By Amanda Pennings

August 30, 2021

         On June 10, 2019, I couldn’t sleep. After tossing and turning for hours, at 2  a.m. I decided to go for a drive to see if that might help. As I was wandering around the backstreets of my town, I came to a four way stop and paused to decide if it was time to turn around or keep on driving. To my right, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a large brown animal behind a Chili’s dumpster. Achingly slowly, the animal trotted out in front of my car. As a consummate animal lover, I wanted to help the skeletal, scar-covered dog I saw in front of me, but I was worried how she would react to a human. When I stepped out of my car, she lumbered over to me and sat right on my feet. She looked up and tilted her head at me as if to say “Mom, I’ve been waiting for you.” I opened up my car door, she hopped inside, and all of a sudden I had found my best friend.

         As you might imagine, not everything about assimilating a stray dog into my life went perfectly swimmingly. We had our trials and tribulations, but they all eventually ironed themselves out. Today, the only issue we have is that she is terrified of thunderstorms. As soon as it starts to drizzle, she darts away from windows and trembles on the floor. There is nothing I can do to comfort her, and I have never felt more helpless or useless. First I tried various dog thundershirts, then distracting her, then playing calming music. Absolutely nothing worked. Finally, I turned to my veterinarian for help, and she prescribed trazodone. The effects of this dog sedative were heartbreaking to watch. My dog, Nala, is sweet and usually very chill to begin with. With the trazodone, she was a zombie for 10 to 12 hours if not longer. We live in Florida, and during the summer, it rains every single day. The sedative stopped her terrified tremors, but it was not a sustainable option for her quality of life.

         Having exhausted every traditional thing I could think of, I took to the internet for some new ideas. CBD came up as a potential option. However, when someone does an online search for “pet CBD,” thousands of contradictory results pop up. This confusing overload makes it incredibly difficult for dog owners to make the best choice for their furry friends. Some articles claim CBD doesn’t work for dogs in any context, some claim CBD for dogs works in some contexts, and some articles even claim CBD is a miracle cure for everything wrong with a dog. The overwhelming amount of both positive and negative claims can be impossible to weed through. All I wanted was to help my dog, but I couldn’t sort through the anecdotal “evidence” to find clinical knowledge about what would actually help my dog. This article will serve as a guide for fellow pet parents to understand everything about how CBD working in a dog’s body.  

Clinical Studies: CBD Powder Capsule vs CBD Oil

The 2018 Farm Bill allowed farmers across America to grow hemp that contains less than .3% of THC and thus allowed researchers to have greater access to study the effects of CBD in different ways. The process for creating, getting approval and actually completing clinical trials is long and unwieldy. As such, there is not yet a wide variety of clinical trials available looking at the effects of CBD in different scenarios for dogs. However, we can evaluate the currently available clinical trials on dogs to extrapolate the results to understand if and how CBD works in a canine’s body.

In 1988, the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics conducted a study to examine how CBD moves within the bodies of dogs. They experimented with 180 mg of CBD powder within a gelatin capsule. This study used a very small sample size, only 6 dogs, but found that some dogs had no CBD absorption, and others only had low CBD absorption (between 0% and 19%). This study seems to indicate that oral CBD in this form is NOT an effective treatment for dogs.

However, in 2018, Cornell University conducted another study on CBD in dogs. This experiment looked at CBD oil taken orally. This particular experiment looked at CBD treatment for osteoarthritic dogs, however the bioavailability results are the most interesting. Based on the results of 16 dogs, they found a significant decrease in pain and increase in activity for the dogs given 2 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. Furthermore, they found that the terminal half-life of CBD for the dogs was between 4 and 5 hours. This matters because the terminal half-life describes the time it takes for the concentration of the CBD to decrease by half in the blood plasma when circulating in the system of an organism. Essentially, it measures if and how long the CBD is circulating in the blood stream at maximum capacity. Overall, this study demonstrates that CBD oil dosed at 2 milligrams per kilogram of body weight and given twice daily was an effective treatment for these ailing dogs.

Another study in 2018 by the Canadian Journal of Veterinary Research looked at different CBD administration methods for dogs. They experimented with oral CBD-infused oil and CBD-infused transdermal cream using thirty healthy research dogs. The dogs were given a small meal, then given their dose once per day. Through this method, they demonstrated that the CBD-infused transdermal cream did not reach high plasma concentrations, perhaps due to the thickness of the skin. However, the oral CBD-infused oil had a very high plasma concentration and therefore reached the bloodstream and was able to be effective for the dogs. Two doses of the CBD oil were contrasted: 10 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day or 20 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day. With these doses, the study found the CBD’s terminal half-life to be 4 to2.5 hours. Therefore, this study found that 10-20 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day of oral CBD-infused oil is bioavailable for dogs to use.

These studies demonstrate that, essentially, bioavailability is the name of the game when it comes to evaluating the effectiveness of a substance, like CBD, in a body. Essentially, bioavailability measures the proportion of a drug that enters the bloodstream and therefore how much of the drug is able to have an active effect. While there is plenty of anecdotal evidence for the use of CBD in dogs, these are currently only two clinical studies that evaluate the bioavailability of CBD in dogs based on the method of CBD delivery. While further studies are needed, this is strong evidence that CBD oil is an effective way to share the calming benefits of CBD with our furry friends. 

Tips for Increasing the Effectiveness of CBD in Dogs

CBD is Lipophilic

CBD is lipophilic which means that it likes to combine with fats. Therefore choosing a carrier oil with a high fat content could both increase the amount CBD absorbed and make the levels more consistent in a dog’s body. The Cornell Study used olive oil as a CBD delivery vehicle but had the dogs fast before their doses. They noted that delivering the CBD with food may be preferable because it would increase the levels of fat in the dog’s body and thus increase the CBD’s bioavailability. The Canadian Journal of Veterinary Research study did give the dogs a small meal before dosing the CBD and their study also found the fat-filled oil to be most effective. Therefore, choosing a CBD product with higher levels of fat, like Koi CBD Dog Treats with about 20% crude fat, will help your pet reap the most benefits from the CBD content.

CBD Quality

The effects of a specific CBD product can be highly variable based on the purity and quality of the CBD included in it. The best CBD products will always contain pure CBD. However pure CBD is much harder to obtain in America because of the deregulated CBD market. The 2018 Farm Bill allowed farmers across America to grow hemp that contains less than .3% of THC. While this allowed Americans to have greater access to the healing benefits of CBD like never before, there has been no update in the safety regulation for the consumption of CBD. This bill moved CBD from the purview of the Drug Enforcement Agency to the purview of the Food and Drug Administration. 

The FDA is responsible for protecting public health by regulating human drugs and biologics, animal drugs, medical devices, tobacco products, food and cosmetics. However, even though CBD can be used in all of these forms, it is not regulated by the FDA. The FDA has even said that “CBD products currently sold in the United States are unregulated and untested” and that some of their own testing (via a third party lab) has revealed that some CBD products contain toxic metals, chemicals like BPA, herbicides, pesticides and even THC. There are many CBD products on the market now, but the average consumer is still unable to know if their CBD products are safe and contain only CBD –– let alone where or how they are grown. All of this has a huge effect on the purity and efficacy of CBD products. It is important to make sure you get your CBD products from sources you trust to provide pure, high quality, and effective CBD products.

The 2018 Cornell Study even noted that the “different strains of cannabis produce differing amounts of CBD and other related cannabinoids making the results of this study specific to this industrial hemp extract that may not translate to other available products due to differing cannabinoid concentrations in this largely unregulated market.”  It is important to make sure you get your CBD products from sources you trust to provide pure, high quality, and effective CBD products. The unregulated CBD market means that pet owners must investigate the brands they buy from to ensure they only give safe and pure products to their fur babies. 

The Entourage Effect

Two of the most famous cannabinoids found in cannabis are THC and CBD. However, researchers have found more than 100 cannabinoids as well as other smaller organic compounds, known as terpenes, in the plant. The Entourage Effect is a research-driven theory which states that all the compounds in a cannabis plant work together, and when taken together, they produce a better effect than when taken alone. The synergistic effects of the different cannabinoids and terpenes working together was even noted in the 2018 Cornell study as a potential explanation for the effectiveness of the CBD in their study. CBD oils that are labeled as “full spectrum” include not only CBD, but the other terpenes and substances that contribute to the Entourage Effect.

CBD Safety for Dogs

         While there are limited clinical studies, there is one that specifically looks at the safety of dosing dogs with CBD. In 2019, Animals (an international, peer-reviewed clinical journal) looked at the relative safety of oral CBD supplements over 12 weeks in dogs. Eight dogs were given 2 milligrams of CBD per kilogram of body weight orally twice daily for 12 weeks. During this preliminary investigation, the only side effects noted were occasional episodes of loose stool and vomiting observed in the dogs (less than 3%). On top of the other studies, which didn’t focus specifically on safety but also reported little to no side effects, these results indicate the CBD is likely a safe substance to give your dog. According to the article, “in conclusion, hemp-based CBD appears to be relatively safe in healthy populations of dogs.”  However, CBD can interact with other medications your dog is taking so, in these instances, it is vital to talk to your veterinarian.

As a side note, this study also used a CBD dog treat with a glycerol/starch/fiber base (which is easily digestible for dogs) and it appears to deliver approximately two and a half times the concentration of CBD as previously observed using an oil base, however the retention and half-life times appear to be shorter: between 1–2 h.

Dosing CBD for Dogs

Amount of CBD

There are two different calculations to consider when trying to determine how much CBD to give your dog: how many milligrams of CBD you want to dose and how concentrated the formula of your particular CBD dog treat is.

The clinical data seems to indicate that a dosage recommendation of 2 milligrams per kilogram of body weight would be effective. To convert pounds to kilograms, divide by 2.2. For example, Nala is 55 pounds and dividing by 2.2 equals 25 kilograms. Therefore, a dose of about 50 milligrams of CBD would be appropriate. However, to avoid converting kilograms to pounds, you can multiply your dog’s weight in pounds by 0.45. For Nala, 55 pounds times .45 equals 24.75 kilograms therefore a 50 mg dose of CBD. However, this dosage recommendation is based on helping osteoarthritic dogs with their pain and mobility. Dosing is dependent on condition, rather than a standardized system. Dogs with anxiety can typically respond to much lower doses of CBD therefore it is best to start with lower doses (such as .5 to 1 milligrams per kilogram of body weight) and increase as necessary.

The other calculation is determining how many milligrams per milliliter (or bottle) is in your pet’s CBD product. Reputable companies should have mg/ml or total bottle mg count and volume right on the label. However, you can figure it out yourself by using the following formula: (total milligrams of CBD in product) x (total milligrams of liquid or total number of treats) = amount of CBD per milligram of liquid or amount in each treat. 

Once or Twice Daily Dosing?

The terminal half-life is an indication of how long the effects of the CBD are working in a canine’s body. The Cornell and Canadian Journal of Veterinary Research studies found the terminal half-life of CBD in dogs to be between 3-5 hours for oil-based formulations. The 2019 Animals study found a terminal half-life between 1-2 h for CBD treats with a glycerol/starch/fiber base. These guides are formatted as a range because every dog is different; therefore, it is important to observe your dog to figure out how long your furry friend will be feeling the CBD. If you are using CBD to treat a chronic problem, it is best to give the CBD twice a day to allow your dog to feel the effects constantly. If you are using CBD to treat an intermittent problem (like me with Nala’s storm anxiety), then dosing about an hour before you want the effects of CBD to be felt should be effective for the length of the CBD’s half-life based on its formulation. 

 

         Now, as I have my morning coffee, I check the weather radar for the day. Once I know when (not if) it is going to rain, I give Nala 25 milligrams of CBD about an hour before the storm. While I can tell she is still scared, CBD has made a radical difference in our lives. Nothing made me feel more helpless than watching her tremble in fear on the floor. Now a thunderstorm simply means she will be wherever I am, taking a nap.

         Sorting through the million anecdotal claims about CBD for dogs was difficult, but I am so glad I was able to find clinical data about the bioavailability of CBD in dogs to understand the best way to help my furry friend. As it turns out, bioavailability translates directly into how effective the CBD can be for a dog. The clinical data indicates that CBD oil gives the greatest chance for the CBD to circulate in the bloodstream. Additionally, giving high-quality, full spectrum CBD from trusted sources with additional fat will increase the likelihood of the CBD having the desired effect on a dog. While more clinical studies are needed to definitively prove that CBD can be an effective treatment for dogs, the currently available clinical data (in conjunction with the myriad of anecdotal evidence) makes a strong case for the effectiveness of CBD in dogs. 

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