Polly Webb’s pit bull-terrier may be named after one of the fiercer “Game of Thrones” characters, but Drogo proves more of a scaredy cat than a war lord.
“My dog, he’s terrified of thunderstorms,” said Webb, a writer and editor from Baltimore. “Usually, when he’s shaking and afraid, he won’t eat anything.”
To soothe Drogo’s anxieties, she gave him a carob “brownie” infused with CBD (cannabidiol) from The Dog Chef pet store and food shop. She’s one of several pet owners who consider CBD a viable alternative medicine that alleviates their companions’ aches, pains and stresses.
But the growing trend concerns animal experts, who say not enough empirical research exists to justify CBD’s safety and efficacy with dogs and cats.
Unlike THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the primary active ingredient found in marijuana, hemp-derived CBD does not contain psychoactive properties and can be purchased at brick-and-mortar stores or online without medical marijuana certifications. While other prescribed pet medications must adhere to regulation by the Federal Drug Administration, CBD drug products remain federally unapproved.
But in states like Maryland, CBD’s popularity as a pain reliever, stress suppressant and wellness supplement has grown in tandem with the medical marijuana movement, as early projections forecast that the CBD market may yield over $20 billion in sales by 2022. The compound also entered the medicinal mainstream last year with Epidiolex — the first FDA-approved prescription cannabidiol — which researchers found reduces the frequency of seizures in patients with some forms of Epilepsy.
CBD-infused pet products have entered the mix as dog and cat owners spend more money on their furry friends every year. The total dollar amount spent on pets in 2018 reached $72.5 billion in 2018 and is expected to surpass $75 billion in 2019, according to the American Pet Products Association.
Patrick Kelly, a managing partner at bioRemedies MD, a Baltimore-based CBD provider, said the company first rolled out infused pet products in 2017 and now sells four different offerings. A pack of infused treats for dogs or cats costs about $30, and oral CBD drops for cats and dogs are priced at about $38 and $75, respectively.
“Pets can’t show placebo effects, so you can really see the effects,” he said, adding that bioRemedies tests the CBD in its infused products for safety and quality control. “People who take care of pets are very loyal and will spend any amount of money to take care of a family member. And there’s no known danger.”
Kim Hammond, a veterinarian and founder of the Falls Road Animal Hospital, said while pets may not be able to overdose on CBD, understanding the substance’s effects on dogs and cats remains in its earliest stages.
“At this point in time, we don’t have the evidence-based research that says it works or doesn’t work,” he said. “Hemp-based CBD doesn’t hurt to try, but the most important thing is that you may not even know what you’re buying. You have to be smart.”
Hammond said since CBD does not have an enforced uniform standard or dosing protocol, products could lack adequate quality control — meaning that they may contain higher or lower amounts of CBD than described on labels and pose other risks. But he added that in controlled environments, researchers found that CBD can complement treatment for certain conditions and ailments.
“We think there might be some health value, but I equate it to getting pain relief from massage and acupuncture,” he said.
Tina Wismer, medical director at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, said CBD may also affect animals’ livers, especially when mixed with other medications or substances without a veterinarian’s approval.
“There’s just lots and lots of questions,” she said. “It could have good and bad effects; the problem is we don’t know the correct dose in dogs. We don’t want to make things worse.”
Yet some pet owners contend that their own observations provide important anecdotal evidence — and that when it comes to making their dogs and cats feel better, they know best.
Liz Ryan, a dog walker who lives near Patterson Park, estimates that she spends anywhere from $75 to $100 on CBD oil and treats every month. She said she’s been giving her dogs Jethro, Avett and Ruth Bader CBD for about a year to reduce their anxiety levels.
“They’re my kids and my family, and their well-being is my No. 1 priority,” she said.
Webb said she’s willing to spend any amount on Drogo and her other dog, Matilda. She said she heard about the CBD products sold at The Dog Chef on Facebook, and bought a bunch to keep in her freezer for stormy days.
“These brownies really work,” she said, adding that while she’s bought some prescription medications for Drogo as well, he responded best to the CBD. “I’m delighted he actually wanted to eat them.”
Dog Chef owner Kevyn Matthews said his shop’s CBD-infused treats — also available as carob “chocolate” bars — have become its top sellers over the past two years. The brownies sell for $10 each, the bars for $35.
“You don’t want to overdo it,” he said, adding that the CBD he uses is tested and distributors provide him with the milligram dosage. “But if you give them too much, they’ll just be tired, that’s all.”
Tanya Grim said The Dog Chef’s CBD products gave Jake, her Shar-Pei lab mix who died in February, a better quality of life in his final months.
“We noticed he powered up the stairs on his own, which he hadn’t done for months, and we were blown away by it,” she said, noting that she often worried about Jake’s liver when she gave him prescription medications for his arthritis. “It doesn’t cure old age, but his personality traits started coming out again.”
And Crady Seymour, a dog mom to Hendrix, an “anxious, yip-yip” miki, and Bodie, a husky-lab mix that suffered from joint pain as a result of Lyme disease, said giving her pets CBD as opposed to prescription medicine is well worth the risk, as it not only treats their symptoms better but also proves less of a hassle.
“The only way I could get Bodie to take his (prescription) medicine was to grind it up and stick it in Chef Boyardee,” Seymour said. “Why go through all that when you can just squirt a drop of CBD under the tongue?”
Robin McDonald, owner of the pet store Howl, said customers’ interest in CBD products has surged since she introduced them about 18 months ago. She said she fields a couple of questions about them from patrons every day and restocks her inventory frequently.
McDonald never imagined when she opened Howl 17 years ago that she’d be selling CBD for animals. But she’s not complaining.
“It sells itself, especially once they try it,” she said.