Updated: Aug 29, 2022
The topic of medication versus "natural" products for the treatment of canine anxiety is something which often crops up in online dog forums. CBD in particular is frequently recommended amongst guardians, and trainers, with the benefits often being both hotly supported and debated. Many swear by its use; some attest that they saw improvement and that it really helped their dog, whilst others state that there were no visible benefits. Some don't quite feel comfortable with the idea of medicating their dog, and prefer to pursue other avenues first, such as CBD products, supplements, remedies, and other "natural" treatments available over the counter. It is also not uncommon to come across people who are fervently against giving their dog any kind of anxiolytic medications. Unfortunately, there is still much misunderstanding surrounding mental health difficulties in both people and canines, and the way in which anxiolytic medications work, but that is a topic for another day.
Due to the lack of regulation within the dog training industry, it is so difficult to discern fact from fiction, and anecdotal from scientifically proven. It can be so hard to know what to do, and how we can best help our anxious and fearful canine companions. Therefore, in this blog, I'm going to examine whether there is any evidence to support the use of CBD products in the treatment of canine anxiety; let’s explore what the science says!
Having spent much time reading and researching, I have found that there is very little documented research in existence in terms of whether CBD has any anxiolytic properties or beneficial behavioural and health effects. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence, granted, but we do have to account for the possibility of the placebo effect. Despite the scarcity of information, there is a notable study which was released in September 2020, entitled “The Impact of Feeding Cannabidiol (CBD) Containing Treats on Canine Response to a Noise-Induced Fear Response Test”. From the results, it was concluded that:
* CBD products do not have an anxiolytic effect. In fact, it is thought that CBD can actually increase anxiety, if the THC, ( delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) concentration is too high, also posing a risk of poisoning.
* When combined with trazodone, CBD reduced the efficacy of the trazodone.
This is clearly really important data, and food for thought.
It is known that dogs have an endocannabinoid system, a complex cell signalling system, but what is not yet known is how it works. Progress has been hampered by the fact that cannabidiol and other hemp products were illegal in the USA until 2018, when the 2018 Farm Bill came in. In the United States, there are no veterinary drugs containing CBD which are approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration, otherwise known as the FDA. They are labelled as supplements because their use is illegal.
Something to bear in mind is the lack of regulation in the production of CBD products. Quality, strength and ingredients vary widely, therefore it is impossible to know what any individual product contains. In a study carried out in 2020, heavy metal contamination was found in four of the twenty-nine products tested, with lead being present in three of those. Two products were found to contain no CBD at all!
CBD is known to interact with certain human drugs, with a further possibility of interaction with others, either enhancing their effects or inhibiting them. As many of these human drugs are also used for the treatment of dogs, there is a good chance that these interactions may also occur in the canine body. CBD is metabolised by the cytochrome P450 family of enzymes, which means that particular care needs to be taken when using drugs such as NSAIDs, Tramadol, Gabapentin, and anxiolytic medications, which also rely on those same enzymes. Other medications which may be affected include antibiotics, antipsychotics, antidepressants and blood thinners.
When it comes to fear and anxiety, I believe the most humane option is to seek the most effective course of treatment first and foremost, because we risk prolonging unnecessary suffering if we do not. A huge bias still exists around medicating our pets, with many believing that anxiolytics and antidepressants will leave their pets zombie-like. Often, what we are seeing is an animal that is finally able to rest and sleep, gaining some relief from their stress and worry.
There is a trend in thinking that natural products are automatically safe to use, but this is simply not the case, as you can see from the evidence provided. Dosages have yet to be studied, and we also need to bear in mind that individuals will be affected in different ways. There is no data in regard to long-term effects of dogs consuming CBD, and a possible cumulative effect has not been examined.
The bottom line is that we need far more research to be carried out before CBD can be considered an effective, safe and ethical option for tackling stress and anxiety in our dogs.
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