as a toxicologist, I am skeptical at best.
It is difficult to watch our pets suffer through anxiety or pain from ailments such as cancer. However, although these products have been touted for their therapeutic potential, none of them have gone through the rigor of an FDA approval. Anecdotal findings and limited case studies in humans do not constitute the wealth of information that is needed to establish these products as “safe” for our pets.
For people, there is an inclination to deem products that originate from plants as being “natural,” and thus rather arbitrarily “safe.” This, too, can be harmful. Simply put, “natural” does not always equal “safe.”
There is something to be said about the doctor-patient relationship in treating the whole patient – this goes for pets and their veterinarians as well. When we choose to use supplements, this needs to be disclosed to a licensed professional so as to allow for conversations about risks and continued health monitoring. It is not wise to bypass our trained professionals for the ill-trained Dr. Google.
As I continue to see more of these products show up in veterinary diagnostic samples, our interpretations will continually be guided by future scientific studies and case-based outcomes. Hopefully, a fuller understanding of these products and their associated benefits and risks will be had.