Is giving pets CBD a good idea?

The allure is there but so are the risks


Collegian File Photo

By Lily Robinson, Collegian Columnist

Claiming to treat everything from acne to cancer, the exploding Cannabidiol industry is predicted to surpass $20 billion in market sales by 2024. With this success, the industry has a new target, one that should make consumers wary. CBD companies are now marketing their product to pets.

The first and most concerning issue related to the use of CBD products on pets is safety. CBD is a naturally occurring compound derived from cannabis, but unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) it is non-psychoactive, meaning that CBD does not produce a high when consumed by humans. While the compound is widely viewed as low-risk, the long-term effects of the compound are not yet supported by research and the FDA has yet to approve any products containing the substance for pets.

While theoretically CBD contains little to no THC, the industry is essentially unregulated. As a result, some products may contain more THC than they claim. This poses a threat to pet safety because even in small doses, THC can be toxic to cats and dogs.

Studies on the effects of CBD on pets are scarce and those that do exist are biased and anecdotal. This means that there is no way for pet owners to know how to choose a safe dosage for their animal based on factors such as breed, age and weight. Because solid research in CBD is lacking and has only recently become popular, there is no way to say what the long-term effects of the substance may be on pet health.

Beyond safety, there is a deeper moral question behind this new method of pet care. Many of the reasons that people have for using CBD on their pets in the first place have to do with behavior.

On Reddit, there is a thread of pet owners discussing using CBD to tame their “reactive” (a catch-all term to describe behavioral issues) dogs. These owners are frustrated because their animal won’t listen, pulls, barks and generally creates stress when on walks. The thread discusses using CBD on these problem animals to reduce disruptive behaviors and illustrates one of the most common reasons for giving an animal CBD.

Other online pet-owner communities suggest using CBD to address separation anxiety and a long list of “destructive behaviors” such as digging, chewing, howling, barking, peeing, shivering, pacing and scratching…need I go on? Basically, if an animal is acting like an animal and it inconveniences the owner, just use CBD!

In these situations, CBD is a band-aid — a cheat code for good behavior — and doesn’t address underlying issues that are causing an animal to suffer.

For example, some of the signs that an animal is not getting enough exercise, such as destructive behavior, excessive barking, hyperactivity and poor behavior on leash, happen to look a lot like the symptoms of reactivity which CBD companies would have owners treat with their products.

Yes, there are some animals that are perfectly cared for and still struggle with behavioral issues. However, knowledge that over 50 percent of dogs in the U.S. are considered overweight or obese should tell us that there are also some serious issues with common pet care practices. Supposedly incorrigible animals might not need drugs, they might just need more attention.

There have always been lazy pet owners — those who are unable or unwilling to put in the work to train and exercise their animal. The difference is that, in the past, this laziness meant the owner had to deal with the resulting behavioral issues. Today, a lazy owner who doesn’t want to come home to a chewed-up couch can just drop some CBD oil into Fifi’s morning snack and leave for the day, reassured that they won’t return to destruction.

Even once further research becomes available to help pet owners make informed decisions about whether or not to give their pet CBD, the issue of overlooking a root cause will stand.

In the end, pet care is about making the right choices for an animal that relies on a human to help them live a fulfilling life. If a pet is exhibiting behavioral issues, that most likely means something in their life is amiss or missing and that something probably doesn’t come from a trendy leaf.

Lily Robinson is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]