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The pet cannabidiol (CBD) category continues to boom, with benefits attributed to hemp products ranging from decreased anxiety and increased mobility to improved cognition and pain relief. With pet CBD available in oils, capsules, chews, balms and seemingly every format under the sun, navigating the category can feel overwhelming for pet retailers less familiar with CBD.

A lack of clear regulation and misinformation spread by both the media and less-reputable CBD companies themselves has compounded confusion about the category, said Bryan Radtke, CEO of Kradle, a Minneapolis-based pet CBD manufacturer.

“Clear and reasonable regulations would benefit everyone: consumers, manufacturers, retailers and regulators,” he said. “Right now, there’s a patchwork quilt of state and local regulation that makes it more difficult for everyone than it needs to be.”

Although CBD is nearly everywhere these days, its mainstream use in human and pet products has really only exploded within the past decade—so it’s no wonder retailers might feel less comfortable when discussing CBD products than when recommending foods or treats.

“The independent retailer has made huge strides in the last decade to educate customers on foods that they carry by breaking down the ingredients that fuel a healthy lifestyle and diet,” said Steve Smith, president and co-founder of Littleton, Colo.-based manufacturer Pet Releaf. “This effort should be applied to every area of the store, including [CBD] supplements.”

To successfully sell CBD products, retailers need to be able to discuss the ins and outs of CBD, how it is made and which products work best for specific pets or wellness concerns.

“In an oversaturated market, it is important to offer brands that you can discuss every part of the process, how it works and when to recommend what,” Smith said. “When retailers understand all of these areas, it makes their job easier to sell the products and minimize returns.”

Where Regulations Stand

One of the category’s biggest areas of confusion is the federal and state regulation of CBD—or lack thereof.

The last major shift in CBD legislation was the 2018 Farm Bill, which removed hemp, CBD and other cannabis products low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) from the Controlled Substance Act’s definition of marijuana, Radtke explained.

THC is the psychoactive compound that causes a “high” in marijuana plants. Both marijuana and hemp plants come from the cannabis family. A cannabis plant is classified as marijuana if it contains more than 0.3 percent THC, or as hemp if it contains 0.3 percent THC or less. CBD products are made from hemp, which means they are low in THC and do not cause a high when used by pets or people.

“When the 2018 Farm Bill was signed into law, it made hemp and hemp-derived ingredients, including CBD oil, legal at the federal level,” said Julianna Carella, founder and CEO of Treatibles, a pet CBD manufacturer in Nashville, Tenn.

This federal legislation made it legal to transport CBD products across state lines, and hemp products were removed from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)’s Schedule I drug list, Carella explained.

Previously, the DEA had not distinguished between CBD and marijuana, and all cannabis plants fell under Schedule I, which includes “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” such as heroin and LSD. Although CBD has been descheduled and many states legalized marijuana, marijuana remains on the DEA’s Schedule I list.

Since the 2018 Farm Bill was passed, all 50 U.S. states have adopted CBD regulation based on the bill, Smith said.

“State regulations are always changing,” he said. “At this time, hemp-based products are legal in all 50 states, although the law can vary from state to state. The three states that have the most restrictions at this time are Iowa, Nebraska and North Dakota.”

Smith is a board member of the Hemp Industries Association and U.S. Hemp Roundtable, a coalition of companies and organizations committed to safe hemp and CBD products. In his work with U.S. Hemp Roundtable, he is a member of its U.S. Food & Drug Administration Committee.

He encourages retailers to visit hempsupporter.com/state-action for information on state-by-state legislation from the U.S. Hemp Roundtable.

Pet Releaf focuses on federal guidelines and typically applies state-specific packaging requirements to all of its packaging nationwide.

“For example, back in 2018, Indiana required QR codes for all CBD products,” Smith said. “Instead of providing special packaging just for Indiana, we adopted the QR code for all of our packaging, which helps customers get to all of our third-party testing and certifications of analysis.”

Though it is legal federally and in all 50 states, CBD is not approved for use in food or drinks.

“There is a reason you have yet to see CBD-coated kibble on retailers’ shelves,” Smith said. “The Association of American Feed Control Officials [AAFCO] prohibits selling any animal food or feed that incorporates CBD.”

This restriction also applies to treats, which are considered food by both the FDA and AAFCO, Radtke said.

“Food products and treats are formulated and intended to provide nutritional value to the pet,” Radtke said. “Kradle products [which include CBD chews, melts, toppers and more] are not formulated or intended to provide sustaining nutrition, but are dosage form animal health products, similar to dietary supplements for humans.”

That is why manufacturers avoid putting the word “treats” on the packaging or labels of CBD products.

“CBD pet products are defined by the FDA as ‘dosage form animal health products,’” Carella said. “Any reputable CBD for pets company refers to their products as ‘chews’ or ‘chewables’ and labels products accordingly—without guaranteed analysis results and with active/inactive ingredient listings.”

Regulations Moving Forward

Radtke, Smith and Carella all agree that more formal regulation of CBD products would be a net gain for the category.

“Formal FDA regulation of CBD for both humans and animals is the biggest change we expect to see in the next five years—and hopefully much sooner,” Radtke said. “Hemp farmers, manufacturers, brands and, most importantly, the consumers we serve have been negatively impacted by the FDA’s reluctance to regulate CBD products. This has created massive and unnecessary confusion in the marketplace about the safety and effectiveness of CBD products.”

Carella said unsavory manufacturers have gotten away with making unsubstantiated claims about their products.

“We are encouraged that the FDA has begun sending warning letters to non-compliant companies making false claims,” she said. “This is a good thing for consumers and legitimate CBD companies.”

The lack of regulations also creates a moving goalpost for manufacturers.

“To stay compliant, [Pet Releaf has] had to alter many labels and verbiage over time,” Smith said. “We know that this can be confusing to consumers and retailers, which is why it is so important to constantly stay in the know and receive trainings on how to navigate your customers through this ever-changing category. Anyone purchasing or selling CBD products should be excited about regulation.”

One potential development on the horizon is H.R.841, the Hemp and Hemp-Derived CBD Consumer Protection and Market Stabilization Act of 2021. The bill was introduced by a bipartisan group of House representatives in February and would allow CBD and other hemp-derived ingredients to be lawfully marketed as dietary supplements, Radtke explained.

Smith emphasized that clear regulation would help curb unsafe hemp sources, profiles and extraction methods. He encourages retailers and consumers to share their support of H.R.841 with their congresspersons at hempsupporter.com.

A similar bill was also introduced to the Senate in May 2021. S.1698, the Hemp Access and Consumer Safety Act, would allow hemp-derived CBD and substances that contain it to be used in dietary supplements and food.

Backing Up the Brands

With regulations still evolving, manufacturers rely on third-party testing, certificates of analysis and quality seals to authenticate their products.

Kradle, Pet Releaf and Treatibles all have pages on their websites dedicated to certificates of analysis and testing results for each product in their lineups.

“Reputable brands should be open and transparent about their ingredients and finished products and should back that up with third-party certificates of analysis for each and every batch or lot,” Radtke said.

Certificates of analysis are important not only to show levels of cannabinoids, but also the absence of pesticides, insecticides and biocontaminants, Carella said.

Kradle, Pet Releaf and Treatibles have each earned the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) Quality Seal, which identifies companies that are “committed to quality, vgilance and continuous improvement to promote the well-being of companion animals and horses,” according to the NASC website.

The NASC Quality Seal indicates a company has:

  • stringent labeling compliance,
  • random product testing,
  • ingredients reviewed by the NASC Scientific Advisory Committee,
  • documented quality control and production procedures, and
  • real-time product monitoring and mandatory adverse-event reporting.

“One of the reasons we found it so important to earn the NASC Quality Seal for our products is to help both retailers and consumers feel confident that we follow the latest regulations and are committed to always being compliant,” Carella said.

In 2019, Pet Releaf became the first pet-only CBD company to receive the U.S. Hemp Authority Seal. According to Pet Releaf’s website, the seal guarantees safe and trustworthy products, intense seed-to-sale third-party audits, and product legality under federal and state laws.

Another seal naturally minded retailers will want to watch for is the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Organic Seal, which certifies that a product is grown and processed according to federal organic guidelines.

Navigating the Category

In addition to quality seals, there are many other factors that pet retailers should consider when sifting through the seemingly bottomless CBD category.

“The CBD market is so saturated that our company gets roughly 10 calls a week with new companies trying to break out in the pet marketplace with our help,” said Kim McCohan, senior manager of Bend Pet Express, a retailer with two stores in Bend, Ore.

Unfortunately, not all brands can be trusted, according to Carella.

“For every reputable hemp CBD for pets company, there are a few that simply are not,” Carella said. “Many of these companies jumped on the bandwagon but unfortunately offer subpar products.”

Carella said that some companies are sourcing hemp from China, where soil may contain toxins and biocontaminants. Others make false claims on their labels and websites or misrepresent the amount of CBD in their products, she said.

McCohan suggests retailers looking to onboard CBD products for the first time start narrowing their options by asking three questions.

1. How long has the company been in business, specifically in the pet market?

If the answer is less than three years, McCohan recommends passing. If it is five years or older, the company is worth a longer look.

“Could there be a decent company in the middle? Sure,” she said. “However, if you are trying to carry the most reputable companies, they are older than three years and have the customer reviews to show why they have survived in this cutthroat hemp market.”

2. Does the product have the certified organic seal?

While any company can claim its products are organic, the USDA Organic Seal proves it. Considering only companies that carry both the USDA Organic Seal and the NASC Quality Seal can help narrow options down even further.

3. Is the company a rebrand and/or private label?

This question has helped Bend Pet Express suss out whether a company or product is one that they have already passed on in the past.

McCohan said retailers who want to move forward should dive deeper to learn:

  • Where is the hemp grown/sourced?
  • Is the product made with full-spectrum, broad-spectrum or isolate extracts?
  • Does every batch have a lot code that customers can input online to view random third-party lab results?
  • Are the dosage amounts on the package easy to read, and do they match up with the company’s answer when you ask a dosing question?
  • How is the hemp extracted?
  • Does the company guarantee all of its products?

While such thorough vetting may seem overwhelming, manufacturers urge retailers not to shy away from the category entirely.

“The reality is that someone doesn’t need to be an expert in CBD or on all brands of all CBD,” Smith said. “They just need to know what they should be looking for.”

A reputable brand will provide easy-to-find FAQs, a clear explanation of its seed-to-sale process, and documentation and explanations of its certifications, Smith said.

“If a company doesn’t proactively share this information, retailers and consumers should be cautious and consider an alternate brand,” he said.

How To Stay in the Know

While retailers don’t necessarily need to be experts on all things CBD, the more they know, the better.

Those looking to bolster their CBD knowledge and create an assortment that caters to a variety of customers should turn to reputable manufacturers that provide resources to dispel misinformation and clear up confusion, Carella said. Treatibles, for example, provides weekly interactive webinars for retailers that cover legal advances, scientific studies, product overviews and more.

“We also feel it is important to provide collateral information to not only retailers, but for them to be able to pass on to their customers,” Carella said. “For example, we supply our retailers with brochures, catalogs and dosage cards. … We also provide in-store demos for both staff and customers.”

Industry insiders often identify three key areas as aspects that retailers should understand regarding CBD pet products that they sell: full-spectrum versus broad-spectrum versus isolate extracts, certificates of analysis and convenience.

1. Full-spectrum versus broad-spectrum versus isolate extracts

Retailers should make sure to know whether the CBD products they sell are full-spectrum, broad-spectrum or isolate extracts.

Carella explained that full-spectrum CBD extracts are made from the entire hemp plant and contain all of its cannabinoids, including up to 0.3 percent trace amounts of THC, and other various compounds. To create broad-spectrum extracts, handpicked cannabinoids—typically THC—are removed entirely. To create CBD isolate extracts, all cannabinoids and other compounds are removed except for CBD.

While isolates may initially sound like the safest option, the other compounds that join CBD in full- or broad-spectrum extracts actually provide a variety of benefits that help hemp oil best work with the body’s endocannabinoid system, Carella said.

“[Hemp oil] is rich in CBD, supporting cannabinoids, terpenes, antioxidants and fatty acids,” Carella explained. “Full-spectrum hemp CBD oil means that all of these compounds are present in the oil. This results in the ‘entourage effect,’ which refers to a boost in the therapeutic benefits of CBD when these compounds work in unison.”

Pet Releaf and Treatibles both use full-spectrum hemp oil in their products, while Kradle opts for THC-free broad-spectrum oil.

“We believe broad spectrum provides all the benefits of the whole plant while virtually eliminating THC and the risks that accompany it,” Radtke said. “Safety for pets and peace of mind for the pet parents we serve are our top priorities.”

2. Certificates of analysis

Reputable CBD manufacturers make their certificates of analysis readily available. Retailers should know where to point customers to find them online.

“Retailers have a right to know the products they’re offering their shoppers are high quality and safe, and consumers have a right to peace of mind in knowing what they’re giving their pets is the same,” Radtke said.

3. Convenience

Individual pets and owners prefer different CBD formats. Some owners may like being able to tinker with their pet’s dose when using an oil, while others prefer the convenience of chews. Kradle, Pet Releaf and Treatibles all offer a range of formats to meet various consumer needs.

CBD Glossary

Broad-spectrum hemp extract – Hemp extract that contains multiple cannabinoids, terpenes and other beneficial compounds, with hand-selected cannabinoids (like THC) removed.

Cannabidiol (CBD) – A non-psychoactive cannabinoid extracted from a hemp plant. CBD is believed to provide a variety of benefits, including anxiety, pain and inflammation relief; improved cognitive function; and more.

Cannabinoids – Beneficial substances found in cannabis plants that bind to receptors in the endocannabinoid system to provide various benefits.

Cannabis – The family of plants that includes hemp and marijuana.

CBD isolate – Hemp extract that contains only CBD, with all other cannabinoids and terpenes removed.

Endocannabinoid system – A regulatory system in the body of all humans and animals that keeps organs and systems working cohesively. Cannabinoids bind to the endocannabinoid system’s receptors to help the nervous, muscular, immune, respiratory and cardiovascular systems work together effectively.

Full-spectrum hemp oil – Hemp extract that contains all the plant’s cannabinoids (including CBD and trace amounts of THC), terpenes and other beneficial compounds.

Hemp – A cannabis plant with 0.3 percent THC or less. CBD oil is extracted from hemp.

Marijuana – A cannabis plant with more than 0.3 percent THC. CBD products are not made from marijuana.

Terpenes – Compounds found in plants that provide various aromatic and beneficial effects. Terpenes are found alongside cannabinoids in hemp and help distinguish strains of CBD from one another.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – A psychoactive cannabinoid that produces a “high.” Because CBD products are low in THC, they do not produce a high.

Compiled with information from Bryan Radtke, CEO of Kradle in Minneapolis, and Min Lee, president of brand developmentand co-founder of Honest Paws in League City, Texas.