In late 2019, Rachel Feldman returned home from work to find that her 14-year-old dog Foxie had trouble getting up. She was dragging her leg around in obvious pain. It turned out to be bone cancer.

Photo of Foxie the dog.
CBD helped Foxie through her final days with cancer.
Rachel Feldman
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The HSUS

Feldman gave Foxie the pain relievers prescribed by her veterinarian, but they weren’t enough. Then, she had an idea: If products containing CBD (cannabidiol), derived from cannabis, were being used to manage pain in people, perhaps they might help her dog. She mixed drops of hemp-based oils she found at her local natural foods store into Foxie’s food. After several tries, Feldman discovered a product and dose that worked: During the final weeks of her life, Foxie was able to go out and play in the snow.

“She lit up for a while and would frolic around in the yard,” says Feldman, director of sustainer strategies at the Humane Society of the United States. “She probably got an extra month of good time with us.”

With the loosening of cannabis laws, more pet owners and veterinarians are using products containing CBD to alleviate pain, decrease anxiety, relieve gastrointestinal issues and reduce seizures in dogs and cats. At the same time, companies are marketing an array of items with CBD—not to be confused with THC, the psychoactive part of cannabis that gets people high. Stores carry oils, tinctures, treats and even hemp-infused peanut butter for pets, leaving many owners wondering what’s real and what’s hype.

Photo of various CBD products
From hemp-based oils to hemp-infused treats, CBD pet products are becoming increasingly popular.
Aleksandr_Kravtsov
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iStock.com

“Can CBD help pets? The short answer is, ‘Yes,’” says Dr. Gary Richter, who gave a webinar on the topic to members of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association. Richter has seen dogs with chronic arthritis pain, who got no relief from anti-inflammatory medications, walking around more comfortably within a few days of starting CBD. “Not every animal responds to it dramatically,” he says. “This is no panacea. But cannabis is an amazing option.”

Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a veterinary behaviorist and HSVMA Massachusetts state representative, did a survey through his nonprofit Center for Canine Behavior Studies that found half of participating pet owners had used CBD products and the majority were satisfied. “CBD does work; it is safe,” Dodman says. “I guess I would regard it as a breakthrough.”

This is no panacea. But cannabis is an amazing option.

Dr. Gary Richter, Veterinary Cannabis Society

Both Richter and Dodman caution that pet owners should consult their veterinarians before using CBD or any over-the-counter supplement. CBD is sometimes mistakenly used not to manage cancer pain but as a cancer treatment, which it isn’t. Also, putting pets on CBD for pain too quickly could mask the underlying problem.

Whether your veterinarian will talk to you about CBD may depend on where you live. A 2018 federal law allows stores to sell hemp products that contain CBD and less than 0.3% THC, but these sales remain restricted in some states that don’t allow medical or recreational use of marijuana. In some states, vets can be penalized for even discussing CBD products with clients. 

Fortunately, that’s starting to change. California’s veterinary medical board once tried to prevent vets from even talking about CBD, but it now allows them to discuss it as a treatment option. Colorado’s veterinary medical board goes further, permitting vets to recommend specific products and dosages, while a recently enacted law in Nevada allows veterinarians to both recommend and administer hemp and cannabidiol products.

Allowing vets to discuss and recommend CBD products is crucial, says Richter. “Pet owners are coming to veterinarians for advice. Telling someone to go to the dispensary and buy cannabis is a bit like me saying, ‘Go the pharmacy and pick out an antibiotic and take some.’ ”

Currently, CBD products for pets are sold as over-the-counter supplements, without approval or regulation from the Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine. Quality can vary; unless pet owners look at lab test results, they won’t know how much CBD a product actually contains. Some have none, says Dodman. A 2021 study by Leafreport.com, an industry website, found that more than half of CBD products were inaccurately labeled; most of those contained more CBD than claimed. Recognizing the need for pet owners and vets to be able to rely on the quality of CBD products, Richter co-founded the Veterinary Cannabis Society to educate vets and improve industry standards.

51% of dog owners have used a CBD product for their pet.

Center for Canine Behavior Studies, 2021 survey

Baby Huey lying on his bed.
Baby Huey's seizures reduced in number and intensity after his owner tried CBD products.
Eve Tai
/
The HSUS

Eve Tai turned to CBD when her 3-year-old dog, Baby Huey, a rescue from a puppy mill, was having more frequent seizures. He would pass out, his bladder would release and his eyes would dilate. One day, as he was coming up to bed, he fell down the stairs. Tai, a senior philanthropy officer for the HSUS, had him tested for allergies and adjusted his diet, but she also consulted a holistic vet who recommended a hemp-based oil product he knew and trusted. After Baby Huey started to take the oil, his seizures were reduced in number and intensity.

Tai says she can’t prove that the CBD oil made the difference, but she’s pretty sure it contributed to Baby Huey’s better health. And in the face of a worsening medical problem, she’s just glad there was something else she could try.

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