Can CBD Help Dogs With Seizures, and if So, How?

  • According to experts, epilepsy in canines is the most prevalent condition that is exhibited by dogs and affects approximately 0.75% of its total population (1). Traditional antiepileptic medications such as potassium bromide and phenobarbital are effective in treating canine epilepsy, but they do come with adverse side effects.
  • Severe reactions to both potassium bromide and phenobarbital include skin rashes, tremors, liver scarring, depression, and a worsening of existing pancreatic disorders (2-3). These side effects are one of the main reasons why many pet owners are seeking alternative treatments to epilepsy for their dogs.
  • According to anecdotal reports and testimonials, cannabidiol (CBD) is a safe and natural alternative therapy for canine epilepsy. A study in 2019 confirms these reports stating CBD has the potential as an anti-seizure agent (4).
  • Broad-spectrum CBD oil and isolates are considered the safest types of CBD dog owners can administer to their pets. Full-spectrum CBD contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which experts claim is harmful to canines (5).
  • Consulting a veterinarian, particularly one that is familiar with CBD use, is highly recommended before deciding to apply CBD to a pet’s diet.

Why Dog Owners Are Turning to CBD Oil for Dogs

Canine epilepsy is the most common neurological disorder in dogs. Experts estimate that 0.75% of its total population is affected by it (6)

Whether individual patients have epilepsy or perhaps is an offshoot from a different brain disorder is somewhat unknown.

There is a lack of scientific agreement among researchers concerning the classifications, definitions, and therapeutic measures on canine epilepsy (7). This scenario makes it difficult for pet owners to come up with conclusions on how to care for their dogs the right way.

Dog owners should make sure that a dog truly has epilepsy and is not having seizures because of liver disease, low blood sugar, toxin ingestion, or cancer. Dogs having more than one seizure in 24 hours, or more than one a month, should consider anti-epileptic medication therapy.

Conventional medications for seizures such as potassium bromide and phenobarbital are effective in treating canine epilepsy. However, these drugs have side effects that can be worrisome for pet owners.

Adverse reactions to phenobarbital use in dogs can include excessive appetite, depression, sedation, and liver scarring (8). For potassium bromide, side effects such as drowsiness, muscle tremors, and skin rashes can occur (9).

Dogs with a history of pancreatitis, an inflammation in the pancreas, can also experience worsening of this condition when using both medications.

The main reasons many dog owners are deciding to withdraw from administering these medications to their pets are the risks associated with using canine antiepileptic drugs. Cannabidiol, commonly known as CBD, could be the key to treating canine epilepsy without adverse reactions.

CBD is a product from the hemp plant which contains 0.3% or less of the psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. Hemp is no longer considered as marijuana, and the 2014 United States Department of Agriculture Farm Bill allows scientists to study the potential benefits of CBD from hemp (10).

Substantial evidence exists showing how CBD can help in managing seizures caused by epilepsy and other conditions. The anticonvulsant properties of CBD came into the spotlight in 2013 with the help of a young girl from Colorado named Charlotte Figi.

Charlotte was born in 2006 with Dravet syndrome, which is a rare form of epilepsy, causing her to have as much as 400 seizures a week. Some of these seizures would last between 30 minutes up to 2 hours or even more (11).

Her parents found out that using a Cannabis extract enriched with CBD was the only way for them to reduce her seizures and improve her condition. This product is now known and sold as Charlotte’s Web.

The CBD extract was supplied together with existing antiepileptic medication, reducing the frequency of seizures Charlotte experienced from 50 seizures per day to just 2-3 convulsions per month (12).

Years later, pet CBD is now highly-regarded for the anticonvulsant properties it possesses. In 2019, researchers concluded that the phytocannabinoid is useful as an anti-seizure, antipsychotic, and neuroprotective agent (13).

The American Epilepsy Society (AES) published a study in 2015, which is one of the largest of its kind as it involved testing the efficacy and safety of cannabidiol on epileptic children and young adults (14). Prior to the study, anecdotal evidence regarding the effectiveness of CBD on children with treatment-resistant epilepsies (TRE), including Dravet Syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, was reported.

Subjects that had TRE were given purified CBD (Epidiolex) with gradually increasing dosage until intolerance happened or a maximum of 25 mg/kg/day dose was achieved. The scientists saw the patients at intervals of 2-4 weeks during the 12 weeks of therapy, testing them for any severe reactions.

After three months of treatment, the experts saw a 45% overall seizure frequency reduction in the 261 patients that reported in. Around 62% of Dravet Syndrome patients noticed improvements while the median reduction of convulsions in Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome patients was 71% (15).

In terms of safety, less than 10% of all patients experienced mild side effects with drowsiness, diarrhea, and fatigue being the most common. Although uncontrolled, these findings support the past reports and animal research showing how CBD may be a potent treatment for TRE while being generally well-tolerated in doses of up to 25mg/kg/day.

Another clinical study was published in 2016 on TRE patients aged 1-30 years that were receiving stable doses of antiepileptic drugs prior to entry. The patients were given the same amount of cannabidiol per day until intolerance, or a maximum of 25mg/kg/day was achieved (16).

Researchers found that CBD was able to lower the frequency of seizures by as much as 36% on qualified patients. Out of the 162 patients, only 5 stopped the CBD treatment due to adverse reactions (17).

In 2019, a study published by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association reveals that most of the dogs in a small clinical trial had reduced frequency in dogs seizures after taking CBD. The study was led by Dr. Stephanie McGrath, a neurologist at the university, where sixteen epileptic dogs were assessed on the short term effect of CBD use (18).

According to her findings, McGrath found that 89% of the dogs that took CBD during the trial experienced less frequency in seizures. The dogs that were treated received CBD oil for at least twelve weeks before the study concluded.

Although a significant reduction in seizure frequency was achieved for dogs in the CBD group, the proportion of responders was similar between groups.

Given the correlation between plasma CBD concentration and seizure frequency, additional research is warranted to determine whether a higher dosage of CBD would be effective in reducing seizure activity by ≥ 50%.

How CBD Oil Works to Help Dogs

There is no clear understanding as to how exactly CBD works to manage seizures in epileptic patients. Like cannabinoids in the body, CBD interacts with the Endocannabinoid System (ECS), a biological system naturally found in all mammals.

Two primary receptors make up the ECS (CB1 and CB2), which engages both endocannabinoids (those released by the brain naturally) and cannabinoids like CBD, which are sourced from plants (19).

At this time, scientists do not fully know how the ECS works, but research shows that this system is involved in a wide range of processes in the body, including the nervous system.

A 2017 study reveals that endogenous cannabinoids such as CBD do play a crucial role in controlling synaptic transmissions and regulating the rate of neuronal firing in the brain. Experts are suggesting that these channels can be targeted by way of the ECS receptors to help treat epilepsy (20).

Like human beings, canines also possess an endocannabinoid system, which means they also respond the same way to cannabinoids.

A 2020 study reveals how CBD is well-tolerated among canines, as per a clinical trial on twenty healthy beagle dogs. The research shows that CBD-predominant oil formulations are relatively safe on the canines despite escalating doses (21).

The Pros and Cons of CBD Oil for Dogs

The Pros

  • Dogs and humans share the same endocannabinoid system, which means that both can benefit from the therapeutic properties that CBD possesses.
  • Unlike most of the anticonvulsants available, CBD has very few negative side effects, and most of them are mild in comparison.
  • Many pet owners that have tried CBD reported no significant behavioral changes in their dogs.
  • Cannabidiol promotes homeostasis and can be used to improve the wellbeing of pets.
  • Research on hemp-based CBD continues, and more benefits may show up in the following years.
  • CBD is well-tolerated and safe, according to several studies, with experts considering it as a supplement rather than a drug.

The Cons

  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve Cannabis use on animals, suggesting that pet owners consult their veterinarians regarding appropriate treatment for their dogs (22).
  • CBD could interact with other antiepileptic medications, resulting in adverse reactions that may exacerbate specific symptoms.
  • The use of CBD in dogs has potential side effects, including diarrhea, drowsiness, dry mouth, and weight changes (23).
  • Canines have more cannabinoid receptors than humans and may be more sensitive to the toxic effects of cannabis, especially with high THC content present (24).

How CBD Oil Compares to Alternative Treatments for Dogs

The traditional approach to canine epilepsy is to prescribe the pet with anticonvulsant drugs such as potassium bromide. Although potent, these drugs often come with severe side effects that can be detrimental to canine wellbeing.

Adverse reactions such as nausea, depression, liver failure, impotence, and sedation are just a few of the side effects dogs can experience from these medications. A growing number of epileptic dogs are starting to become resistant to traditional medicine, making CBD oil for seizures a relevant alternative.

On the other hand, CBD’s potential side effects are very mild, with the most common ones being drowsiness, diarrhea, and dry mouth (25). Although the safety of CBD on canines is not precise, preliminary findings are quite promising.

In a 2018 report, the World Health Organization (WHO) states that cannabidiol is relatively safe for humans (26). Since all mammals share the same endocannabinoid system, it is safe to assume that CBD has a similar safety profile for dogs.

Numerous cannabinoids are present in the Cannabis sativa plant, with THC and CBD being the most recognized of them all. The main difference between the two is that CBD is the one that contains most of the anticonvulsant properties.

From the studies mentioned, scientists hint that CBD can target the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system to regulate neuronal firing and thus lower the incidence of seizures.

Pet owners should always consult first with their veterinarian before deciding to apply CBD in their dog’s diet, despite the encouraging data.

How to Choose the Best CBD Oil for Dogs

There are three main types of CBD available today, which are full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, and isolates.

Full-spectrum CBD oil is the variety that contains all of the cannabinoids, flavonoids, terpenes, and compounds that are naturally present in the Cannabis plant. Traces of other chemicals such as Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, together with beneficial fiber, are also present here.

However, full-spectrum CBD also contains tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, which is said to be dangerous to canines (27). That is why this type of CBD oil is not ideal for dogs with seizures.

The next type of CBD is called broad-spectrum, which also contains all of the phytocannabinoids without the THC content. Meanwhile, CBD isolates are those that contain purely cannabidiol.

For dogs, broad-spectrum CBD and isolates seem to be the most appropriate choices for treating epilepsy in canines.

Below are the essentials in selecting a safe and reliable CBD product for dogs:

  • Look for a Certificate of Analysis (COA) or the lab results on each product. The COA lists all active cannabinoids present in the CBD product while also indicating whether it is non-GMO or if it contains additives or other contaminants.
  • Purchase only high-quality CBD oil in liquid form to make dosing easier to adjust if needed. Buyers should follow the instructions on proper CBD oil dosage and apply CBD only if advised by a veterinarian.
  • Look for GMO-free and hemp-derived CBD oil products manufactured by reputable brands. Reliable CBD companies are GMP-compliant, which means that they follow a quality approach in producing their goods.
  • Choose CBD oil products that only contain organic CBD and natural ingredients. Be careful in choosing CBD dog treats with additional components such as essential oils, herbs, and other elements.
  • Before administering CBD to an epileptic dog, seek advice from a veterinarian, especially one that is knowledgeable in the use of cannabis, particularly CBD.

CBD Dosage for Dogs

The latest information concerning the therapeutic dosing for canine seizures is believed to be 2.5mg/kg of CBD, according to an uncontrolled study published in 2019 (28). Successful clinical research in canine osteoarthritis (joint pain) using the same extract supports this claim, with benefits observed at 2mg/kg of CBD (29).

In terms of serum concentrations for canines with epilepsy, scientists believe that the adequate amount of CBD serum sits between 200-800 ng/mL (30). The reason for the considerable variation in the serum concentration observed is probably due to different ways of administering CBD.

According to preliminary research, 2 mg/kg twice each day of an even mix of CBD and CBDA (cannabidiolic acid) resulted in no abnormalities during weekly physical assessments. Evidence of organ dysfunction was also not observed in the dogs according to blood parameters (31).

However, it is essential to note that the FDA has not approved CBD for use in dogs, which is why no recommended dosing chart exists (32). This lack of knowledge makes it uncertain at what dosage would CBD start being toxic to canines. Researchers are actively working on this.

CBD is reportedly safe for canines, but each one may respond differently. Just like in humans, the golden rule when starting CBD is to give a dog small amounts of the product first and then monitor its effects.  

How Dogs with Seizures Can Take CBD Oil

Hemp oil is marketed in various forms, allowing pet parents to select the one that works best for their dog.

CBD Treats

CBD treats are perhaps the easiest method of administering cannabidiol to canines, mainly because these are made to be very appealing for dogs. This product is available in different sizes, flavors, and levels of dosage.

Most treat packages also have labels for the right canine weight dose.

CBD Capsules

CBD oil for dogs is sold in capsule form as well and is applied to a dog just like most medications. Veterinarians often recommend hiding a capsule in dog food or a treat to mask its unappealing taste.

CBD Tinctures

Tinctures are also another type of CBD oil product that is easy to administer to dogs. These are found in dropper bottles, which makes applying under the tongue possible.

These tinctures allow pet owners to provide their dogs with the exact dosage suggested by their veterinarians. Since the CBD oil is administered directly, the compound immediately enters the bloodstream and works faster than CBD edibles.

It is best that dog owners keep a diary or log each time they administer a dose of CBD oil to their pets, listing down any reactions or strange behavior that are observed. This journal serves as a way to trace any possible adverse reactions that can help veterinarians decide on a dog’s therapy.

Common Types of Seizures in Dogs

The most prevalent types of seizures that can affect canines are grand mal, focal, psychomotor, and idiopathic.

Grand mal is the generalized type of seizures and is often caused by abnormal neuronal activity in the brain. This kind of seizure can last from a few seconds to several minutes in dogs.

The focal type of seizures is quite similar to grand mal but only affects a single region of the brain. Most of the time, a seizure begins as focal and then develops into grand mal later on.

A psychomotor seizure usually does not cause a dog to collapse on the ground, unlike most seizures. Instead, this type of seizure activity may result in the affected dog to display strange behavior, such as biting at imaginary objects or excessive tail-chasing.

It can be challenging to identify a dog suffering from this seizure, since pet owners may find that they are merely acting silly rather than have a problem. However, canines exhibit the same odd behavior each time they experience this type of seizure.

Finally, idiopathic epilepsy is a term used in dog seizures that lack a known cause. This type of seizure usually occurs in canines between the ages of six months to six years.

Conclusion

Epilepsy in canines is the most common neurological disorder in dogs. Experts estimate that 0.75% of all dog populations are affected by it.

Researchers do not fully agree on the scientific classifications, definitions, and therapeutic measures in dealing with canine epilepsy. It is unknown whether seizures in dogs are caused by epilepsy or are a result of a different brain disorder.

This lack of data makes it difficult for pet owners to know how they can take care of their dogs the right way. Although there are conventional antiepileptic medications for canines, many of them can bring about dangerous side effects.

Pet owners are beginning to explore other treatments that could improve the condition of their dogs. Many consider CBD as an alternative form of therapy due to its growing evidence as an anticonvulsant.

Clinical studies show that 2 mg/kg per day is a viable dose for dogs with epilepsy. However, there is no recommended dosage for CBD since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved its use in animals.

It is best for people looking to include CBD oil products in their pet’s diet to consult a trusted veterinarian to avoid complications.


  1. American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation. Understanding Canine Epilepsy. Retrieved from: https://www.akcchf.org/canine-health/top-health-concerns/epilepsy/understanding-canine-epilepsy.html
  2. Wendy Brooks, DVM, DABVP (2019, January 22). Phenobarbital. Retrieved from: https://veterinarypartner.vin.com/default.aspx?pid=19239&id=4951404
  3. Wendy Brooks, DVM, DABVP (2019, January 23). Potassium Bromide (K-BroVet). Retrieved from: https://veterinarypartner.vin.com/default.aspx?pid=19239&id=4951497
  4. Silvestro S, Mammana S, Cavalli E, Bramanti P, Mazzon E. Use of Cannabidiol in the Treatment of Epilepsy: Efficacy and Security in Clinical Trials. Molecules. 2019;24(8):1459. Published 2019 Apr 12. doi:10.3390/molecules24081459
  5. Gyles C. Marijuana for pets?. Can Vet J. 2016;57(12):1215‐1218.
  6. American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation. op. cit.
  7. Veterinary Practice News. (2015, October 26). Veterinary World Comes to Consensus on Epilepsy. Retrieved from: https://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/veterinary-world-comes-to-consensus-on-epilepsy/
  8. Wendy Brooks. op. cit.
  9. Wendy Brooks. op. cit.
  10. Hudak, John (2018, December 14). The Farm Bill, hemp legalization and the status of CBD: An explainer. Retrieved from: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2018/12/14/the-farm-bill-hemp-and-cbd-explainer/
  11. Young, Saundra (2013, August 7). Marijuana stops child’s severe seizures. Retrieved from: https://edition.cnn.com/2013/08/07/health/charlotte-child-medical-marijuana/index.html
  12. Maa E, Figi P. The case for medical marijuana in epilepsy. Epilepsia. 2014;55(6):783‐786. doi:10.1111/epi.12610
  13. Silvestro S. et al. op. cit.
  14. American Epilepsy Society (2015). Efficacy and Safety of Epidiolex (Cannabidiol) in Children and Young Adults with Treatment-Resistant Epilepsy: Update from the Expanded Access Program. Retrieved from: https://www.aesnet.org/meetings_events/annual_meeting_abstracts/view/2414222$
  15. Ibid.
  16. Devinsky O, Marsh E, Friedman D, et al. Cannabidiol in patients with treatment-resistant epilepsy: an open-label interventional trial [published correction appears in Lancet Neurol. 2016 Apr;15(4):352]. Lancet Neurol. 2016;15(3):270‐278. doi:10.1016/S1474-4422(15)00379-8
  17. Ibid.
  18. Colorado State University (2019, May 21). CBD clinical trial results on seizure frequency in dogs ‘encouraging’. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/05/190521101450.htm
  19. Lu HC, Mackie K. An Introduction to the Endogenous Cannabinoid System. Biol Psychiatry. 2016;79(7):516‐525. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2015.07.028
  20. Perucca E. Cannabinoids in the Treatment of Epilepsy: Hard Evidence at Last?. J Epilepsy Res. 2017;7(2):61‐76. Published 2017 Dec 31. doi:10.14581/jer.17012
  21. Vaughn D, Kulpa J, Paulionis L. Preliminary Investigation of the Safety of Escalating Cannabinoid Doses in Healthy Dogs. Front Vet Sci. 2020;7:51. Published 2020 Feb 11. doi:10.3389/fvets.2020.00051
  22. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2020, March 11). FDA Regulation of Cannabis and Cannabis-Derived Products, Including Cannabidiol (CBD). Retrieved from: https://www.fda.gov/news-events/public-health-focus/fda-regulation-cannabis-and-cannabis-derived-products-including-cannabidiol-cbd#safeforpets
  23. Iffland K, Grotenhermen F. An Update on Safety and Side Effects of Cannabidiol: A Review of Clinical Data and Relevant Animal Studies. Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2017;2(1):139‐154. Published 2017 Jun 1. doi:10.1089/can.2016.0034
  24. Gyles C. op. cit.
  25. Kriss, Randa (2019, October 27). CBD Oil for Dogs: What You Need to Know. Retrieved from: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/cbd-oil-dogs
  26. World Health Organization (2018 June). Cannabidiol (CBD) Critical Review Report. Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/medicines/access/controlled-substances/CannabidiolCriticalReview.pdf
  27. Gyles C. op. cit.
  28. Deabold KA, Schwark WS, Wolf L, Wakshlag JJ. Single-Dose Pharmacokinetics and Preliminary Safety Assessment with Use of CBD-Rich Hemp Nutraceutical in Healthy Dogs and Cats. Animals (Basel). 2019;9(10):832. Published 2019 Oct 19. doi:10.3390/ani9100832
  29. Gamble LJ, Boesch JM, Frye CW, et al. Pharmacokinetics, Safety, and Clinical Efficacy of Cannabidiol Treatment in Osteoarthritic Dogs. Front Vet Sci. 2018;5:165. Published 2018 Jul 23. doi:10.3389/fvets.2018.00165
  30. McGrath S, Bartner LR, Rao S, Packer RA, Gustafson DL. Randomized blinded controlled clinical trial to assess the effect of oral cannabidiol administration in addition to conventional antiepileptic treatment on seizure frequency in dogs with intractable idiopathic epilepsy. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2019;254(11):1301‐1308. doi:10.2460/javma.254.11.1301
  31. Deabold KA. et al. op. cit.
  32. Kriss R. op. cit.
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