CBD Oil for Dogs: Everything You Need to Know

Wondering if CBD oil for dogs is a good idea? Here’s the lowdown on how it works, what it’s used for, whether there are any side effects, and, of course, how it can help your pup.

CBD, or cannabidiol oil, first hit the market as a trendy health and lifestyle product, but it has also gained favor with veterinarians as a quality treatment for pets with certain health and behavioral problems. This oil, derived from hemp, cannabis, and other plants, is similar to but not exactly like marijuana; it does not contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the psychoactive chemical in marijuana. Instead, CBD targets the body and can treat health conditions ranging from arthritis to anxiety. So, naturally, pet parents want to know: What are the benefits of CBD for dogs? Can it really help your pup? And how does it work?

What is CBD oil?

Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM, of Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, explains the basics of how and why CBD works inside the body. “It’s a pretty fascinating mechanism,” he says. “The endocannabinoid system, which all mammals have, is responsible for maintaining homeostasis, or balance in the body. In simple terms, the endocannabinoid system’s job is to correct problems. CBD interacts with and activates the endocannabinoid system so it can work to restore balance in the body and correct what is wrong.” Because of this general ability to even out chemical levels in the body, the benefits of CBD oil are numerous and wide-ranging—great news for your fur baby! Interested in taking it yourself? Here are a few CBD facts you should know.

Learn more about how CBD may help calm your pet’s anxiety, manage pain, and more with expert advice inside our book, The Essential Guide to CBD.

Cbd for Pets Infographic with sections about What is CBD?, Types of CBD for Pets, and Potential Benefits of CBDEmma Kumer/rd.com

What does CBD oil do for dogs?

Specifically, what is CBD good for? According to Dr. Wakshlag, it can be effective in many ways, including using CBD for dogs with arthritis. “CBD does help with a wide variety of issues,” he says, “and we are learning more all the time. The study I did at Cornell using ElleVet Sciences’ CBD oil showed over 80 percent of dogs with osteoarthritis had significant improvement.”

In addition to soothing elderly dogs’ aching joints and reducing inflammation, doctors also use CBD oil for dog seizures, anxiety, pain, and a host of other physical and neurological problems. “Skin issues, stress, cognitive issues, and quality of life are very common areas where CBD [can] help,” Dr. Wakshlag continues, “and we are looking at even more areas in ongoing clinical studies right now.”

Some may wonder: If it does not contain the psychoactive THC, then why use CBD for dogs with anxiety? Contrary to popular belief, conditions like anxiety don’t just live in the world of thought, but are in fact observable, physical sensations and reactions to stress. CBD is effective because it helps to stabilize and calm those reactions. For example, it could be very therapeutic for dogs with debilitating, adverse reactions to loud noises and phobias. Make sure you’re watching out for these things that can trigger anxiety in dogs in the first place.

Do vets recommend CBD oil for dogs?

CBD is OK for dogs, but the real question is whether vets feel confident recommending it to patients. Some doctors don’t because of certain societal preconceptions about CBD and cannabis and because CBD products aren’t FDA-approved. But the results of clinical studies thus far have been encouraging—like the previously mentioned Cornell study. Ultimately, it comes down to individual product quality. “Good CBD products are extremely effective,” Dr. Wakshlag attests. “Bad ones are not effective.” Speaking of which, here are some warning signs a CBD product is fake.

Poor-quality CBD products won’t help your dog, but they also likely won’t harm your dog. “There are no known severe side effects to CBD,” Dr. Wakshlag says, “but there are some dogs that might be sleepier. Some might have occasional loose stools, but all in all, [there are] very few side effects.”

Gary Richter, DVM, a veterinary health expert for Rover.com, agrees with this assessment, saying that sleepiness and minor gastrointestinal issues are “the worst-case scenario” and “pretty uncommon.” Dr. Richter also points out, “As I often tell people, any medication or supplement can potentially cause an upset tummy.” And catching a few extra zzz’s isn’t so bad as far as worst-case scenarios go!

How much CBD oil should I give my dog?

In the Innovative Veterinary Care Journal, Karen Gellman, DVM, outlines the varying strengths of CBD oils as micro, medium, high, and ultra. The intensity of the dosage depends on the type of physical condition being treated. Dogs with epilepsy, for example, are likely to receive a stronger dose than dogs with mild pain. Proper dosage also depends on the size of your dog, she notes: “Many pet products have vanishingly small amounts of CBD, like 5 mg/ml, which is great for a Yorkie, but not for a Rottweiler.” Dr. Wakshlag also emphasizes the importance of using the correct dosage, adding that the products in stores likely don’t have accurate information about this or any clinical studies to back them up. That’s why it’s best to get a vet-certified recommendation, if possible, when considering administering CBD to pets.

But even the most wary dog parents can relax knowing that CBD is not dangerous, even if given in more than the recommended dosage. “There are no concerns regarding toxicity or overdose from medicine containing predominantly CBD,” Dr. Richter says. “CBD-dominant medicines are safe and effective, and when derived from hemp, [they] are completely legal in all 50 states without a prescription.”

That is because, according to Dr. Wakshlag, CBD is considered to be a supplement for animals, not a prescription medication. And unlike cannabis, hemp is legal in every state. “It is not only legal,” he says, “but in [my] opinion, necessary for veterinarians to carry tested and high-quality CBD so they know what their patients are taking and can give them the best possible care.” One of the benefits of discussing hemp-based CBD oil with your vet is that you know exactly what you’re getting. Having exact information is important for anyone’s health—animal or human.

Which CBD pet products should I use?

Everyone and their mother seems to be selling CBD-infused products, but which ones can you actually trust to be effective? While CBD dog treats may be a great marketing concept and some pet parents swear by them, experts say they’re generally not as effective or as reliable as CBD tinctures; the baking process diminishes the integrity of the oil. While your pup may enjoy the treats more, the American Kennel Club also advises using CBD oil tinctures instead of CBD treats.

In general, if you’re considering buying a product for health reasons, do your research and consult licensed experts. “There is a huge difference in products sold through a veterinarian and those sold in stores,” explains Dr. Wakshlag. “Vets don’t want to sell a product without scientific backing and testing, so you know you have a good product if it is vet-approved.” For his part, Dr. Wakshlag recommends ElleVet CBD oil because it has been clinically proven to work. Discover other natural ways to calm your dog’s anxiety.

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Taylor Markarian
Taylor Markarian is a regular contributor to Reader's Digest's Culture, Advice, Travel and Pets beats. She is also a music journalist who has contributed to Alternative Press, Loudwire, Revolver, Kerrang! and more. Markarian is the author of the book, 'From the Basement: A History of Emo Music and How It Changed Society', which analyzes the evolution of punk and mental health. She holds a degree in Writing, Literature & Publishing from Emerson College.