Why some pet owners are turning to CBD to treat their ailing animals

Andrea Cullipher has turned to CBD oil to treat her basset hound, Axel, for his arthritis.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Adopted at six weeks, Jenelle Hamilton’s 8-pound Chihuahua mix, Apple, had always been high-strung. But in August, as Hamilton, who works in public relations, began traveling more frequently on business, the dog’s behavior turned alarming. Along with her excessive barking and bouts of compulsive fur-licking, Apple refused to eat and paced by the front door for days at a time.

Desperate to find relief, Hamilton, 39, who lives in Beverly Hills, decided to try a treatment involving CBD after reading about its benefits on a lifestyle blogger’s Instagram story. “I knew there wasn’t a lot of research, but I’m a holistic person,” she said.

Hamilton placed an online order for FOMO Bones dog treats. To start, she gave Apple, who is now 2, half of one bone-shaped treat. Within an hour, the dog was “totally chill,” she said. “The difference was night and day.”


That evening, she gave Apple the other half and shortly after found the little dog devouring kibble from her bowl. “She had the munchies, which for her was a good thing because she doesn’t have much of an appetite,” said Hamilton. These days, Apple maintains her appetite and pleasant disposition with a daily FOMO Bone, taken in halves. “She’s a totally different dog now,” said Hamilton. “She seems happier.”

Other Los Angeles pet owners who use cannabis-based products to treat their ailing dogs, cats, and even horses, are echoing the positive results. They’re using CBD tinctures, capsules and topical creams for the same maladies people do, including anxiety, seizures, digestive issues, arthritis, and pain. The motivation is the same too; pharmaceuticals either have undesirable side effects or don’t work.

CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a compound found in cannabis plants but, unlike its cousin THC, doesn’t get you high. General CBD products derived from the hemp variety of cannabis are legal as long as they don’t contain more than 0.3% THC. But the only approved medical use of CBD is for treating seizures in two rare forms of childhood epilepsy.

Still, some local pet owners swear by it.

Andrea Cullipher, 48, a jewelry designer who lives in Burbank, gives her 10-year-old basset hound, Axel, Tessera Naturals CBD oil dropped on a piece of bread each morning to manage his degenerative joint pain. Despite taking medication for pain and inflammation, prescribed by a veterinarian, Axel’s tail still drooped, and he couldn’t walk more than a block without plopping down to rest.

Andrea Cullipher prepares a piece of bread with .75ml of CBD oil for her 10-year-old basset hound, Axel. She says the daily treatment helps manage his degenerative joint pain.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

So when Cullipher’s hairdresser mentioned that CBD had helped her arthritic dachshund, she hoped it would work for Axel too. It did. “His tail is up, and he has noticeably more energy,” said Cullipher. And she’s since reduced his pain medication.


Montana Lee, 30, credits CBD for healing her Ragdoll cat, Zeus. With long silky hair and radiant blue eyes, Ragdolls are known for their laid-back temperament and affectionate nature. But Zeus was so hostile and aggressive that Lee’s friends nicknamed him “Satan Cat.” “I could never have a roommate or anybody over,” Lee said. “Everyone was scared of Zeus. My sister still has a scar on her leg where he scratched her.”

Within two weeks of taking HolistaPet CBD treats and drops, Zeus became a pussycat. After a year on CBD, he amiably traveled nearly 1,300 miles by car with Lee when she relocated from Canada to California for work earlier this year. Zeus no longer hisses or scratches visitors. He even allows overnight houseguests from Vancouver to pet him. “He’s a whole different cat,” said Lee.

California is the only state that has passed legislation specifically allowing veterinarians to initiate a discussion about cannabis with clients. But the law still prohibits vets from prescribing, dispensing or administering cannabis.

Vets may be in a tricky spot when it comes to advocating CBD, but others who work with animals are gung-ho. Malibu-based dog behaviorist Robert Cabral recommends CBD to clients for treating a variety of ailments. Nancy Katzman-La Prairie often gives CBD to the homeless dogs and cats that come through her Scrappy Paws rescue service in Santa Clarita. (Pet owners should tell their vets about their CBD use, as there could be adverse interactions with other medications.)

While THC can be harmful to dogs — many have shown up at veterinary hospitals vomiting after getting into their owners’ stashes — CBD is generally safe, said Dr. Elizabeth Mironchik-Frankenberg, a veterinarian and founder of Veterinary Cannabis Consultants. “Still, there’s a stigma,” she said.

In part, that’s because CBD research, especially on animals, is so limited. “CBD shows promise, but it’s too soon to make a recommendation,” according to Dr. Lisa Bartner, a veterinary neurologist at Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, who is studying the efficacy of CBD treatment in dogs with epilepsy.

While THC can be harmful to dogs — many have shown up at veterinary hospitals vomiting after getting into their owners’ stashes — CBD is considered generally safe.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Lisa Johnson Mandell, a journalist who lives in Valley Village, is already convinced it works. Mandell’s 5-year-old Labradoodle, Frankie Feldman, was diagnosed with the disorder last year and put on phenobarbital and Keppra by his vet. Worried about the pharmaceuticals’ potential long-term effects, Mandell has gradually substituted drops of Biofit360 CBD tincture for one of Frankie Feldman’s pills. He’s remained seizure-free for months. If that continues, in another month Mandell plans to substitute an additional dropper of CBD for another Keppra pill. “I hope to get him, if not entirely off the Keppra, at least a lot less,” she said.

Jordan Roberts, 38, a paralegal who lives in Valencia, credits Farmacopeia CBD drops for her family’s Great Dane, Toby, making it through seven rounds of chemotherapy without any adverse side effects.

During his colon cancer regime, “Toby actually gained weight because my dad would treat him with a trip through the McDonald’s drive-through for a hamburger and fries after each chemo session,” said Roberts. “He had to go on a diet afterward.”

Once hard to find, new CBD pet products are sprouting like weeds. And they’re widely available online, in dispensaries and at many pet stores, including all 17 of Healthyspot’s, California locations. Even at Rising Lotus Yoga studios in Santa Clarita and Sherman Oaks, CBD pet drops are a big seller. Co-owner Claire Hartley uses their chosen brand, CBdistillery, to treat her terrier Lila’s anxiety and digestive issues.

The deluge has advocates like Dr. Mironchik-Frankenberg eager for the FDA to step up and set guidelines. Without regulation, it’s hard to know whether a product is formulated and labeled responsibly. “CBD may not work for everybody,” said Frankenberg, “but you have to ask ‘why didn’t it work?’ Does the product you’re using have a measurable amount of CBD?”