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CBD Can Reduce Stress in Dogs, Mars Petcare Study Finds

By Alexander Beadle

Published: Mar 14, 2023   
A dog licks oil from a syringe.

Image credit: iStock

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A single dose of CBD may reduce the stress in dogs caused by car travel or being left alone, according to a new study.

Published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science, the blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled study was run by the Waltham Petcare Science Institute, which is a part of Mars Petcare. The Waltham researchers found that dogs given CBD generally had lower levels of cortisol in their systems after being in stressful environments, compared to those given a placebo. In behavioral analyses, the dogs given CBD also whined less and appeared to be more relaxed overall.

CBD-containing pet care products are still largely prohibited or unregulated at the global level, in part due to a lack of research on the effects of CBD in domestic pets.

Based on their findings, the researchers say that further studies on CBD and its effect on canine wellbeing are warranted.

CBD reduces stressed behavior and cortisol levels in dogs

A total of forty healthy adult dogs were enrolled, acclimatized to their environment, and received any relevant training prior to the study beginning. At the onset of the experiment, baseline weight and temperature measurements were taken, as well as a blood sample for further testing. Each dog was also fitted with a chest-strap heart rate monitor and a smart collar capable of measuring heart rate, respiration rate, and activity levels.

Each dog was given either a placebo pill or an oral CBD pill at a dose of around 4 milligram per kilogram (mg/kg) of body weight around two hours before the experiment began. The dogs were then split into two groups to be exposed to two potentially stressful situations.

In the first group, each dog was left alone in a room for 45 minutes and monitored via CCTV, while dogs in the second group were taken for a 10-minute drive in a cage in the trunk of a car and monitored using cameras mounted in the rear of the car. This car was driving at low speeds due to the test taking place in an enclosed car parking area. However, the route did include maneuvers such as a sharp U-turn and three-point turn.

The researchers found statistically significant differences in blood serum cortisol concentrations between the treatment group given CBD and the control dogs given the placebo; cortisol is sometimes nicknamed the “stress hormone” because it’s produced more during stressful circumstances. The researchers found that cortisol levels were significantly increased by exposure to the stressful environments, but that animals given CBD had lower cortisol levels post-test when compared to the dogs given placebo.

Behavioral analysis also showed that dogs given CBD whined less and appeared to be in a more relaxed emotional state during the tests. In the separation test, the dogs given CBD tended to explore the room more, while animals who took the placebo had a greater tendency to wait beside the door for their handler’s return.

Further research still needed, researchers say

Based on these observations, the researchers believe that additional research into the anti-anxiety effects of CBD on dogs and other pets is warranted. However, they do also note a few important limitations on the present study.

Firstly, the sample size was determined by the number of dogs enrolled in a parallel CBD safety study being conducted by the same team, and so they say it is likely that this study lacked sufficient power to detect significant results in some areas. The parallel nature of this experiment also meant that individual variation in a dog’s behavior could have contributed to the effects seen; a cross-over study design would maybe help with identifying more significant influences.

Additionally, only three dog breeds were represented in the study and none of the dogs were regular “owned” pets with traditional home environments. Additional studies to confirm these results in a wider scope of pets would thus be beneficial, they say.

“We know pet owners try various approaches – from training to medications and supplements – to help their dogs cope with stressful situations often with mixed results,” Dr. Jennifer Welser, chief medical officer of Mars Veterinary Health, said in a statement.

“We’re focused on scientific inquiry that generates knowledge that can inform pet professionals’ and pet owners’ decisions. So, this study is important because it gives us new evidence that CBD at the dose studied can be beneficial for dogs in specific circumstances.”

It should also be noted that Waltham Petcare Science Institute is a part of Mars Petcare, which is owned by Mars Incorporated. While the Mars Petcare portfolio does not currently include any brands that produce CBD products, it does include several well-known pet food brands, including Pedigree, Whiskas, Iams, and Sheba.

The CBD petcare market

Despite CBD petcare being a largely unregulated gray market place, current projections forecast that it is becoming one of the fastest-growing CBD market segments, predicted to reach $424 million in global sales by 2024.

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any CBD-containing pet foods for consumption. Indeed, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has warned against the state-level legalization of CBD-containing pet foods, citing concerns that “not enough research has been completed on these products.”

In the UK, CBD pet products are considered to be veterinary medicines and are regulated as such. This means that they require marketing authorization before they can be sold. To date, no CBD pet products have been granted approval.


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