CBD, Hemp, and Cannabis for your pet - What you need to know from a veterinarian

CBD stands for Cannabidiol, a phyto cannabinoid extracted from cannabis. Cannabinoids are very popular on the human side for medicinal purposes. There have been discussions that they can be helpful in dogs and pets. I personally don’t know a huge amount about this topic as it’s not in my body of experience, but I’m trying to learn and this is a general message to you, the conscientious pet owner. 

As these products become more popular with humans many people want their pets to also benefit from them. We've heard many anecdotal stories of these products helping pets with anxiety, inflammation, and pain.

I've also recently heard about it being helpful in separation anxiety, particularly with dogs. What is separation anxiety? Well, that's when everybody leaves the house and leaves the dog at home and little fluffy becomes very destructive. It’s a really common example of canine anxiety that pet owners really struggle with, so it make sense that something that promises to sooth separation anxiety would be very popular.

One of the key take-aways from this is to understand that, at this time, veterinarians are not legally permitted to discuss any cannabis product as a therapy or treatment for your pet. That means that as your veterinarian I cannot prescribe, or even discuss CBD, hemp, or cannabis products at an exam or in any type of medical setting. 

Many states, predominantly California and Colorado, are pushing for this to be changed but at this time, law prevents veterinarians from discussing any cannabis based products as treatments or therapies for your pet.

It's also important to know that very little clinical testing hasn’t been done to understand the long and short term effects of cannabis on your dog or cat. There is emerging research in this field coming out of Colorado State University and Cornell University but it is exclusively testing cannabis products for pets that suffer from seizures and epilepsy. (It’s important to note that clinical research is challenging at this time because Cannabis is still a Schedule 1 controlled substance. This makes it illegal for the vast majority of states to perform clinical trials.) Without any research testing for anxiety, inflammation, and pain we're far from having a complete understanding of how these products will impact your pet in the short and long term. 

As far as the dosage of cannabinoids it gets a little scary. I've had clients tell me they just took a product that their friend talked to them about and gave their pet a few drops. As a veterinarian, I have no way of knowing what is the correct dosage of these products, and I cannot advise you as the pet owner. 

Its very important to understand that these products are not approved for use in veterinary medicine. They're not manufactured at a drug level. I think there may be some companies out there that are doing a good job, but I don't definitively know because there isn’t much analysis or scrutiny in the supplement industry. 

Sometimes the label claims of supplements aren’t held up in testing and research, which as a veterinarian is very important to me. With supplements we need to be thinking about the purity, preparation, and the potential for cross contamination. I believe that this is an area that we have to be conscious of.

the very real danger of cannabis products: Marijuana Toxicity

Something that veterinarians can speak about is a marijuana toxicity. In recent years the number of marijuana toxicity cases in the Unites States has dramatically risen. I believe it's driven by the fact that there are marijuana edibles now.

Here at Domino, we’ve seen a small number of these cases and they are really quite alarming. There's a very unusual cluster of signs that you'll see in a dog. A dog that comes in that's really amped up and excited and showing neurological signs, but is also vomiting. As a veterinarian you're thinking to yourself what could cause these symptoms? What could cause the dog to have gastroenteritis and neurological signs at the same time? It turns out these are the tell-tale signs of marijuana, THC, toxicity. It’s important, as a pet owner, to think about the edibles as that's part of the human side of marijuana delivery and dogs like to eat chocolate and they like to eat stuff that's stashed away.

Personally, I’m pretty confident that we're going to start to see cannabinoids entering mainstream veterinary medicine. I don't have any concrete evidence of that just yet, but I think that there's enough of a conversation driving this that its very probable.

We have so many older dogs and anxious dogs that could potentially benefit from these kinds of products, if the clinical testing is positive. At Domino we also see a lot of degenerative joint disease which is particularly painful, and I think Cannabinoids could potentially be a great source of relief for these dogs and cats.

As a quick overview here are the take-home points:

- Your veterinarian cannot legally discuss or prescribe cannabis or cannabis based products at this time

- Clinical testing of these products is incomplete. We don't know an awful lot about the pharmacodynamics or pharmacology of this product but there is ongoing research and I expect there to be more in the near future

- There's an awful lot of good stories out there but they may not be validated in a clinical setting or reproducible in a clinical setting, although that's true of the whole world of supplements

- Marijuana (THC) toxicity is a real threat to your pet. If there are edibles in the home remember that dogs like to seek those out

- Lastly a cannabinoid is a schedule 1 controlled substance so it is not a prescribe able product at this point

I would encourage you to do your independent research as your veterinarian can't discuss these products with you at this point. Veterinarians can of course address pain, anxiety, and nervousness, and social issues in your pet, through traditional medicine. We have great strategies for pain management, particularly degenerative joint disease which effects so many older pets, so please consult with myself, or your veterinarian, if these issues are effecting the wellbeing of your pet.


Dr. Charles Bradley is a graduate of Ontario Veterinary College. His special interests lie in medicine, surgery, feline internal medicine, and advanced dog and cat dentistry. He has certificates in Small Animal Ultrasound and Small Animal Dentistry from the Ontario Veterinary College. The past several years have seen Dr. Bradley consulting and practicing in over 40 veterinary practices in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Ontario. Dr. Bradley is now full-time at Domino Veterinary Hospital and he is looking forward to helping his friends and neighbors with their pets close to home.

Dr. Bradley has two cats (Cosmo and Rosie) at home and is a resident of Carlisle. He loves being a veterinarian and he wants to help your pet live life to the fullest.