(and how to read a certificate of analysis)

One of the first questions owners often ask about CBD is What spectrum should I buy?

With some producers boasting about the ‘richness’ of their full spectrum oil, while others promote the ‘purity’ of their CBD isolate, it’s definitely a confusing subject.

So what do these terms actually mean, and is one type of CBD spectrum better than others?

Let’s look into it.

Our view on CBD spectrum

  • Full spectrum CBD oils contain a wide diversity of cannabis compounds and give dogs the best chance of experiencing CBD’s benefits.
  • Many brands claim that their oils are full spectrum, but the only way to ensure this is to read each product’s certificate of analysis.
  • While we prefer full spectrum oils, isolate CBD products are often cheaper, have a milder flavor for picky dogs, and work well for the tiniest pups.
  • Broad spectrum oils are great for owners looking for zero-THC guarantees.

All CBD products contain a cannabis extraction, with the amount of extracted material often described in terms of a spectrum.

  • Full spectrum oils should contain all the cannabis compounds found in the original plant.
  • Broad spectrum oils should contain a smaller, artificially curated selection of compounds from a plant and zero THC.
  • CBD isolates should only contain CBD and no other cannabinoids.

*Many brands falsely claim that their products are full spectrum. Here’s a tip for spotting imposters:

It’s impossible to produce full-spectrum oil that doesn’t contain at least trace amounts of THC. So, if a brand advertises their product as “full-spectrum + no THC,” then they’re likely using subpar processes to create their products (such as by reintroducing compounds at a later stage.)

Full spectrum CBD oil

When an extraction contains all of the cannabinoids and other beneficial compounds that naturally occur in a cannabis plant, it’s termed full spectrum.

This makes full-spectrum products typically high in CBD, as well as other lesser-known cannabinoids like CBC and CBG.

All of these components bring their own anti-inflammation and anxiety-relieving potential, meaning full-spectrum oil is more likely to cover a wider range of dogs and canine conditions.

Dog-friendly full-spectrum products should still only contain trace amounts of the psychoactive cannabinoid THC (less than 0.3 percent). Of all the CBD brands we’ve reviewed, only one contained higher THC levels. (note: we did not include them in our list)

There can be anywhere from 80 to 120 cannabinoids and organic compounds contained within the cannabis plant, most of which are lost using other types of extraction. In hemp, the most common beneficial compounds are:

CBD (Cannabidiol) The major component of any CBD oil.
CBG (Cannabigerol) Works on inflammation, internal pressure, and nausea.
CBN (Cannabinol) Closely related to THC. Thought to stimulate appetite and produce a calming effect.
CBC (Cannabichromene) Fights inflammation (seemingly without activating cannabinoid receptors) and stimulates neurogenesis.
CBD-V (Cannabidivarin) Reduces the frequency or intensity of seizures. An effective anti-nausea treatment.
Terpenes Compounds that contribute to the aroma and flavor of cannabis. Research suggests that terpenes also act on the bioavailability and potency of cannabinoids.

Is this type of CBD right for me and my dog?

We recommend full-spectrum products for most owners and dogs because it’s considered the most widely effective. This is because of something called the entourage effect.

The idea is that cannabis compounds work together to bring about their full effect on the body, so isolating or removing compounds from extraction may lessen that effect.

Cannabis farmers have been breeding plants to increase the entourage effect for decades, but the beneficial relationships between CBD and other cannabis compounds were first scientifically reviewed in 2011, in a paper published by the British Journal of Pharmacology.

For owners of medium to large dogs with no secondary conditions, full-spectrum CBD is often the way to go.

Broad-spectrum CBD oil

Like full spectrum oils, broad spectrum products contain CBD plus some combination of terpenes and cannabinoids. Importantly, however, broad spectrum oil should always contain zero THC.

These products are therefore a great compromise for owners who want their dogs to receive a good range of cannabis compounds, but never to be exposed to even small amounts of THC.

Producers achieve this balance of qualities by either isolating individual cannabis compounds and reconstituting them, or by modulating the extraction process (usually via heating) to target and remove THC.

Is this type of CBD right for me and my dog?

Broad-spectrum oils have carefully controlled ratios of cannabinoids, so owners can be sure that they’re always receiving a consistent product. Many also take confidence from the zero-THC guarantees that many broad spectrum producers make.

On the other hand, artificially curating the makeup of an extraction risks losing any entourage effect, so your dog may experience milder or narrower effects.

In our review process, we found that only 4 of 18 oils labelled ‘broad-spectrum’ actually contained enough additional cannabinoids to reasonably expect a boost in effectiveness over pure isolate CBD:

Isolate CBD oil

In isolate or pure isolate CBD oil, extensive extraction methods are applied to cannabis to remove everything but cannabidiol (CBD) molecules.

Depending on the type of extraction, isolate CBD can be extremely pure and is usually produced as a fine powder, which is then mixed into carrier oils.

With no other plant or active ingredients, isolate oils are relatively odorless and flavorless, and can be dosed with an extra high level of accuracy.

How will this type of CBD affect my dog?

Isolate CBD is recommended for owners who need to be exacting about dosages, which is often the case for very small dogs, who may be more susceptible to CBD’s mild side effects such as sleepiness or GI issues.

Dogs with liver issues may also be able to tolerate isolate CBD better than other extractions, thanks to the lack of additional cannabinoids or terpenes.

Isolate CBD has little-to-no taste or smell, meaning it can work well for picky dogs and those suspicious of their food being tampered with.

Terpenes—Are they safe?

Some internet sources question whether dogs should consume full spectrum cannabis compounds like terpenes.

The truth is that terpenes are widely found across plants and foods, including in everyday ingredients like carrots and apples.

Dogs and cats can have serious adverse reactions to highly concentrated forms of select terpenes, especially limonene, found in products like essential oils and insect repellent.

But while cannabis does contain limonene and other terpenes, they shouldn’t pose any serious risk to dogs in their natural form.

If you are worried about your pup consuming terpenes, we recommend switching to an isolate or broad spectrum product.

The issue: Can we trust CBD brands to correctly label their products?

With so many brands playing fast and loose with the term ‘full spectrum’ it can be difficult to accurately apply the above definitions in the real world.

Unfortunately, not every full-spectrum CBD product contains a rich mix of cannabinoids and terpenes, while many isolate products advertise benefits that aren’t associated with pure CBD extract.

Related: How we determined our best CBD oil for dogs

How well a CBD oil fits the full/broad/isolate definitions usually depends on a couple of factors:

  • The quality of plant strain used
  • The type and quality of the extraction method
  • How a brand understands ‘spectrum’

How to read a certificate of analysis

Right now, the CBD market is mostly unregulated by the FDA, leaving it up to producers and retailers to find other ways of monitoring quality.

The currently accepted method of building consumer confidence is for producers to submit their products for third-party testing, in order to gain a certificate of analysis.

Certificates of analysis reveal the exact cannabis compounds contained within an extraction, as well as the presence of any contaminants.

Check out this example certificate for NuLeaf Naturals Full Spectrum Hemp CBD Pet Oil, one of the brands that came out on top in our full review.

NuLeaf Naturals lists this product as full-spectrum, so we’d expect to see lots of CBD, detectable secondary cannabinoids, and less than 0.3 percent THC:

Sure enough, the extract contains a good amount of CBD, CBG, CBC, and CBDV, and is 0.25 percent THC. Overall, this makes the product a rich full spectrum oil.

In addition to cannabinoids, this certificate also details terpenes. It shows the extract contains three main terpenes, including β-caryophyllene, which has been shown to have an antimicrobial effect in dogs:

Certificates of analysis are often formatted in slightly different ways depending on the lab, and may or may not test for terpenes. But at a minimum, they should always show the cannabinoids and contaminants found in an extract.

For example, this NuLeaf Naturals certificate confirms that the oil contains no detectable traces of pesticides or solvents:

As you explore more certificates of analysis, you’ll begin to notice that the ‘full spectrum’ label doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story about an extract. For example, this certificate is from Honest Paw’s Calm tincture, another product featured as our Best CBD oil for dogs review:

Here, the extract contains CBD, CBG, and an acceptable amount of THC, but there are no detectable terpenes or other cannabinoids.

Both oils are marketed as ‘full spectrum’ and both are popular with owners. But the results show that the extractions are actually quite different, with one placing a much stronger emphasis on secondary ingredients.

This is why dogs will often respond differently to different CBD oils. Owners may need to experiment to find the type of extraction that suits their pup the best.

One thing to watch: Most CBD brands make their certificates easily accessible on their websites. A few, however, require consumers to enter a batch number in order to view test results.

Realistically, this means only those who have purchased a product can access the full ingredient breakdown, which we don’t think is acceptable.

If you’re concerned about what’s inside your dog’s CBD oil, don’t consider a product that doesn’t come with a certificate of analysis.

So which spectrum is best?

We recommend full spectrum CBD for most dogs, as it promotes the entourage effect and gives them the best chance of benefiting from cannabis’s anti-inflammatory and soothing powers.

As our current reviews of the best CBD Oils show however, there’s no one-size-fits all, and other CBD products may suit individual dogs.

Broad spectrum products are great for owners looking for zero-THC, while isolate oils have a mild flavor and are least likely to produce sleepiness or stomach upset in the tiniest dogs.

But what else matters apart from spectrum?

Most of what your dog costumes in a dosage is oil, making the choice of carrier relevant. Organic oils rich in fatty acids help dogs digest CBD, absorbing more into their bodies. Our favorites are organic hemp seed oil and organic MCT oil because… continue reading >

How to spot a trustworthy CBD brand

Especially in full spectrum products, the quality of the original plant will determine the quality of extract. Look for organic hemp grown within the US, and brands that show signs of caring about their strain selection. One indicator of a trustworthy CBD brand is… continue reading >

Or try:

Does extraction method affect CBD quality?

A bad extraction can negate any benefits of full spectrum CBD. Cannabis can be damaged through overheating, and potency can be lost by extracting unwanted plant material. We recommend CO2 extraction as the safest method because… continue reading >

Our dosage guide

Any CBD product containing zero to 0.3 percent THC is highly safe for dogs. This means that owners don’t have to worry too much about exacting dosages. Despite this, there is an optimal amount of CBD to feed your dog… continue reading >