Hard data or personal experiences? Here’s our take on how to learn from both.

Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock for several years, you won’t be surprised to hear that the pet CBD industry is booming.

Ever since CBD products firmly distanced themselves from marijuana and stoner culture, an increasing number of pets have gained access to the healthcare benefits of cannabis oils.

What’s in this article?

Although the science is still at an early stage, more vets and researchers are giving their support to CBD. Studies testing CBD on sleep disorders, chronic pain, anxiety, and epilepsy in dogs and humans are yielding promising results.

But definitive scientific judgments are still years away, meaning CBD remains unendorsed and unregulated by official bodies like the FDA.

Owners, on the other hand, have known about the benefits of dog-specific CBD products for years. The internet is now awash with testimonials and reviews—the vast majority extremely positive.

With so much information swirling around CBD for dogs, let’s take a look at the anecdotal and scientific evidence for CBD, to see whether scientists or owners can give us any concrete answers.

What is CBD?

CBD is one over a hundred compounds called cannabinoids found inside cannabis plants.

Unlike THC, the other well-known cannabinoid, CBD does not cause any intoxicating effects. In fact, most cannabinoids are not psychoactive, and many CBD oils contain other compounds like CBG, CBN, and CBC.

The trend for extracting CBD from cannabis and using it as a health supplement started with humans, who use it to reduce pain, anxiety, depression, and the symptoms of chronic conditions like cancer. But our four-legged friends are also becoming fast converts.

Rocketing interest and demand are contributing to a rapidly expanding pet CBD market, with many feeling that cannabis supplementation presents a new frontier for pet medicine.

The hypothesis: CBD’s benefits

Just like in humans, CBD appears to have a significant anti-inflammatory effect in dogs. This has lead owners and researchers to use CBD in dealing with some of the most common canine conditions, including:

  • Anxiety: CBD produces calming effects through the body’s endocannabinoid system, shared by both dogs and humans.

  • Epilepsy: CBD is known to reduce the duration and amount of seizures in dogs and humans.

  • Cancer: CBD helps alleviate the symptoms associated with cancers and degenerative diseases.

  • Arthritis and joint pain: CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties have been shown to directly contribute to the reduction of joint swelling.

  • Appetite: CBD is linked to stimulating appetite in dogs with trouble eating.

CBD oil is necessarily a magical cure for the conditions like those above. The theory goes that it’s a useful aid in alleviating pain and negative symptoms—and may in some cases remove symptoms altogether.

So that’s the hypothesis, but what’s the evidence that CBD can actually do these things? First, the science

The evidence: For CBD

Currently, there are fewer than 100 papers and studies on cannabis and dogs listed on PubMed, the online research database.

At the same time, those that do exist suggest some exciting things about CBD’s potential as a treatment.

When it comes to evidence from owners, however, the opposite is true.

There’s a wealth of information from people who have treated their dogs with CBD products for years, providing a stark contrast to the scientific landscape.

CBD, pain, and arthritis in dogs

Scientific research

The first scientific study for evaluating the therapeutic effects of CBD for arthritic pain for dogs was only completed in 2019.

Accomplished by a team of researchers at Baylor College of Medicine, this study has already discovered some groundbreaking results. It revealed that in dogs diagnosed with arthritis, CBD treatment helped to seriously improve the quality of life – assessed by both owners and veterinarians.

More specifically, nine out of 10 dogs on CBD displayed benefits, which lasted for two weeks after treatment stopped and was deemed safe.

In another study on dogs suffering from osteoarthritis and multi-joint pain, Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine found that 80 percent of dogs taking CBD oil showed “significant improvement in pain levels and quality of life” without discernible side-effects.

Findings from a third, more general study reveal that CBD may be a useful therapeutic aid for treating osteoarthritis and joint neuropathic pain.

Owner reports

When giving their dog CBD, one of the most frequently mentioned observations by owners is a reduction in joint inflammation.

Lowering internal inflammation is an effective way to lessen dogs’ pain, with CBD acting in similar ways to pharmaceutical NSAIDs, without the risk of gastrointestinal stress.

Georgia – Neurological disease

In one owner’s experience, Georgia, her 5-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel suffered from syringomyelia, a serious neurological disease. With traditional medicine not working, the owner put Georgia on a supplement made from hemp to combat her pain. According to the owner:

“I feel like I have a whole new dog. Georgia’s happy and relaxed. She’s not in pain. It’s amazing.”

Nala – Arthritis and mobility issues

An owner using Canna-Pet, a Seattle-based organic CBD brand, reported a common experience of using CBD to help their senior dog’s mobility problems:

“We have been using Canna-Pet products for our 15 ½-year-old dog for over a year. She has arthritis in her hips and she loves going for walks and keeps up a good pace. I think it has really helped her with mobility.”

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CBD, seizures and epilepsy in dogs

Scientific research

A pilot study by Colorado State University published in 2018 looked at CBD oil as a treatment for epilepsy in dogs.

In the double-blind study, nine dogs were treated with CBD, and seven were given a placebo. The results showed that 89 percent of the dogs who received CBD experienced reduced seizure frequency, though it’s worth noting that only a small number of dogs were used.

Owner reports

Epilepsy is a notoriously difficult condition to manage, with many popular pharmaceutical medicines only working for a limited number of dogs.

Similarly, many owners trying CBD for their dog’s seizures report varying effects, though the majority are highly positive, and the excitement of owners is palpable.

Addie – Epilepsy

Another owner using Canna-Pet CBD for their dog’s long term epilepsy was able to completely eradicate their dog’s seizures:

“Our dog Addie has had epilepsy since she was 2. She has seen neurologists and we’ve altered her meds a million times, but she would end up having cluster seizures that would result in an overnight stay at the ER every couple of months. UNTIL CANNA-PET! She has been on CBD since Christmas and has been seizure-free for 6 months!! It has truly changed her life…thank you!”

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CBD and anxiety in dogs

Scientific research

No studies have currently been made on how CBD affects canine anxiety or dogs’ internal experience. This reflects the very early stage of much clinical research on CBD, which some see as evidence against the supplement from a scientific perspective.

Owner reports

Unlike the lack of clinical studies, there’s a ton of anecdotal evidence supporting CBD’s ability to calm dogs down—especially when it comes to separation anxiety.

Many owners report that CBD helps make their dogs more susceptible to training techniques such as crating. Other testimonials cite subtly building positive behavior changes

Bishop – Separation anxiety

This pet owner documented their CBD experiments on reason.com. His dog Bishop suffers from separation anxiety and didn’t immediately show noticeable effects when taking CBD oil.

However, it quickly became apparent that Bishop was being less and less destructive when left alone, suggesting that CBD was helping to curb separation issues, if not solve them.

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CBD and re-homing dogs

Owner reports

Something the current science doesn’t cover at all is the fact that large numbers of new owners of rescue and shelter dogs frequently use CBD oil to help dogs move past prior trauma, abuse, and neglect.

Not only can CBD help reduce anxiety, fear, and aggression, but it’s often a route out of habituated behaviors, helping dogs to adopt new routines and training.

Jeanie Shulz, a rescuer and dog fosterer from Oregon observed incredible success with more than a dozen dogs by using CBD oil:

“I’ve seen definite improvement and no one acts ‘drugged’ or listless. It’s very gentle, unlike synthetic pharmaceuticals and all the dogs who have had blood work recently are doing well… their numbers look better than they ever have.”

The evidence: Against CBD

Scientific research

Right now, most researchers and veterinarians agree that more studies are needed to determine the true value of CBD for dogs.

There’s just not a lot of science-backed research to firmly prove or disprove correlations between CBD and positive canine health outcomes. This is largely due to a legal black hole surrounding cannabis and medical marijuana, which remains murky despite a new administration.

Because of that, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t approved any pet CBD products and is working to learn more about the safety and efficacy of cannabis as a medical treatment.

Drugs and supplements go through extensive preclinical research before entering four phases of testing and review—which can take years to be completed. Until that happens, expect most veterinarians to be wary about recommending CBD for dogs.

While it’s right that science moves slowly and carefully, this landscape has resulted in the CBD market expanding when the safety and risks of using CBD for dogs haven’t yet been fully researched.

This is driving a wrench between the veterinarian-patient relationship, when owners are interested in CBD for their pets, while there is no firm evidence for veterinarians to draw from.

Owner reports

Across all canine conditions, it’s possible to find owners for whom CBD didn’t have the desired effect.

  • For some dogs, CBD had only mild, temporary benefits.
  • For others, cannabis products seemed to have no effect at all.
  • And for a smaller number of dogs, taking CBD resulted in mild side effects. 

While only a small minority of dogs experience side effects with CBD, it’s important to acknowledge that they can happen. When introducing CBD to your dog, be sure to keep a close eye on them for any of the following reactions:

  • Dry mouth: increased thirst and less saliva.
  • Tremors: this is more based on the side effects of human patients with Parkinson’s disease that experience increased tremors at higher than recommended doses of CBD.
  • Low blood pressure: might create a brief feeling of light-headedness or overt lethargy.
  • Drowsiness: the calming effect of CBD can also sometimes inadvertently cause slight drowsiness and noticeable changes in sleeping patterns.

It’s important to note that the side effects mentioned above are typically temporary, but can cause overall discomfort (which is what we’re trying to avoid in the first place).

Why consider owner reviews at all?

The anecdotal evidence of CBD’s effectiveness for anxiety, pain, epilepsy, and cancer is growing at a much faster rate than scientific evidence.

A lot of veterinarians recognize this, but can’t use testimonials as backing for official recommendations. Owner’s can, however, and many have been convinced to try CBD not through reading a scientific paper, but by hearing about other people and pup’s positive experiences.

For many, the science can often be overwhelming or inaccessible, while reviews are more relatable and easier to digest. According to Trustpilot, 88 percent of consumers use online reviews to help inform their purchasing decisions, so it’s clear that personal recommendations and experiences carry a lot of weight—more so if reviews are reputable and verified.

Reviews help owners:

  • Get a feel for a company
  • Understand positive and negative outcomes
  • See what decisions other consumers have made
  • Find out how a product performs over the long term
  • Be more aware of product alternatives

Information from the general public helps ground our understanding in a realistic, informal way. Owners can put themselves in another pet parent’s shoes by reading testimonials for how CBD helped a dog with similar issues to their own.

The final woof

Which type of evidence should you prioritize?

Every owner will place a slightly different emphasis on reviews or scientific studies. But for us, we see the science as confirmation of what owners are already saying.

Of course, nothing can replace clinical trials, but the current scarcity of funding for CBD studies on dogs means we need to look to the owners who’ve been using cannabis successfully for years for advice.

Whatsmore, trials may be great for expanding our knowledge, but they’re not a guarantee against risk. Just like any medication or supplement, there will always be a small number of dogs for whom CBD isn’t right.

Dogs don’t lie

Finally, there’s an aspect of anecdotal evidence that we shouldn’t miss. Unlike humans, who might be swayed by prior expectations or clever marketing, dogs won’t respond to supplements that don’t have any effect.

As long as owners are making careful observations about their dog’s condition and not falling victim to the Caregiver Placebo effect (here’s how to avoid it), then positive changes in their behavior are reliable indicators of CBD doing its job.

We spoke to the long-running pet CBD company CBDPure about this important point:

“Not only are the benefits of CBD applicable across all breeds, sizes, and health levels, but the evidence is in the pet’s reaction to CBD usage.

Unlike a human, a pet isn’t going to experience a placebo effect based on slick marketing or tales of success with CBD from those they trust.

When CBD is beneficial for dogs, you see it immediately in their reaction, their movement, and their overall health.”

The science will come (eventually)

CBD oil’s popularity is only going to increase, meaning it’s a matter of time before research takes a more serious look at cannabis and pet health.

You may also find that your vet is warming to CBD, with more practices across the country giving the go-ahead to actively discuss CBD supplementation.

And even though dozens more studies are needed before organizations like the FDA will officially approve CBD, the trials that have been conducted are clear: CBD has a real potential to reduce pain, inflammation, anxiety, and the frequency of seizures.