NMVMA listserve Behavior Tip #31
The veterinary behavior community has been hearing a lot public buzz about CBD oil as a treatment for anxiety, particularly in dogs. Reliable research into its purported benefits, proper dosing, or its possible risks appears to be nonexistent.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is derived from hemp and contains only miniscule amounts of the “high” producing chemical THC. There is some published information on CBD’s presumed mode of action for the treatment of human pain, schizophrenia, and epilepsy but I have not encountered a good neurochemical explanation for how it could reduce canine anxiety. Dogs and cats are not little people in furry suits. There are important species differences in many physical and behavioral functions. I can’t ethically recommend it for pets.
Anxiety-related aggressive reactions to unfamiliar people, a common and potentially dangerous behavior disorder, is vexing for pet owners. Anxiolytic medications, while often useful, are intended to help a pet become more amenable to behavior modification. Pharmaceuticals, supplements, and treatments like CBD oil are never the simple solution that many frustrated people hope for. Successful behavior treatment almost always requires significant time and long term commitment from pet owners.
A research-based behavioral diagnosis, as with any medical disorder, must be the starting point for any treatment plan. For clients who eschew drugs there are often reasonable treatment alternatives. Natural therapies work as well as medications in some, less-than-severe, cases. I often employ them in my behavior practice. Combinations of supplements and drugs can allow us to reduce anxiety with lower dosages, avoiding side effects.
There are good alternative remedies for canine anxiety. SAMe is present in all living cells and is essential to the normal functioning of major biochemical pathways and metabolic reactions. Veterinary preparations, Denosyl and Novifit, are formulated for dogs, meaning that they may absorb more reliably than OTC human preparations. The hydrolyzed milk protein in Zylkene can reduce mild to moderate anxiety. The pheromone in Adaptil collars and diffusers has a calming effect in some dogs.
Beyond adjusting their brains’ neurochemistry anxious pets need to be set up for success. Avoidance of unfamiliar people will allow scared, reactive dogs to abandon their fears. Teaching response substitutions, like targeting and clicker training, can be fun for the client and the pet. With hundreds of repetitions dogs, in particular, can learn that good things can happen when a stranger is encountered.
There is a great deal more to the specialty of veterinary behavior medicine. So far, we are unconvinced on CBD oil. Since we don’t know how it can help we also don’t know how it can hurt. At this point I’m passing on it.
All the best,
Jeff Nichol, D.V.M.
Residency trained by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists
Veterinary Behavior Medicine
Albuquerque and Santa Fe