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CBD and THC For Dogs

Go to any dog-related forum right now and do a quick survey of the answers to every single behavior problem from barking to leash pulling, to chasing the neighbor's cat, to attacking the owners and somewhere among all the answers both good and bad someone will bring up the miracle drug: CBD Oil. It cures absolutely everything, and all behavioral problems evaporate under its powerful spell.

My natural instinct to such suggestions is to poo poo such mindless snake oil salesmanship. After all, something that fixes everything usually fixes nothing. However, I did recently listen to a very deep dive by a veterinarian about the endocannabinoid system and ongoing research on the effects of CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) on this system. It certainly bears examination and research. Obviously, research is slow-going, because that's how science works, while Joe Public is way out front recommending a drug helper skelter to solve everything from toenail fungus to brain tumors.

Here are a few facts to keep in mind when you run across a problem that you believe can be solved by chucking drugs at it: Drugs, all drugs have effects - those effects are divided into two categories: therapeutic and side. The therapeutic effect of Aspirin is that your headache goes away, the side effects are blood thinning and GI upset. You cannot have one without the other. Any drug without side affects I will state category has no effects.

Nothing is perfectly safe (see above), but also ingesting too much water, too few carbohydrates, or too much caffeine can and will kill you. Dosages that come without science are sketchy at best.

The placebo effect is strong. Want to know how strong? In a canine epilepsy study 38% of pet owners saw a decline in seizure activity on a placebo. In a lameness study 39% of owners and 44% of veterinarians saw improvements in a placebo trial when in fact the dogs when tested using force plate analysis were no better and in some cases were worse. An argument could be made that the placebo effect in humans can be helpful (feeling better is feeling better regardless of cause), in dogs it is extremely concerning that owners and veterinarians see improvement when the dog feels no better or in some cases is actually feeling worse.

Lastly, and more salient to the focus of this blog, behavior doesn't magically fix itself through drugs. Right now everyone is an expert in CBD. People are throwing it at themselves and their dogs and are seeing results, whether those results are placebo, or can stand the test of time remains to be seen. In the mean time, armed with their study of one they are now touting its miracle working powers far and wide.

We've all been here before.

Behavior change takes time. Anxiety is not a quick fix, nor is frustration. Think of your own life. Yes, a glass of wine in the evening (or a hit of something greener, depending on where you live and how closely you hew to drug enforcement laws) may push the demons away for an hour or so, but come morning they're still there. Sure, you can ride along in a drugged haze for the rest of your life, but that certainly doesn't lead to your best life.

So, please, before solving your pet's issues with the latest and greatest fad ask yourself, where is the science? How will I quantitively measure success of failure? Who is recommending this? What are this person's qualifications to make this recommendation?

As for myself, I will absolutely look further into the endocannabinoid system, because it does look like there is some good science going on in this arena. It looks like CBD may have an anxiolytic effect that could absolutely help some dogs in conjunction with counter-conditioning and other behavioral training. I am not looking for any sort of quick fix miracle drug, because as we all have seen time and time again, they don't exist.

Behavior work takes time. It takes patience. It takes an understanding of your dog's needs and where we as humans are falling short meeting those needs. Is there a place someday for CBD or THC? Possibly, but that use will always fall in line beside training, behavioral work, and ensuring we have a solid foundation with our dogs.

We all want to build our dog's best life, and sometimes behavioral problems make that seem like a long rocky road with no end in sight, and if we could only reach for a pill and make Fluffy stop pacing all night long, and barking at every noise, how wonderful that would be. But building great lives, we all know, takes time, work, thought, and practice. We will get there. Our dogs deserve it.

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