CBD Oil for Dogs: seizures, pain and cancer miracle cure?
It seems like you can’t look anything up on the internet at the moment without reading claims that CBD oil for dogs will cure any and every medical problem imaginable. From seizures, to pain, to anxiety and even cancer; CBD oil is the miracle cure your vet is unlikely to be talking about...yet!
What is CBD oil?
Let’s start off with exactly what CBD oil is. CBD oil is just one of many active chemicals found in marijuana and other members of the cannabis family. Hepm in fact is one of the biggest sources, and you’ll see why in just a second. Unlike THC, which is the psychoactive compound found in marijuana, CBD does not cause dogs (or people) to become high or euphoric and it is not addictive. In fact CBD oil is felt to be a very safe product with few side-effects, and those that are described only being relatively minor.
This is quite unlike THC, which while still relatively safe, can in fact be poisonous or even deadly to dogs and cats. I discuss in a separate article more about marijuana effects on dogs and the signs of poisoning.
What are the claims about CBD oil for dogs?
I’m sure you’ve read some of the claims already. It doesn’t take long to find claims that CBD oil will treat or cure pretty much every condition imaginable in both people and our pets.
If you believe everything you read (and this is not something I recommend!), CBD oil will:
Cure your pets cancer
Eradicate anxiety and stress
Stop all seizures when other drugs have failed
Act as a powerful antioxidant
Prevent brain deterioration
Prevent autoimmune disease
Improve heart health
There are probably plenty more claims but this list shows the strong feelings many people have that CBD oil can benefit pretty much every body system you can think of. To know if we should be using CBD oil in our pet dogs, we first need to consider the evidence behind these claims.
Does CBD oil really work?
This really depends on what value you place in different types of evidence! There’s loads of anecdotal evidence and testimonials from people who have taken it themselves or given it to their pets and seen a dramatic benefit. In reality, it is impossible to draw any firm conclusions from stories like this because of the significant risk of bias and things like caregiver placebo.
These stories do though make further research into the benefits of CBD oil important, to prove that the effects are really there or otherwise.
There is more evidence, and the number of studies looking into CBD oil is rapidly expanding. At the time of writing however, most of the studies have been done in laboratories, looking at cell samples grown in test tubes and petri dishes. There is very little evidence in well designed studies involving large numbers of patients (human or animal).
Claims that CBD oil stops cancers growing and results in their destruction come in part from lab studies where cervical and leukemia cells were grown in the lab before then being exposed to CBD oil. In the case of the leukemia study these cells were then injected into mice and the result assessed. Again, this warrants further investigation but is pretty far removed from a real life situation and so claims of proof that CBD oil cures cancer are pretty far fetched at this stage.
There are similar studies in other types of cancers but nothing yet in patients with naturally occurring cancer.
Dementia, senility and canine cognitive dysfunction
The effects on Alzheimer’s and brain aging are in a similarly early stage of investigation. Canine cognitive dysfunction is very similar to this disease (make sure you read my article on dog dementia - it’s really common), and so this benefit would be huge to our senior dogs. Again though, there is no conclusive evidence of a true effect in dogs with dementia.
CBD oil for dog seizures
The use of CBD oil for dog seizures is another proposed use. Research is more advanced here with some promising studies showing a reduction in seizure frequency in children who have not responded to other drugs. There is also a study currently coming to an end looking at the use of CBD oil to treat epilepsy in dogs still having seizures despite other treatments being given.
Reduces the pain of arthritis
The one published study into the use of CBD oil in dogs to treat an actual disease was a randomised, double blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study. Don’t worry about what this means exactly but it represents a good effort to avoid bias and make any result more reliable.
One part of the study looked at the amount of drug present in the body at different doses and how long it lasts in dogs. The second part of the study showed a statistically significant increase in comfort when arthritic dogs were treated with CBD oil compared to when they were given a placebo.
This is really encouraging with a couple of caveats. Only a small number of dogs were used, only OA pain was investigated and this benefit may not relate to other painful conditions and there was no comparison to other pain killers to suggest how effective CBD oil is in comparison. For more details and commentary check out the excellent discussion about this study over at skeptvet.com.
Is CBD oil legal?
In many parts of the world marijuana is illegal, and generally this is because of the THC it contains. CBD oil extracted from marijuana can also contain a lot of THC and so is also often illegal. Hemp on the other hand contains tiny THC levels, and the CBD oil that comes from hemp typically contains less than 0.3% THC. This is felt to be safe and of no concern when it comes to drug abuse that might be a worry with other cannabis products.
That said, the legal status of all cannabis products is rapidly changing across the world, and as a result becoming more and more readily available. CBD oil extracted from hemp is legal in all 50 US states, it became legal in Canada on October 17th 2018 along with all other cannabis products, it is legal in the UK, and is available with a prescription in Australia.
If you are thinking about buying CBD oil just make sure you double check your local legislation as this is a dynamic, changing situation. Where it is legal, CBD oil can likely be bought at your local pharmacy or health food shop, as well as online.
Should you give your dog CBD oil? Why has your vet not recommended it?
So what’s the bottom line? Should you try your dog on CBD oil? It’s all too easy to get caught up in the hype and promise of a new treatment or supplement, whatever it may be. You’ll know by now that I’m a big believer in following and listening to the evidence that’s available wherever possible (I have a whole, growing series titled “Evidence Matters”!).
My general feeling is to watch this space. There is a flurry of active research in this area, especially in the human medical community, and this will only spill over into the veterinary sphere. Initial results are promising but we know that a positive result in cells grown in the lab does not always translate to positive results in living animals. Positive results in people also does not always result in the same effect being seen in dogs or cats.
Current treatments that are known to be effective should not be ignored or abandoned because of something that may (or may not) work. To do so would be to do your pet a disservice and in effect be running a bad experiment with the potential to seriously compromise their quality of life.
That said, trying CBD oil is something to consider if you have tried every other treatment option available to your pet and there are either problems with side-effects or the treatment just not working as well as you would hope. This might be because they are still painful from arthritis, still having epileptic seizures or experiencing a deterioration in brain function from dementia. If you do decide to give your dog CBD oil you should watch closely for side-effects, and try and assess any response in as unbiased a way as possible (link to placebo).
You also need to be careful where you source the product from. FDA testing has shown that many CBD products actually contain little, if any CBD. This is a common situations for all “supplements” and my general recommendations are:
Ask your vet which products they advise
Don’t decide based on price alone - you often get what you pay for
Stick to known, trusted brands where possible
Don’t purchase internet-only products
As with all treatment plans, you should discuss the option of CBD oil with your vet. Because this is a rapidly developing, new topic, it may be that your vet has little knowledge about CBD oil. It may be that they have no personal experience of recommending it to their patients. It may be that they are reluctant to recommend it because of the lack of knowledge around how effective it really is, the lack of knowledge about how often and how much should be given, and the lack of knowledge about side-effects and reactions with other medications. These are all highly valid concerns.
CBD oil, in my opinion, has the potential to become a regular treatment recommendation for a number of really common conditions our dogs and cats suffer from. It’s still early days though so watch this space as more research is done into safety and dosing, and more evidence proving or disproving a beneficial effect is released.
Let me know your experiences with CBD oil in your pet in the comments below. I’d be really interested in hearing why you tried it and what your pets experience was like when they were on it. Did it help? Were there and side effects?
Our Pets Health: because they’re family