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Pets are family, and their humans want to do everything they can to help them. So, as more people find relief from various physical and mental ailments through cannabidiol (CBD), it's only natural that they'd want to allow their pets the same healing.

A number of CBD brands, such as Elixinol, Extract Labs, and Nature's Script are now offering pet CBD oil and edibles. Some companies, such as Pet Relief and MediPets are dedicated to CBD for animals.

One of the latter brands is VetCBD, a California-based company founded by veterinarian Dr. Tim Shu. A graduate of Texas A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine, Shu practiced emergency, critical care, and general veterinary medicine before founding the company in 2015. We asked him what pet owners should know about animal CBD before giving it to their pets.

Q: Do cats and dogs have endocannabinoid systems? If so, how do they differ from humans?

A: Yes. In fact, all animals have endocannabinoid systems — mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles. There are species differences — for example, dogs have a higher concentration of CB1 receptors in the cerebellum portion of their brain compared with other species. This means they are more sensitive to cannabinoids that activate CB1 receptors, like THC. Dogs can still benefit from the therapeutic properties of THC, but in order to be utilized safely, it needs to be dosed and formulated with regards to their increased sensitivity.

Q: Are there any safety risks associated with giving pets CBD, or any animals it should not be given to?

A: CBD has been shown to be very safe across a number of species. In our experience, we've seen a number of species safely benefit from it, including dogs, cats, horses, pigs, rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs, birds, and rats. There can be a theoretical concern of combining CBD with medications that have narrow therapeutic windows, as CBD can inhibit some liver enzymes that are involved in metabolizing certain medications. This may cause the levels of some medications to rise above safe levels, which is why it's important to discuss the use of cannabis or CBD with your veterinarian prior to starting.

Q: What is the best way to give CBD to pets? What types of CBD are best — for example, is hemp better than marijuana? What's a good rule of thumb for dosing? And is there anything you should look for on the bottle?

A: Oral administration is currently the most reliable method, as it allows for consistent dosing. CBD used in conjunction with other cannabinoids is always preferred over the use of CBD as an isolate. “Full spectrum,” “broad spectrum,” or “whole plant” products use extracts that provide multiple cannabinoids in addition to CBD (such as THC, CBC, CBG, THCA, CBDA, or CBDV). Preclinical and clinical studies have shown that CBD used in conjunction with other cannabinoids is more effective than CBD used alone in isolate form. When used together, cannabinoids' therapeutic effects are synergistic. This is known as the “entourage effect.”

When it comes to dosing, each patient's needs may be different. We've found that some patients can use lower doses, while others require higher doses for the same ailments. The general rule of thumb is to start at a low dose and gradually adjust the dose upward over time to determine what works best for the patient. Products should provide the concentration of the cannabinoids so owners are aware of how much they're giving.

Q: Do different application methods, like oral vs. topical, have different results?

A: Oral application provides greater consistency, as owners know exactly how much they're giving every time. While topical applications have therapeutic potential, it can be much harder to determine how much is being absorbed and if the absorbed amount is only acting locally or has far-reaching systemic effects. The pharmacokinetics of oral application have been better studied and are currently better understood compared to a topical application.

Q: How do you know if your pet would be a good candidate for CBD? Are there any pets that would not be a good candidate?

A: Pets with the most potential to benefit from cannabis are ones that are suffering from pain, anxiety, inflammation, nausea, seizures, neurodegenerative disorders, and cancer symptoms. When properly dosed and formulated, cannabis can be very safe, but consultation with your veterinarian should always be the first step, as your veterinarian knows your pet's medical history the best and can help inform you on the best course of action.

Q: What research on cannabis and pets currently exists? What are the most important findings?

A: Most of the preclinical studies showing the benefits of cannabis were conducted on animal models such as rats, but preclinical studies have a number of limitations and aren't always applicable to real-world settings. Clinical studies have been limited due to legal issues, but as legalization increases, more clinical studies involving pets are being conducted. A recent study by Cornell University showed improvement in pain and mobility in arthritic dogs using a CBD-rich product. Another study by Colorado State University showed an improvement in seizures in 89 percent of the treatment group using a CBD-rich product.

Q: Can research conducted on other animals be helpful in understanding how it might affect people's pets?

A: Yes and no. A better understanding of the endocannabinoid system and the therapeutic applications of cannabis elucidated through research can translate into real-world application and often times do, but at the same time, we have to keep in mind that there exist differences in endocannabinoid systems among species, and sometimes, research settings may be very different from real-world environments and thus difficult to replicate. We frequently see this in doses given in research settings (sometimes supraphysiological, meaning much higher than what would be normally used), or routes of administration (such as injection, which isn't feasible for owners).

Q: Is more research on the horizon?

A: As legalization spreads globally, more research is being published on a monthly basis, and we are learning more about the endocannabinoid system and cannabis than we ever knew before. Yet we are still just scratching the surface, and much more remains to be discovered.

Q: Anything else people should know before giving their pets CBD?

A: It's important to realize that while cannabis and CBD have major therapeutic potential for a number of disease processes, they should not be thought of as a cure-all. It's important to follow sound scientific reasoning and medical guidelines so that patients may receive the most benefit in a safe manner. Above all, speak to your veterinarian first before incorporating something new to your pet's medical regimen.

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