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CBD Oil for Cats — What It Is, What It Isn’t & How It Works

CBD oil for cats is a hot topic. Before going into how and why CBD oil can help cats, let’s start with what exactly CBD and its related components are. 

Elizabeth Anderson Lopez  |  Mar 26th 2019


What is CBD oil for cats? It definitely doesn’t cause a “high” and give your cat the munchies. Before going into CBD oils for cats, particularly how and why CBD oil can help cats, let’s look at what exactly CBD is.

Breaking Down CBD

CBD Oil.

CBD Oil. Photography ©rgbspace | Getty Images.

“Cannabidiol, also known as CBD, is a cannabinoid — a naturally occurring compound found in both hemp and cannabis (cannabis is also referred to as marijuana),” says Jodi Ziskin, director of communications with Treatibles in Petaluma, California. Hemp and marijuana are “Both members of the Cannabis sativa plant and share similarities but have very distinct differences due to each plant’s biological structure,” says Jon Neveloff, partner with King Kanine in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Here’s a helpful analogy: Creamed corn and popcorn come from the same plant but are quite different.

Understanding CBD and THC

To drill down further, “Cannabidiol (CBD) is a molecule found in the cannabis plant. Cannabis is a plant species with a long history of use by humans,” according to Grace Kaucic, digital marketing specialist at Bluebird Botanicals in Louisville, Colorado. “Currently, there’s a legal definition that separates the cannabis species in the United States. If a cannabis plant contains more than 0.3 percent THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive molecule that makes users ‘high’), then it’s classified as marijuana.”

Understanding THC is critical. “THC exists in large quantities in cannabis plants — it’s the cannabinoid that’s responsible for most of the psychoactive effects that cause cannabis users to get, and feel, ‘high,’” Jon says. “CBD is non-psychoactive and will not cause a ‘high.’”

Adds Jodi, “THC can be toxic to pets, causing static ataxia and many other very unpleasant and even life-threatening reactions.”

According to Grace, “If a cannabis plant contains less than 0.3 percent THC, it’s considered hemp.” And, yes, that’s the same hemp plant that grows the fibers used for rope or fabric. In short, marijuana is cultivated from plants with high levels of THC, while hemp and CBD are cultivated from plants with barely any THC.

That doesn’t make hemp synonymous with CBD. “Hemp oil does not necessarily contain any CBD, or it may be naturally occurring in negligible quantities,” says Heidi Hill, Holistic Hound founder and trained homeopath based in Berkeley, California. “This is why it is important to seek out products that provide the actual CBD content on the label.”

Speaking of terms, some companies opt to advertise their products using “whole hemp extract” or a similar term instead of “CBD.” This is because of previous regulatory issues that the 2018 Farm Bill helped resolve on a federal level. (See Why The 2018 Farm Bill Matters below.) Terminology is still in flux as this industry and legal issues continue to evolve.

How CBD Oil for Cats Can Help Your Kitty

CBD oil for cats.

Now that you’ve learned what CBD is, next up is what CBD oil for cats can do and how your cat may benefit.

“In my experience, CBD/hemp has been helpful in treating arthritis, epilepsy, stress, chronic upper respiratory infections and asthma,” says Angie Krause, DVM, with Boulder Holistic Vet in Boulder, Colorado. “It has also been effective in appetite stimulation. It may also be beneficial for pancreatitis and inflammatory bowel disease. Cats have very little pharmaceutical options available to treat chronic pain. Hemp has been life changing for many of my patients.”

Several manufacturers of CBD oil for cats also cited wellness benefits for these conditions:

  1. Anxiety
  2. GI tract issues
  3. IBD
  4. Inflammation

“While there is still more research to be done on CBD for animals, the anecdotal evidence is compelling and the testimonials we receive on a daily basis are astounding,” Heidi says.

Dosing CBD Oil for Cats

When it comes to CBD oil for cats, drug dosages are based on a cat’s weight, age and severity of the condition. Most manufacturers use that approach, as does Dr. Krause. “I start kitties around 0.2 to 0.5 mg/kg twice daily and increase as needed. An average 10-pound kitty should start with around 1 mg of CBD twice daily. I give my kitties up to 5 to 6 mg twice daily.”

Heather B. Loenser, DVM, senior veterinary officer with the American Animal Hospital Association in Lakewood, Colorado, provides an alternative viewpoint and advises cat owners to discuss this with their veterinarian. “Unfortunately, there’s still more we don’t know about CBD therapy in cats than what we do know. I suspect within my practice lifetime, we will have solid data on what dose of CBD treats various conditions. However, at this point, most of what exists on the topic is anecdotal. I support cat owners being proactive about their cats’ care but caution against medicating with CBD without a thorough discussion with their veterinarian on data-driven treatments first.”

The weight — and dosage — of a cat versus a dog can vary wildly, of course. But if you are already using CBD oil for your dog, your cat can take the same formula. (Although it’s always good to double check with your veterinarian.)

“The good news is that there is no difference in dog CBD to cat CBD,” Jon says. “The difference would be in the other ingredients that the CBD is suspended in or combined with. We are conscious of creating products for both species since many homes have both animals that can share in the natural wellness products that we create.”

Their common biology makes this an option. “All mammals contain an endocannabinoid system, which was discovered about 25 years ago,” Grace says. “This important signaling system runs on cannabinoids like CBD. That’s why CBD oil seems to be so helpful for both humans and cats (and your other furry companions!) because we share this system together.”

Administering CBD Oil for Cats

Pet Releaf invited Catster editors to Colorado, where co-founder Steve Smith showed us Pet Releaf’s Certified USDA Organic hemp farm that grows a strain of hemp specifically for pet products.

Pet Releaf invited Catster editors to Colorado, where co-founder Steve Smith showed us Pet Releaf’s Certified USDA Organic hemp farm that grows a strain of hemp specifically for pet products. Photography ©Melissa Kauffman.

Obviously cats are different, which includes not eating every food or treat that comes their way. “Cat owners are always looking for a product that is palatable and easy to administer, as cats are often more particular when it comes to treats and supplements,” Heidi says.

CBD oil comes in a variety of delivery methods — primarily oil, tinctures or treats. (A tincture is the distilled liquid from the plant, to which an oil is often added, usually taken in small amounts via a dropper.) For cats, some companies add catnip or salmon oil for palatability.

Giving CBD oil to your cat orally, or often called sublingually (under the tongue — more terms!), is preferred by some, but there are topical applications, as well. For the outside-in approach, Heidi recommends rubbing the oil in the tips of your cat’s ears.

“I prefer oral administration for best absorption,” Dr. Krause says. “However, there are anecdotal reports of improvement of oral tumors improving with topical application. Wounds and tumors may benefit from topical hemp/CBD application. However, we have no evidence this can reduce tumor size.”

Chelsea Gennings, vice president of business development and special projects of Pet Releaf, in Littleton, Colorado, says, “When looking for a topical product, cat parents should look for skin-penetrating ingredients included alongside the hemp extract.”

Lauren Brychell, marketing coordinator with cbdMD in Charlotte, North Carolina, adds, “Although it may be tricky to put the drops directly into your cat’s mouth, that would be the preferred method. Applying CBD oil directly to their food is also an easy method of application for cats.”

Once your cat has consumed the CBD oil, Grace says it takes about 20 minutes to get into the system with the effects tending to last for a few hours.

Beware Other Ingredients in CBD Oil for Cats

While your dog and cat may be able to share CBD oil formulas, don’t risk sharing your own. Some human CBD products include ingredients not safe for pets.

“It’s important to know the source of the hemp, the extraction process and any added ingredients,” Dr. Krause says. “A guaranteed analysis should also be readily available. I understand some have chocolate, xylitol or alcohol in them. All three of these ingredients would make the product unsafe for animals.”

What You’ll Pay for CBD Oil for Cats

As for the cost of CBD oil for cats, prices vary. “Currently you can expect to pay $0.10 to $.30 per mg of CBD,” Dr. Krause says. “Hemp is expensive! However, with the Farm Bill passing, hemp will become more readily available, and I am hopeful that the cost will decrease over the next five years.”

What to Ask Before Buying CBD Oil for Cats

Like any product, there are different CBD oil companies and formulas for cats. Before you commit to a particular brand of CBD oil for cats, consider how you like its approach in general, and specifically how it relates to CBD oil.

“Know where the hemp is grown,” recommends Angie Krause, DVM, with Boulder Holistic Vet in Boulder, Colorado. “U.S. hemp grown organically is preferred. Extraction technique is very important. For cats, I prefer CO2 extraction. This ensures there is no harmful chemical residues. A guaranteed analysis should be available from the manufacturer to quantify the concentration of CBD in each ml.”

Additionally, Chelsea Gennings, VP of business development and special projects of Pet Releaf, in Littleton, Colorado, recommends you ask the following questions when comparing CBD products to help you make the best selection for your cat:

  1. Where is their hemp grown and can they prove it?
  2. If claiming organic, do they have the necessary certifications to support those claims?
  3. What extraction method are they using and do they have consistent solvent testings to prove no residual chemicals are in the final product?
  4. How much CBD is in their products and do they have consistent third-party testings to confirm these amounts?

A final look at terminology — some manufacturers tout CBD isolate while others say full spectrum is better. Here’s the difference and an industry professional’s take on each:

Full spectrum, or whole plant, CBD contains all other cannabinoids found in the marijuana plant, including minute amounts of THC. “We refer to our active ingredient as ‘full spectrum hemp oil’ because there is more than just CBD,” says Jodi Ziskin, director of communications with Treatibles in Petaluma, California. “We include supporting cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids that are naturally occurring to provide the entourage effect, thereby increasing the efficacy of the CBD.” CBD isolate is purified CBD that has been extracted from the marijuana plant and isolated, hence the name, from the other cannabinoids.

“Our knowledge about CBD and its benefits are well-established, but we are just beginning to learn about the possible benefits of other compounds in the hemp plant. To claim the benefit of a full spectrum product over CBD itself, is premature,” says Joshua Sosnow, DVM, owner of North Scottsdale Animal Hospital and Desert View Animal Hospital, and co-founder of CompanionCBD.

Why the 2018 Farm Bill Matters When It Comes to CBD Oil for Cats

President Trump signed the Farm Bill into law on December 20, 2018, legalizing cultivating and producing industrial hemp (which contains less than 0.3 percent THC).

President Trump signed the Farm Bill into law on December 20, 2018, legalizing
cultivating and producing industrial hemp (which contains less than 0.3 percent THC). Photography ©ZUMA Press, Inc. | Alamy Stock Photo.

In December 2018, President Trump signed the much anticipated 2018 Farm Bill into law. And this is something that can affect cat owners from farm houses to townhouses regarding CBD. In short, the Farm Bill officially legalizes cultivating and producing industrial hemp and removing the crop from the federal list of controlled substances.

That last part may also free up your veterinarian to be able to discuss CBD oil more in depth with you. The Federal Drug Enforcement Administration named cannabis and cannabinoid products as Schedule I controlled substances, with no accepted medical use. That hindered veterinarians’ ability to administer or prescribe them. Some vets opted not to talk about CBD as a treatment because of these restrictions.

“Now that the Farm Bill has passed, I believe this will not be an issue moving forward,” says Angie Krause, DVM, with Boulder Holistic Vet in Boulder, Colorado. “Hemp is legal at a federal level, and each state will decide how they want to regulate hemp. If a state declares hemp illegal, it may limit the veterinarian’s ability to prescribe or discuss hemp/CBD.”

The Farm Bill will:

  1. Define industrial hemp broadly to cover all parts of the Cannabis plant including seeds, derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, etc. as long as it has a THC level of 0.3 percent or less.
  2. Remove hemp completely from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
  3. Make the USDA the sole federal regulatory agency overseeing hemp cultivation.
  4. Authorize and fund hemp research as part of the Supplemental and Alternative Crops program and the Critical Agricultural Materials Act. Regarding that research, Heidi Hill, Holistic Hound founder and trained homeopath in Berkeley, California, says, “We are thrilled with this victory … This decision will also fund and allow long-overdue research into the many health and wellness benefits of this amazing plant.”

The Bottom Line on CBD Oil for Cats

These are some of the basics of CBD and what to keep in mind when it comes to CBD oil for cats. Not surprisingly, there is much more you can learn. Decide what’s most important to you, then do your homework and buy accordingly.

Thumbnail: Photography ©Olezzo | Getty Images.

About the author

Elizabeth Anderson Lopez is an award-winning writer based in Lake Forest, California. She and her husband have many pets, and she grew up with two highly originally named calico cats, Patches and Punkin. You can contact her at fromconcepttocontent.com.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Catster magazine. Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting area of your vet’s office? Click here to subscribe to Catster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home. 

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