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CBD Products For Canine Anxiety: What Does The Science Say?

Updated: Jun 9

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 behavioural and health benefits. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence, granted, but we do have to account for the possibility of the placebo effect. I think it is also worth considering that there is some evidence to support the use of CBD in pain relief, so it may be the case that perceived anxiolytic success could actually be due to undiagnosed pain being alleviated, and therefore related anxiety, such as sound sensitivities, also improving.

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.

Further Findings:

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. If it is suspected that a dog may be suffering with anxiety, professional advice should be sought straight away in order to get them the help that they need. Sadly, a huge bias still exists around medicating our pets, with many believing that anxiolytics and antidepressants will leave their pets zombie-like. However, what we are often seeing is an animal that is finally able to rest and sleep, gaining some relief from their stress and worry at long last. Anyone that has struggled with anxiety will appreciate how tiring and draining it is being on high alert constantly; there are also many physical side effects which impact massively on health, besides the mental strain that anxiety brings.

I recently came across this update from Skeptvet, which I read with interest. I have extracted the points which relate to anxiety as it is quite a lengthy report, with other conditions discussed in the article.

Main points and conclusions drawn within the article:

*"In the case of veterinary cannabis, there are only a few systematic reviews."

*"One interesting lesson from this review is that despite severely limited evidence and great uncertainty about what cannabis products might be useful for at what doses with what risks, people are using them all the time for everything. The perception appears to be that cannabis is a safe and effective panacea for companion animals, which of course isn’t substantiated by the actual evidence."

*"The evidence is generally encouraging for some conditions, particularly pain, but it certainly is nowhere near the level needed to justify this kind of confidence among pet owners."

*"Animal studies on anxiolytic effects of CBD have shown mixed results. CBD seems to have a bell-shaped curve for managing anxiety, as it seems to be anxiolytic at moderate but not low or high levels. A meta-analysis on human studies concluded that the evidence on cannabis-based products’ effects on anxiolysis is incomplete, because most studies had a small sample size along with some inconsistencies. In dogs, there is no established dose for treating anxiety and fear disorders. The few studies available have focused mainly on the short-term effects of CBD on aggressiveness and fear."

*" A research study on shelter dogs found that CBD (dose calculated to be 3.75 mg/kg) administered to dogs for 45 days could reduce aggressiveness toward humans but not behaviors related to stress."

*"A second study assessed the effect of CBD supplementation on reducing acute fear triggered by fireworks in dogs supplemented with 1.4 mg/kg/day for 7 days and found no effect of CBD alone on reducing fear-induced stress."

*"Although there is a need for more scientific evidence that CBD is a therapeutic option to treat behavioral problems in dogs, like fearfulness and anxiety, pet owners perceive the calming and antianxiety effects of CBD favorably. Approximately half of pet owners who have given CBD to their dogs to reduce fear or anxiety think it is effective, even though doses given are inconsistent."

*"As with most studies and reviews, the general conclusion is that the safety profile of non-THC cannabis products is pretty good, though adverse effects do occur. In dogs, there is great variability in the absorption and blood levels of CBD and other relevant compounds with different products and forms, so we still have little idea how much of any given product is safe or useful to give."

*"Both dogs and cats have show gastrointestinal symptoms (e.g. vomiting and diarrhea as well as changes in some laboratory values. Lethargy or sedation and behavioral abnormalities can also occur, especially with products containing THC. It is also recognized that CBD and other compounds in cannabis can build up in fat tissues over time, so even when the short-term risks appear to be low, there is no reliable research identifying what risks might occur with long-term use."

*"Cannabis is the archetype of a “dirty” drug. It contains hundreds of compounds, most not studied in any depth, and it has effects on many body systems. While this means there is a great potential for cannabis-derived compounds to be useful in many different conditions, it also means the potential for unintended effects and interactions with other drugs is very high unless specific compounds or subsets of compounds are studied and used individually."

*"The other important lesson to draw from these recent reviews is that the popularity of cannabis products for dogs and cats is not based on real scientific evidence showing these are safe and effective. This is a fad derived from the popularity of cannabis use in humans, which has origins in ideologies around “natural” medicine, reactions against excessive and largely irrational government prohibitions of cannabis, and factors that have little to do with the actual merits of cannabis as a medicine."

There is a definite 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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