CBD may make dogs happier in stressful situations

Norfolk Terrier puppy on the couch, CBD for dog anxiety

Dog owners often welcome their pets as four-legged family members, with hammock beds and beloved toys. Many Millennials are actually opting to have dogs instead of children, which may be why canines are regarded as children.

Even with all the love in the world, some doggos aren’t comfortable being left home alone or riding in the car. These activities can make puppers so anxious that they chew up stuff around the house or bark and whine for an entire road trip. Yes, this is annoying for the person who keeps losing shoes to a dog’s anxiety attack, but what’s worse is the root problem: the dog is nervous and scared. The furry family member deserves to be happy-go-lucky, and one study shows how CBD could help.

CBD for dog anxiety

An original research article published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science uncovered that CBD can reduce anxiety in dogs. The Waltham Petcare Science Institute in the United Kingdom conducted the blinded, parallel design study on 40 dogs of various breeds, ages, and sexes in high-stress situations.

Forty healthy adult Beagles, Labrador Retrievers, and Norfolk Terriers were housed in pairs with indoor and outdoor space and tons of activities. The dogs were at the kennel over a period of six months, where they went through training and socialization programs.

The dogs were split into two groups that depicted a balanced view of the three breeds and the various ages of the participants. Their ages varied from one to nine years old. There is one conflict of interest worth mentioning. The researchers are all employed by a vet provider and dog food manufacturer.

Hemp flower was sourced from Canopy Growth Corporation based in Ontario, Canada, and processed by Kazmira LLC in Colorado. The product was diluted with sunflower oil and dosed into capsules for the study. Capsules were tested for potency and purity, showing that they contained CBD, a little CBDV, and no THC.

Who let the dogs in?

Participating puppers were given the opportunity to get comfortable with the testing equipment and procedures, like blood testing, before the study. They were also weighed to establish accurate CBD dosages. Waltham Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body approved the study and complied with the Animals Act 1986.

Dogs were given CBD and exposed to chronically stressful events, specifically being home alone and going for a ride in the car. Researchers observed one group of dogs with the placebo and another with CBD in the scenarios. Throughout the study, all canines were closely watched for extreme distress or other signs that they needed to be removed for their well-being.

Finding out if CBD helps dogs

The fluffy friends were put in a room with a couple of toys, a crate with a bed, a hammock bed, an enrichment toy, a bed in the middle of the room, and a water bowl for the separation test. Handlers walked the dogs into the room, removed their lead, and left them to their own devices for 45 minutes while being observed through closed-circuit television.

For the car, properly-sized crates were affixed in the rear seat of a minivan. Dogs either stepped into the van or used a ramp, the trunk was closed, and the researcher sat in the driver’s seat. Each dog then went on a wild ride that had to include a U-turn and a three-point-turn. Because they remained in a closed parking lot, the speed never exceeded 10 miles per hour.

Cameras at the front of the crate and rear of the car sent live video to the front seat, where dogs were monitored for research and safety. Researchers also checked in on the dogs through the rear-view mirror but remained silent for the testing period.

Stress levels were measured in multiple ways. As mentioned, dogs from each group were monitored via camera. Blood samples were also taken before, during, and immediately after the test to measure Serum cortisol, immunoglobulin A, and glucose. Heart monitors secured around the dog’s chest measured heart rate and variability, distance traveled, body position, and general activity.

To assess dog behavior, trained professionals monitored video data and scored behaviors against the Qualitative Behavior Assessment (QBA), both to establish a baseline and during the test itself. The raters were trained in dog behavior but blind to the study. They marked each time the dog appeared “relaxed,” “alert,” “anxious,” and a bevy of other terms to decipher behavior patterns.

The results

Turns out CBD may help anxious dogs. The placebo group had significantly higher cortisol levels for the car test and both tests combined. But not for the separation test alone. Immunoglobulin A and glucose levels were steady in all groups.

As for heart rate, it increased in both placebo tests combined but not a statistically significant amount in the placebo test. The CBD group saw a lower heart rate in both combined and the car test alone.

Taking behavior into account, dogs in the separation group all showed “anxious,” “explorative,” “stressed,” and “uncomfortable” behaviors. But dogs in the placebo group displayed “sad,” “tense,” and “nervous” habits, while CBD pups scored more “restless.”

In the car, all the dogs showed generally “anxious,” “nervous,” and “stress,” but placebo dogs were less comfortable and less “relaxed” than they were at the baseline. CBD dogs showed ticked more “exploratory” behaviors when analyzed.

On the whole, separation dogs in the CBD group showed fewer “sad” behaviors and tended to be more “explorative” than placebo dogs in stressful scenarios. For those in the car situation, CBD dogs that were “restless,” less “comfortable,” and less “relaxed” showed none of those behaviors after having CBD capsules.

Dogs in the CBD group exhibited significantly less whining from baseline to test, and compared to placebo dogs. Researchers conclude that 4mg of CBD does have some behavioral and physiological effects on acute anxiety in stress-inducing events.

Researchers did identify limitations worth considering alongside results. For example, no power analysis was used to identify sample size, instead, safety was the primary consideration. This could impact results.

CBD metabolism could also be pinpointed with more accuracy. Dogs were given a dose two hours before the stress event, which could be more or less effective depending on metabolism.

Even with limitations, this study shows promising results for anxious dogs in circumstances that have to happen regularly, like going to work or driving to the vet. With CBD, dogs may feel happier and more comfortable, and their guardians can enjoy their socks sans dog-chewed holes. Researchers hope more study is born from the results.

Cara Wietstock is Senior Content Producer of GreenState.com and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.