There’s no denying that cannabidiol (CBD) pet products, while still a relatively young category, have struck a chord with pet owners hoping to offer their pets comfort and relief from a variety of common health conditions. Pet owners’ accelerated acceptance of CBD pet products combined with a better understanding of how these products work has led to an influx of products available on the market—including oils, chews, pills and creams—to meet demand.
"The CBD pet category is rapidly growing, and we’re seeing that the positive results from consistent CBD use is easily recognized," said Marilyn Good, director of pet sales for Charlotte’s Web in Boulder, Colo. "… Pet owners are telling their friends and family of their experiences, and that allows organic growth of the category."
Manufacturers tout a wide range of benefits from their CBD pet products—from anxiety relief and skin care to digestive and immune system support.
Good said CBD supports dogs with everyday stress, hip and joint issues, and cognition.
Chelsea Gennings, co-founder and vice president of Littleton, Colo.-based Pet Releaf, which manufactures hemp oils for both cats and dogs, as well as topicals, capsules and chews for dogs, emphasized CBD’s anti-inflammatory effects.
"CBD helps to keep a lot of issues away for longer, which is why we recommend it for pets at all ages, even puppies," Gennings said.
The scope of CBD’s benefits can be traced to its role in the endocannabinoid system. In mammals, the endocannabinoid system is linked to almost every system in the body, including the cardiovascular and digestive systems, and has a role in relaxation and cognition and memory, according to Pet Releaf’s website.
CBD, which is naturally found in hemp and cannabis plants, works with receptors in the endocannabinoid system to allow for two-way communication between the brain and body systems, making these systems more efficient and effective.
Still, while CBD has shown many observational benefits for both humans and animals, the field calls for more scientific studies, according to Todd Rowan, head of sales and marketing for Boulder, Colo.-based Bixbi Pet, which recently launched a broad-spectrum hemp oil.
"There are many benefits often attributed to CBD, but research still needs to be done," he said.
Creation of the CBD Category
Although CBD seems to be around every corner nowadays, the market has really only been around since 2013.
In the human market, CBD garnered attention through the story of a young girl named Charlotte Figi, Good explained. Figi’s parents had turned to medical marijuana to manage her seizures.
The Stanley Brothers, Colorado marijuana growers and dispensary owners, set out to help Figi with a strain of hemp that was high in CBD and low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound in marijuana that creates a high.
In 2013, when Figi was 6 years old, her story was featured in CNN’s documentary "Weed." By that time, with the help of CBD oil, she had gone from having about 300 grand mal seizures a week to having about two or three per month, according to CNN.
"That kick-started the CBD industry," Good said.
The specific strain used by Figi was named "Charlotte’s Web," and the Stanley Brothers have since expanded into offering a variety of CBD products for humans and CBD drops, chews and a balm for dogs.
Pet Releaf and a handful of other CBD-focused brands emerged in early 2014, Gennings said. As recent as 2016, public knowledge of CBD was still very limited, she noted.
"Pet Releaf, as the pioneer and market leader, was in only 500 independent pet stores at the end of 2016," Gennings said. "Pet Releaf was still spending 80 percent of its time educating retailers and end consumers alike that our CBD products were from hemp and not marijuana."
Today, Pet Releaf is sold in more than 5,000 stores and multiple countries, Gennings said, and the biggest uphill battle is a push for more regulation.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is currently in the process of drafting regulations for hemp and hemp-derived supplements, and farming rules from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are anticipated in late fall. Pet Releaf has a seat at the table, as its president and co-founder, Steve Smith, is a member of the U.S. Hemp Roundtable Board of Directors and the roundtable’s FDA, Vetting and Marketing committees.
"The growth in the CBD category is not slowing down any time soon, at least not until the rules and regulations are implemented," Gennings said. "… Five years from now, you will not see about 80 percent of the companies that are on the market right now. The rules and regulations coming out will make the hemp world a much higher barrier of entry compared to what it is right now."
According to Rowan, the scientific community has only recently started proper research on the benefits of CBD.
"This scientific focus was in large part driven by an improving regulatory environment," he said.
Good said that retailers and consumers alike need to understand that not all CBD is created equal. She provided a checklist of recommendations for retailers looking for manufacturers and products with high standards that can be trusted:
• Make sure the manufacturer has control from farm to shelf and uses quality raw materials.
• Ask if the manufacturer does its own extracting.
• If the manufacturer doesn’t do its own extracting, find out who does and what solvents are used.
• Request batch testing. Look for traces of contaminants, toxins and heavy metals.
• Do your own research. Find out what’s working for other people. Google and ask friends and neighbors.
Sticking With Their Stock
While it’s clear that the category is booming, questions about quality and anticipation of upcoming regulations makes it crucial for retailers to build relationships with trustworthy CBD manufacturers. Many are choosing to keep their stock limited to just a few suppliers.
"With the continually rising talk of CBD product regulations, I see the next few years being possibly challenging, dependent on what regulatory actions are taken and how the media presents it to the public," said Allen Pate, owner of Nashville Holistic Pet, which has locations in Nashville and Franklin, Tenn.
Pate’s stores primarily carry CBD products from one supplier.
"There are so many products and manufacturers these days," he said. "We are sticking with one we trust. We have visited their facility and know from who and where the product comes. … We see them at least quarterly and communicate via email as needed."
Wade Warila, owner of Pets Pets Pets in Westford, Mass., shared a similar sentiment.
"The lines we represent are Phyto Animal Health, Super Snout and Treatibles," he said. "We have confidence in the three we have chosen, and quality, consistency and availability all have to be on par."
For now, BigDogBoutique in Carthage, Mo., is sticking with two brands and a limited selection: Pet Releaf’s Edibites and hemp oils, and True Leaf’s Hip + Joint chews.
"I don’t like to overwhelm my customers with too many choices when it comes to supplements such as CBD, especially right now when it’s so new," owner Jeanette Cartright said.
Strong retailer-manufacturer relationships can benefit both sides.
"Our retail partners are amazing," Gennings said. "They always keep us in the loop with how our products are doing and always provide insight into what else is going on within the market. Our products are what you would call a ‘sticky product,’ meaning that because we have such a high percentage of happy customers that purchase Pet Releaf, those customers are repeat customers to our retail partners."
Cartright said she sees "tremendous growth" ahead for the category.
"As knowledge increases, so will the ability to offer CBD in other forms," she said. "Possibly in holistic dog foods, skin care and even hemp-based textiles such as toys and dog clothing, [and] possibly crossing over into veterinary practices."
Gennings said the CBD pet category could also eventually expand beyond dogs and cats.
"Every mammal has an endocannabinoid system, which means that they can all benefit from an organic, full-spectrum CBD hemp oil," she said. "I would say that, yes, there is demand for CBD products outside of just the dog and cat category because all animals experience arthritis, inflammation, pain, etc."
Delivery and Formats: Convenience Is Key
Retailers and consumers in the market for CBD products have no shortage of delivery methods and formats to choose from, including oils, chews, capsules and creams.
Shoppers at Nashville Holistic Pet can choose between CBD oils, liposomes, capsules and chews.
"I would think that it is close to 50/50 on delivery methods," Pate said. "Those customers with a more regimented routine are probably more likely to mix oils or capsules with their pets’ food. Those who use it more on an as-needed basis are more likely to use it in a treat form."
Gennings said the top three factors customers shopping for CBD products consider are the safety of the hemp and its processing, the ingredient profile and the convenience of the delivery method.
"Even though treats seem like the most convenient delivery method, we personally think that the oils are the most convenient," she said. "However, we know that customers love to just throw their dog an Edibite and call it a day. It’s all about what’s the most convenient for the customer and easiest for that animal."
Warila noted that Phyto Animal Health’s line sells particularly well at Pets Pets Pets, and its HempBone Bacon Apple Donuts are particularly "on point." He also sees good performance from Treatibles’ Grain Free Chews.
"They are on the lower side as far as usable amounts or milligrams of CBD, which is often good for entry-level customers," Warila said.
Gennings noted that a unit of measurement for a CBD or hemp product cannot legally be called a "dosage."
"This is not a pharmaceutical drug where there is an exact ‘dosage,’ or, like we say, ‘usage amount,’" she explained. "Each animal is different. They might have an extremely fast metabolism, be dealing with a greater deal of pain or be experiencing anxiety levels that are higher than we think. That’s why we say it might take a bit of time to come up with the correct usage for your animal and their specific situation."
Rowan said peer-reviewed research on the ideal amount of CBD for the treatment of osteoarthritis and seizures in dogs has emerged in the past two years. One study described in a 2018 Frontiers in Veterinary Science article found that 2 milligrams of CBD per kilogram of dog weight, given twice daily, was effective in alleviating symptoms of osteoarthritis.
"However, most pets don’t need clinical-strength administration," Rowan said. "Bixbi CBD doses at half that clinical level, but it can be doubled if the animal needs extra support."
He said Bixbi is driving and funding further research in the category.
"The CBD category is still young," he said. "It will soon evolve to a place more rooted in peer-reviewed science than the unsubstantiated marketing claims that drive the category now. Longer-term, exciting research will clarify how different cannabinoid cocktails can assist with very specific ailments."
What’s New in CBD
With the CBD pet product market expected to grow and customers becoming more aware of the benefits these products offer, manufacturers are developing new products to meet demand.
Pet Releaf recently introduced its Keith Haring Barking Dog Collection, a line of its handmade, baked Edibites chews. The collection is dedicated to American pop artist Keith Haring, and sales benefit various animal rescues.
The products were developed to reflect Haring’s love for New York by highlighting the food scenes in Manhattan. The collection includes Pizza and Sushi flavors in a 1,200-milligram full-spectrum hemp extract formula and a 3,000-milligram formula for large breeds.
Pet Releaf also released its Boom Bars, granola and hemp protein bars for dogs that come in three varieties: Energize, Longevity and Recovery.
"Grab one while you’re on a hike or right after a long run to help with whatever you and your pet’s lifestyle demands," Gennings said.
Bixbi Pet entered the CBD space in September with the launch of its broad-spectrum hemp oil tinctures.
"Bixbi CBD tinctures are dosed orally via dropper and deliver award-winning purity, verified levels of CBD and incredible value versus the other products on the market," Rowan said. "They are also NASC [National Animal Supplement Council]-certified and THC free."
The tinctures are available in three formulas:
For cats and small dogs, 400 milligrams of oil containing 160 milligrams of CBD
For medium-sized dogs, 800 milligrams of oil containing 320 milligrams of CBD
For large dogs, 1,600 milligrams of oil containing 640 milligrams of CBD
Fact Versus Fiction:
CBD Pet Products
Julianna Carella, CEO and founder of Treatibles in Petaluma, Calif.
Nick Massey, CEO and co-founder of Green Coast Pet in Pasadena, Calif.
Chelsea Gennings, vice president and co-founder of Pet Releaf in Littleton, Colo.
True or false? CBD does not make pets or people "high."
Julianna Carella: True. Cannabidiol is a nonpsychoactive cannabinoid found in both the hemp and cannabis plants. This valuable compound has been studied for more than 50 years because of its many benefits. These include helping to instill calm and address anxiety, easing discomfort, supporting a healthy digestive tract and strong immune system, and promoting healthy joints, flexibility and a normal inflammatory response.
Many people confuse CBD with THC. THC is the cannabinoid in cannabis that causes the "high." THC is also an effective analgesic, but may not be suitable for animals in large doses, which can be toxic.
Chelsea Gennings: True, if the CBD is coming from a true hemp strain and not a marijuana-hemp hybrid or marijuana strain. CBD is present in the marijuana plant, and dispensaries do offer CBD products that come from marijuana plants. That is why it is so important to get your CBD products from a true hemp strain.
True or false? CBD can be found in pet diets currently on the market.
Nick Massey: False. CBD is not an approved ingredient for animal feed, so it cannot be a part of a pet’s diet. However, CBD can be found in animal remedies that are meant to affect the structure or function of different systems in an animal’s body and are not marketed to provide any nutritional value at all, whatsoever. Anyone who markets CBD as an ingredient in animal feed runs the risk of a stop-sale from a state’s department of agriculture.
Carella: False. The FDA has not approved CBD as a food product. Therefore, by law, it cannot be included in foods or beverages for pets or for people. Treatibles products have been deemed a dosage-form animal health product. Treatibles offers functional chews (not treats, which would be a food item), oil dropper bottles, capsules and a topical cream.
True or false? CBD is illegal.
Gennings: False. CBD is federally legal, but just like gun and abortion laws, states are allowed to make their own rules in regard to CBD. Right now, there are a few states that have outlawed the sale of CBD in that state, but you can still legally possess it.
Massey: False. The 2018 Farm Bill has made it clear that hemp and hemp derivatives like CBD are legal to possess and sell. However, it is illegal to make certain claims about what a CBD product can do. Any product that claims to prevent, cure or mitigate disease is in violation of section 201(g)(1)(B) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. It is also illegal to add CBD or any part of the hemp plant to animal feed, for example, dog food, cat treats or horse snacks. Look for products being marketed as chews if you are in the market for a product that is palatable and easy to dose.
True or false? CBD isn’t safe for my pet.
Carella: False. Based on millions of administrations and data, hemp poses no undue risk to pets. When derived from hemp, CBD is nontoxic and nonpsychoactive. Of course, all pets are unique individuals. In our nearly seven years of providing broad-spectrum hemp oil products with naturally occurring CBD to pets, safety has not been an issue.
Massey: False. Your pet cannot overdose on CBD. However, if your dog is taking medication, consult your veterinarian to make sure CBD won’t interact negatively with what they are taking.
True or false? CBD is only good for sick pets.
Carella: False. Many healthy pets enjoy the benefits of CBD. For example, even the healthiest pets can exhibit situational anxiety—think fireworks, moving, travel or even a trip to the vet. In these situations, CBD can help instill calm and balance. Topically, CBD oils and creams can help manage burns, scratches, bites and a host of other skin conditions, as well as address more general health issues.
Massey: False. CBD promotes homeostasis. It supports normal body functions just like any other supplement. Glucosamine and chondroitin aren’t just for sick pets; these supplements are given to pets for hip and joint maintenance, regardless of whether they are sick or not. The same is true with CBD. That’s why you will see claims on our products like "supports a calm and relaxed demeanor," "supports a normal inflammatory response" or "supports normal neurological function."