By Anne Marie Chaker
Barbara Hightower has found a solution to her 9-year-old dog Moose’s panic attacks: Treats made from cannabis.
Ms. Hightower, a 63-year-old homemaker in Madison, N.J., says the biscuits have helped calm Moose’s sudden shaking and hiding under furniture. “It takes the edge off his anxiety,” she says.
The supplements contain a hemp extract called cannabidiol, or CBD, which has garnered a flurry of interest among people who take it for everything from sleep to stress reduction. Its human proponents say the products provide a wash of calm without producing a psychoactive “high” like marijuana, hemp’s sister in the cannabis plant family. Now, people are trying it on their pets.
Despite regulatory hurdles, CBD products are flooding into the mainstream: In recent weeks major chains such as GNC and Walgreens have begun carrying it in certain stores. In all, the CBD food and supplements business is expected to snowball to $5.69 billion in 2019, according to cannabis market-research firm Brightfield Group, which anticipates even more store chains stocking CBD in the coming months. In the pet world, CBD-infused products are an already estimated $199 million business and expected to grow to $1.16 billion by 2022, according to Brightfield.
Therabis says its Calm and Quiet dog treats ($35 to $55 per 60-count bag) contain anywhere from two to four milligrams of CBD per soft chew. A one-milligram formulation for cats ($15 per 60-count bag) comes in chicken and catnip flavor. Directions on both packages say to give two chews “before stressful situations.” Pet Releaf’s Edibites contain two to five milligrams of CBD in each soft chew supplement, and come in flavors such as sweet potato pie and peanut butter & carob swirl.
Kat Donatello, owner of Austin and Kat pet biscuits and oils, says pet owners who buy her products come in two camps: Those with aging dogs and cats with mobility issues or anxious, jittery pets. She recommends one to two milligrams of CBD for every 10 pounds of weight, and suggests giving the treats 45 minutes before the anxiety-inducing event. “For instance, if you know the doorbell’s ringing, the mailman’s coming, or your dog has separation anxiety when you leave for work,” she says.
In Portland, Ore., Joan Thompson’s 14-year-old cat, Myla, had been howling every night for the last four months. It started when her other cat, Dudley, died in December. “They were close,” says the 51-year-old literacy instructor. “We were literally getting no sleep.” Even after visits to the veterinarian, along with medicine to clear any physical issues, she says, the nightly wailing persisted. Three weeks ago, Ms. Thompson attended a presentation on CBD at a local pet food store, and decided to give it a try. Now, she adds a few drops of CBD oil to Myla’s cat treat each night before bedtime. The upshot: Myla either sleeps through the night or wakes up once. “It’s a huge improvement,” she says.
Veterinarians caution that research on CBD in veterinary patients is thin, and there are still a lot of unknowns, from dosing information to types of conditions that may benefit. “A lot of the information we have is anecdotal,” says Gail Golab, chief veterinary officer for the American Veterinary Medical Association. She adds that though she is not aware of significant adverse reactions from CBD, “we’re not just assuming a product is safe because we haven’t heard differently,” she says.
The legal landscape for CBD products is complicated. Hemp, a member of the cannabis family from which CBD is derived, got a huge boost in December, when President Trump signed a new $867 billion farm bill that removed it from a list of federally controlled substances. The Food and Drug Administration still says CBD products cannot be sold in dietary supplements or added to food—including for pets—that is sold between states. But states have a patchwork of regulations that some have interpreted as opening the door. The FDA’s own Q&A on CBD says: “Is it legal for me to sell CBD products? It depends, among other things, on the intended use of the product and how it is labeled and marketed.”
Bill Bookout, president of the National Animal Supplement Council, says that 70 companies exhibited hemp products containing CBD at a recent trade show. “They are saying, ‘It must be legal if the other guy is doing it,’ ” says Todd A. Harrison, partner at Venable LLP which advises the council.
Veterinarians say they toe the line when it comes to customers who inquire about it. In California, a law passed last year allows veterinarians to discuss use of cannabis for their animal patients, though they still cannot recommend it. That discrepancy makes some veterinarians nervous in their discussions. “That leads your client to read between the lines,” says Diana Drumm, a veterinarian in San Diego who says she feels comfortable discussing CBD’s potential benefits only with patients she knows well. “I have been more reticent to discuss specifics since that law,” she says.
CBD pet products are typically found outside of the mainstream chains, whether online or in independent pet shops. Bow Wow Meow in San Francisco carries about 12 CBD products, says manager Amy Bearg, from pet-friendly peanut butter to biscuits. “If you’re not taking a little bit of a risk, you’re not trying anything new,” says Ms. Bearg. At Natural Pet Enrichment Center in North Royalton, Ohio, owner Christine McCoy says sales of CBD treats and supplements have increased 30% in the last year.
Some of the bigger chains, which don’t currently carry CBD products, are waiting and watching for now: “We’re closely following the trends and changing regulatory landscape,” a Petco spokeswoman wrote in an emailed statement. PetSmart says it “does not currently sell these products” but will “continue to monitor their place in the market.”
Meanwhile, consumers are stocking up. In Madison, N.J., Ms. Hightower is preparing to move to a new house in the coming weeks and thinks the change will be stressful for Moose. “There’s going to be upheaval,” she says. “I already ordered extra supplies of biscuits.”
Write to Anne Marie Chaker at firstname.lastname@example.org