Animals and CBD

By Karrie Osborn

With the popularity of cannabidiol (CBD) growing exponentially for human use, what do we need to know about CBD for animals? Lola Michelin, director of education at the Northwest School of Animal Massage (NWSAM), gives us this expert advice.

M&B: What are you telling students about CBD for animals?
Lola Michelin: CBD is available in many forms for animals. Most commonly, people have access to tinctures or an ingestible liquid form of CBD; and this is popular for dogs and other domesticated pets. Topical products such as salves and oils can be used as well, and there are a growing number of these products that can be used to treat skin conditions and ease pain associated with arthritis or joint inflammation under proper veterinary oversight. Feeding hemp oil or CBD oils in either a liquid or pelleted feed form is also gaining popularity. The hemp plant (from which much of the commercially available CBD is derived) is also being promoted as a bedding product for horse stalls and kennels. Many horse owners and pet owners report reduced anxiety, pain relief, and relief of muscle tension with the use of these products. 
But it is critical that animal owners be aware of two warnings: CBD is very different from tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the component in marijuana that creates psychotropic effects. THC should not be administered to animals—the ingestion of THC can be toxic or even fatal to animals. Also, individuals who compete with their animals need to check the regulations regarding the use of CBD in performance animals. For example, the United States Equestrian Federation, which regulates many equine sports, prohibits the use of CBD in any form at its competitions.
M&B: Do you see a greater interest in CBD within the equine community than with small animals?
LM: I would say the interest in CBD is equal and growing in both pet and horse populations. CBD first made its appearance in the pet market, but the horse industry is quickly introducing a wide array of products from all parts of the hemp plant. In both instances, there are many commercially available products and access is getting easier and easier.
But it is still advisable for animal owners to discuss the use of CBD products with a qualified professional and to do their due diligence before introducing their animals to the products. Each animal will respond differently, and it is harder for a horse or dog to communicate any negative response they might be having, so owners should watch their animals closely after starting a new product. I had one horse owner tell me that after giving her thoroughbred gelding CBD, he stood still in his field for hours and literally would not move his feet, despite the noise from nearby holiday celebrations (she had given the product to him to help him through the Fourth of July fireworks). That might sound good on the surface, but a prey animal that feels like they can’t move might actually be more stressed than it appears outwardly.
I operate an equine retirement and rehabilitation program on our Seattle-area campus. Several of the horses in my care get hemp meal or hemp oil with CBD in their diets for metabolic disorders, cancer, arthritic pain, or to reduce anxiety. I would really like to see the horse racing industry and other aspects of the horse sporting world take a serious look at how hemp might improve the quality of life of horses living in close communities while under the stress of training and competition. I think there is an excellent argument for its use.   

M&B: Does NWSAM have a stance on the use of CBD by animal massage therapists? 
LM: Massage for animals does not generally involve the use of oils or lotions, so CBD products like those used in human massage do not play as much of a role in an animal massage session. It is more likely that a therapist would use the oil or salve after a massage as a follow-up. At this time, NWSAM suggests that students only use products with clients when there has been some veterinary oversight. Because the use of CBD with animals is still in its infancy, research is working hard to catch up with public demand. Until we are certain about the implications of the use of CBD in different forms, it is advisable for professionals to at least have a relationship with a knowledgeable veterinarian for a consult, or to only use the products with their clients when it has been prescribed. It is also important to know if the animal is going to be used for competition or in some cases, for consumption (many of our grads work with goats, cows, or alpaca). Of course, that may change rapidly as the industry evolves.