A newer pet food product category getting a lot of buzz at US pet trade shows the past two years has been pet treats and supplements featuring cannabidiol (CBD). Sorry for the bad pun; this oil derives from the hemp plant, though a different species than ones containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana responsible for the psychoactive reaction, or high (buzz), in people or animals who imbibe it. CBD does not cause the same reaction, say its proponents in the pet industry.
Sales of CBD pet products doubled in the US from 2014 to 2016, according to MJ Freeway, a data analytics firm referenced by Polly Mosendz in a December 2016 article on Bloomberg.com. Interestingly, the article lumps CBD in the same category as THC, even questioning the ethics of “getting the dog high” (paraphrasing a quote from a senior vice president of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).
Members of the pet industry enthusiastic about CBD cite many positive benefits – or at least what they believe to be its benefits. To date, most evidence appears to be anecdotal, with little scientific, published research. Proponents claim CBD helps pets with pain management, hip and joint issues, inflammation and other issues.
“CBD oil is highly recognized as a natural way to heal the body with pain and inflammation, as well as support the nervous system, digestive system and many other tissues in the body,” said Clare Christensen, key accounts sales manager for Rush Direct, quoted in a March 2017 article in Pet Product News. Rush Direct offers a CBD oil-based supplement for dogs in treat form, Canabits CBD.
Other CBD and related pet treats on the market include Endexx Phyto-Bites, Barkables, Auntie Dolores Kitchen Treatibles, Barkworthies Pumpkin Cannabidiol Treats and Healthy Hemp Pet Products CannaNatural. The number seems to multiply every few months, along with the offerings of pet supplements featuring CBD. Just google “CBD dog treats” to see for yourself.
Lack of research, regulatory approval
Considering how much trends in human food and medicine influence pet food and medicine, it’s not difficult to see a link between the increasing number of US states legalizing marijuana use in humans – whether for medicinal or recreational purposes – and the growing popularity of CBD pet products. Yet just as marijuana is still illegal at a federal level, and even its strongest proponents agree much more research on its effects needs to be conducted, CBD for pets falls into very murky scientific and regulatory areas.
Veterinarians’ views on pets being treated with CBD vary widely, with some citing the lack of scholarly literature on it specifically in relation to pets. Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates pet food in the US, decidedly does not approve of CBD. “With regard to its use in food, FDA's position is that CBD … is an unapproved drug, hence any food (including animal feed or pet food) containing it would be actionable as an adulterated product,” wrote David A. Dzanis, DVM, PhD, DACVN, in a recent Petfood Insights column.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which approves pet food ingredient definitions, addressed the issue at its January 2017 meeting, Dzanis said. “AAFCO has subsequently issued guidelines to note that to date, no hemp-based ingredients have been defined or otherwise sanctioned for use in animal feed, hence any inclusion in a feed or pet food would be objectionable to state feed control officials.”
Demand for pet treats and supplements
Yet pet treats are not subject to the same regulations as complete pet diets; pet supplements fall into an entirely different category under US law. How these regulations and laws apply to CBD even in treats and supplements is still unclear, but that hasn’t dampened demand from consumers and pet retailers for the products.
“The pet product market is very excited about CBD products,” said Brad Solomon, founder/partner of Prana Pets, quoted in the Pet Product News article. “Many retailers want to carry these products, but they are concerned about the legality of CBD. Everybody we speak to agrees about all the amazing benefits associated with this category. Our client testimonials are enough for us. Every client who has tried our CBD products is experiencing positive results.”
Unsurprisingly, manufacturers are taking note. “We started with one vendor approximately two years ago, and now we have many to choose from,” said George Richter, co-owner of a pet store in California, USA, in a May 2017 Pet Product News article.
While it seems highly unlikely that CBD will be incorporated into complete pet diets anytime soon, if ever, given the FDA and AAFCO stances, that hasn’t stopped manufacturers of related products from trying. In March 2017, Naturally Splendid Enterprises, maker of HempOmega hemp seed oil, commissioned a study to show that its proprietary encapsulation process may protect the omega-3 fatty acids, minerals and vitamins in the oil during the pet food manufacturing process. If it ever (legally) makes it into formulations, that is.