February 21, 2021

CBD from hemp oil has been suggested as an alternative to standard treatments for pain, arthritis and other inflammatory conditions, seizures, and anxiety in dogs. Many of these conditions have limited treatment options in current veterinary practice; anti-seizure medications, particularly, have limited effectiveness with a high rate of side effects.

Understanding how a medication works is usually based on clinical impressions--observing an animal and seeing changes in behavior and actions such as eating and playing--anecdotal reports--this same information reported by dog owners, and by scientific research studies. Usually clinical impressions and anecdotal reports are early types of information gathered. Based on the questions and opportunities raised by these types of information, clinical research studies are planned, approved, and funded.

Clinical research studies on a new drug treatment in a specific species, like CBD in dogs, focuses in on a narrow type and amount of information gathered. This is so that extra variables outside the scope of the study don't muddy the waters. Science is based on producing a number of these very specific, narrow research studies, and using them like a series of stepping stones to gather information and develop treatment protocols.

The confusion over federal versus state regulations, and the legal fog that has settled over the various therapeutic compounds produced has made research into the pharmacotherapy of CBD in dogs difficult to get approved and funded. But several university based schools of veterinary medicine have begun publishing research. Research studies on CBD in dogs has focused on finding out some preliminary information that is needed for further studies to be effective- the first step in the stepping stones of effective research.


One of the critical first pieces of information needed is how the CBD is absorbed, and how it is metabolized and excreted by the body. This determines how long the medication stays in the blood stream, which leads to proper dosing. Studies at Colorado State University and Cornell included basic pharmacotherapy in their research on CBD in dogs.

Drugs that are given directly into a vein have 100% bioavailability. They are delivered unchanged into the bloodstream. Any other way of taking a drug- by mouth, by inhalation, under the tongue, go through a body system and are changed on the way to the bloodstream. Medications that are inhaled have a very high bioavailability, because the lungs have a large number of blood vessels that are ready to absorb a drug mixed with air. Same with sublingual administration, as the area under the tongue has blood vessels that can absorb medicine easily. Oral administration, drugs that are swallowed, tends to have a low bioavailability due to the issue called first-pass metabolism.

First pass metabolism is when the liver goes to work like the body's broom, sweeping out everything it thinks shouldn't be there. With some medications, the liver is very effective in sweeping out almost all of the drug. In others, the form of the pill or the oil it is in, sidetracks the liver so more of the medicine can get into the blood stream. This matters because although oral medicine has the lowest bioavailability, it is the way most people, and dogs, prefer to take their medicine.

Cornell's research into the pharmacokinetics of CBD in dogs confirmed several thoughts about dosing and administration: oral bioavailability was very low, the drug didn't stay in the system long, requiring at least twice a day dosing, and the kidneys flushed out any extra medication, so higher doses did not lead to more of the medication in the blood stream. Since higher doses cause more side effects, but are not actually more effective for the condition being treated, these types of research studies into the way the medicine works in the blood stream are a critical first step. Based on this research, the formulation that gives the best bioavailability in dogs with ease of dosing is CBD tincture.


The Cornell study was specific for osteoarthritis, a common problem with large breed dogs, and one that impacts every aspect of their quality of life. Since dogs cannot speak to us directly, several tools were developed for evaluating pain and improvement of symptoms. These tools were clinical assessments, such as the ability of dogs to play and jump, gait assessments in the office to evaluate the amount of pressure the dogs used to step down and the amount and degree of a limp, and owner assessments, such as behavior, play, sleep, and pain at home. These tools needed to be studied as well, to make sure the information they were giving was accurate across different dogs and reporters. For example, if ten vets graded a dog's behavior of painful walking very differently, then new criteria would need to be developed that was more specific and detailed, and that they could all agree on. The gait assessment, for example, is a standardized assessment that most vets grade the same way. The tools used in research studies need to have a track record that shows them to be accurate.

The other issue that is impacting research is the various ways CBD is being extracted from the hemp. Some methods of processing and extraction use chemicals such as benzene; others have variable levels of CBD in the final product. When CBD is extracted from foreign-grown hemp, the process and materials can be widely variable. Commercial or research hemp farming is now legal is 36 states. The number of acres in America of high quality hemp are growing. In addition, the methods of extraction, preparation, and storage are becoming more detailed and exact. For both consumers and researchers, the understanding of where the hemp was grown and how the CBD was extracted is of critical importance. Having these quality claims verified by independent, third-party research is considered the gold standard for safety and effectiveness.


While research into uses for CBD in dogs is in the early days, the research being done at Cornell, Colorado State University School of Veterinary Medicine, and other universities are laying the important groundwork for further studies by detailing the way CBD enters the blood stream and is absorbed and metabolized in dogs. With this rigorous base, vets can begin to feel more comfortable discussing CBD oil with their patients, and dog owners can feel more comfortable doing research on products for sale online in America.