CBD for Dogs with Anxiety
Some people may think you’re being dramatic or exaggerating when you say your dog has an anxiety problem. But if you’ve lived with a dog that has an anxiety or stress behavioral issue, you know that it can be serious and even come to control parts of their lives.
If a dog gets anxious when triggered by a certain event that can happen often, and the reaction is particularly troublesome (eg. consistent barking, pacing, even aggression) then you as the dog parent have to find a solution, the quicker and more effective the better.
This page will briefly discuss anxiety in dogs, and explain how CBD can offer a potential natural treatment option, either on its own or in addition to other treatments.
What is Dog Anxiety?
In general, anxiety in dogs is very similar to anxiety in humans – the term refers to the same uneasy, nervous feeling. More specifically, anxiety in pups is a reaction to fear. The dog anticipates the presence of a possible threat or problem in the near future, and is therefore nervous and on high alert.
As you can see, fear and anxiety are very closely related, and sometimes their symptoms can overlap. Some common symptoms of anxiety in dogs are hiding or avoidance, barking, shaking, pacing, and urinating/defecating inside the house. Other symptoms can include directly acting out, like problem chewing where they are not supposed to, or getting into the garbage to make a mess. Extreme cases of fear and anxiety can result in panic.
Types of Anxiety in Dogs
There are several common types of anxiety in dogs, the first being separation anxiety, which researchers estimate affects about 14% of all dogs. This occurs when the dog is unable to be comfortable when they are separated from a family member, or alone. The dog may whine or bark, be restless, or engage in destructive behaviors like chewing chair legs. When their human returns, dogs with separation anxiety are often extremely excited, and difficult to calm down.
Other types of dog anxiety also exist. Often anxiety can be induced as a result of fear of a particular place or event (like a vet visit or loud noises), or triggered by a past occurrence, like an incident where another dog was aggressive towards them, leading them to get anxious around that specific dog or other dogs that may look like it.
Old age can also bring about increased anxiety in dogs. As dogs age, they are more likely to experience cognitive decline symptoms like memory loss, which can understandably lead to stress, confusion and anxiety.
Traditional Treatments of Anxiety in Dogs
Treatment of anxiety in dogs will of course depend on the root cause of the anxiety in your particular dog, but most treatments fall into one of two categories, behavioral therapies or pharmaceutical drugs.
Behavioral therapies involve working with your dog to try to show them that there is no need for their anxiety, or to comfort and relax them, or both. This can include working with a vet behaviorist or dog trainer on positive reinforcement techniques to slowly and safely desensitize your dog to a certain stimulus that causes fear. Other techniques include learning how to best comfort your dog during and after an episode of anxiety, and how proper routine and play time can help calm an anxious mind.
Your vet may also prescribe pharmaceutical medication, if deemed necessary. Antidepressant drugs (just like in humans) are sometimes prescribed, usually in pill form. These work in the same ways as with humans. SSRIs are likely the most commonly prescribed, and work by effectively increasing the level of serotonin available to bind to receptors in the brain.
However, the use of antidepressant drugs does not come without adverse side-effects. For example, SSRI use in dogs is commonly associated with periods of sedation/low energy, anorexia caused by a decrease in appetite, and gastro-intestinal problems like vomiting and diarrhea. In some cases, behavior changes like an increase in irritability, restlessness, anxiety and even aggression have also been reported. So, it’s easy to see how SSRI may not be right for every dog, and might even be counter-productive in some cases.
What is It?
In order to overcome the adverse side-effects of traditional anxiety drugs, or because behavioral therapies don’t always work as well as you might like, dog parents are increasingly looking for other options to treat anxiety in their best friends.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a type of cannabinoid, which means it is a naturally occurring compound that is found in cannabis and hemp plants. You may have heard about THC, another cannabinoid, which is responsible for delivering a ‘high’ feeling when consumed. In fact, most CBD products for dogs source their CBD ingredients from hemp (which has only trace amounts of THC) and not cannabis plants, to ensure there is no cross-contamination of THC in the final product.
Unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive, meaning that it will not produce a ‘high.’ Instead, it has been associated with a litany of positive health effects in research studies, like helping to cope with pain and inflammation, seizures, and yes, stress and anxiety too.
While CBD is not a cure all, there is mounting anecdotal and scientific evidence that CBD can play a role in keeping both humans and pets healthy. If your dog is experiencing stress and anxiety symptoms, it may be worth considering CBD as part of their treatment.
How CBD Can Help Anxiety in Dogs
The existing research on using CBD to treat anxiety and stress is promising. A variety of studies in the last decade have associated CBD use with a decrease in anxiety levels.
For instance, a 2019 study found that in humans with clinically diagnosed anxiety, using CBD as an adjunct treatment led to a reduction in anxiety levels for 80% of subjects.
Similarly, a 2015 review article found that the current literature showed CBD was an effective treatment for generalized and social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress, and obsessive compulsive disorder. CBD helped reduce not only behavioral measures of anxiety, but also physiological signs (like heart rate reductions).
Unfortunately, no existing research has explored the link between CBD and anxiety or stress reduction in dogs specifically. However, scientific evidence from a rat study suggests that the mechanism through which CBD reduces anxiety is similar to SSRIs – by increasing serotonin available to receptors in the brain – and therefore should work by the same processes in dogs and other animals.
Undoubtedly, the endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays a role in regulating mood, stress and anxiety levels in dogs, as there are receptors present in the nervous system, including the brain. And we know that ingested CBD interacts with the ECS.
What’s more, the evidence thus far has shown that CBD is very safe for dogs and other pets, which makes trying it an easy decision for dog parents dealing with a stress or anxiety issue. Of course, always consult your vet when looking to treat any health issue that your pup may have, including anxiety.