Our 18-year-old tabby suffered two seizures a day. Our vet recommended CBD. I was skeptical. Then we tried it. What Is CBD Oil? Is CBD Legal for Cats? What Effects Does CBD Have on a Cat? Are There Any Negative Side Effects for Cats? How Can I Get a Hold of CBD Oil? Is CBD the Right Option for My Cat? If you have never seen what a seizure looks like, you may be terrified to witness your cat having one. They aren’t easy to watch
We gave Maple the cat CBD for seizures. Here’s what happened
There’s a lot of conflicting information out there about treating pets with cannabidiol (CBD) oil.
As journalist and pet owner I was skeptical about giving CBD to animals.
Maple tussles with coyotes, raccoons, and dogs. But age is catching up to him.
There are few studies to consult. Most of the information is anecdotal. But recently when Maple, my family’s very old house cat, began to have seizures we decided to try a CBD treatment. My information is anecdotal, too, but maybe it’ll help you inform your own decision about whether the treatment is right for your cat. Here’s how it went for us.
Maple is a survivor: 18 years of raccoon encounters and coyote tussles. He wears his war wound like a crown.(Courtesy of Bruce Kennedy)
Meet Maple the Cat
Maple turns 18 this summer. He’s an orange tabby we adopted as a kitten. He likes to snooze in what we call “dead-bug” position—on his back, paws in the air—and has a long history of getting himself into trouble. He’s tangled with coyotes, raccoons, snakes and feral dogs. His most prominent feature is his broken-down and notched left ear, a souvenir from a dispute he settled with our second cat soon after her introduction to the household. Maple is a survivor.
Senior Issues, Then Seizures
As with humans, dogs and cats can get dementia as they age. About a year ago, along with arthritis, Maple began to yowl for no reason, sometimes in the middle of the night. We could deal with that (sort of), but several weeks ago we became alarmed when he began to have seizures.
In the beginning there were at least two a day. They would begin with him collapsing. His eyes would go glassy. Then would come the shaking and rolling: his body convulsing and corkscrewing into agonizing positions while he snapped, snarled and clawed at the air.
After about 90 seconds the tremors would subside. Maple’s eyes would clear, his body would eventually relax, and he’d start panting and would yowl pathetically. It would take several more minutes for him to get to his feet, and he’d sway like a drunk on a bender until his balance came back. We’d often have to clean up the blood from his bitten tongue, as well as saliva and urine.
Maple recovering from a seizure, just before we started one of his early CBD treatments. (Courtesy of Bruce Kennedy)
Advice From Our Vet
Our local veterinarian is very good with cats. He said that we could have Maple undergo a standard treatment, starting with a neurological exam and blood work. But given Maple’s advanced age, he suggested that we instead try CBD oil.
We could do blood work and tests, but the vet suggested trying CBD oil first.
The doctor told us he’s been recommending hemp-derived CBD oil for the past eight months or so, mostly for dogs with arthritis or anxiety issues. We live in suburban Denver, where cannabis has been legal for adults since 2012. “People around here are very open to it,” he said. “In fact sometimes that’s the first thing we try, or I suggest we try.”
When I asked if there had been any reluctance from his clientele about using CBD for their companion animals, he was amused.
“Probably one out of every four of them, they’re taking CBD for themselves,” he laughed.
I trust my vet. He’s been treating our cats for years now. We decided to go with his recommendation and try CBD oil for Maple. But being a journalist means my trust is limited, so I also did a bit of research.
There are literally dozens of pet-oriented CBD products currently available online. I was overwhelmed by the choices. Having covered the cannabis industry for some time now, I’ve learned to be skeptical of any undocumented claims made by those selling medicinal cannabis products—even if they include glowing testimonials from ‘satisfied customers.’ It’s difficult to know which products are clean and reliable, or even which products actually contain CBD. In the end, we went with a product the veterinarian’s office carried.
In early June, several days after the seizures began, we put Maple on a twice-a-day dosage of Mobility Oil produced by ElleVet Sciences out of Portland, Maine. We starting with three drops per dose but quickly ramped up to six drops, as per the bottle’s instructions. Three drops gave Maple a 6.3mg dose of CBD, while six gave him 13.2 mg. (ElleVet’s recommended dosage is about 2 mg per kilogram of body weight for cats. Dogs metabolize CBD differently, so consult your vet and product label for that information.)
A Battle of Wills
The cat was not fond of the CBD oil. At all. After a couple of failed attempts with the dropper I found that mixing the drops into a little water and then squeezing it all into Maple’s mouth with an oral syringe ensured that most of the dosage actually got into the cat.
Personally, I like the earthy bitterness of cannabis as a flavor. But I can see why Maple might object to it.
According to the manufacturers this oil is a “broad spectrum cannabinoid & terpene” compound, which means it also has a strong earthy cannabis smell. I must admit I did try a drop of the oil myself, purely for educational purposes. And while I personally like the bitterness of cannabis as a flavor, I can see why a cat might object to it.
I had to hold Maple’s head up in one arm, his body supported in my lap, to give him his dose. Once he got a whiff of that distinct smell—a smell stronger than the cannabis tinctures I use—his nose would wrinkle and he’d bat down my syringe-holding hand. If you’ve ever tried to spoon-feed an unwilling human infant, you get the idea. The battle of wills would begin.
Maple and I have an understanding. I’ve been able to clip his claws for years with minimal fuss, and I’ve learned that if I calmly but strongly hold him in position for medicines he eventually calms down and accepts his fate.
But he really didn’t like the CBD oil, and I have some scabbed-over scratches on my hands as proof. After getting his dose he’d give me a disapproving scowl, struggle out of my lap and shuffle away. We do this twice a day now.
Not a Miracle, But…
The CBD oil had no immediate effect regarding the seizures but we did notice a marked improvement in Maple’s appetite, as well as his overall movement.
Over time we’ve seen progress with the seizures, too. Ten days into his course of treatment, Maple was down from two seizures a day to one seizure every two days. I wouldn’t consider that a miracle cure, but Maple’s quality of life has definitely improved.
Ten days into his treatment, Maple’s seizures were reduced by 75%. (Courtesy of Bruce Kennedy)
I told our veterinarian about how the CBD appeared to be working. He pointed me towards the results of a newly-released study by Dr. Stephanie McGrath, a neurologist at Colorado State University’s James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
Dr. McGrath’s study was small, involving 16 dogs that suffered from seizures. Nine of the dogs were treated with hemp-derived CBD for 12 weeks, while the remaining seven were placed in a control group and given a placebo.
According to her research, 89% of the dogs that received CBD had a reduction in the frequency of their seizures.
“We saw a correlation between how high the levels of CBD oil were in these dogs with how great the seizure reduction was,” McGrath said in a CSU press release. “It’s really exciting that perhaps we can start looking at CBD in the future as an alternative to existing anticonvulsive drugs.”
Pushback From Veterinary Associations
During our consultations, our veterinarian was very open with his information about CBD and comfortable talking about its potential uses. But he also asked that his name not be used in this article, due to the controversial status of CBD within the mainstream of animal medicine.
The AMVA says ‘the available scientific evidence pertaining to use of CBD in animals is currently limited.’
According to a survey of more than 2,100 vets done last year by the Veterinary Information Network, 63% of respondents said they were asked by their clients at least monthly—and sometimes weekly or even daily—about cannabis products for their pets. Most of the veterinarians surveyed said they had “never been the ones to initiate the discussion” about cannabis products.
That being said, a large part of the veterinary community remains split about CBD—and many are still reluctant to recommend it as a treatment.
On its website, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) notes that while cannabis-derived products appear to have therapeutic promise “in areas such as the treatment of epilepsy and the management of pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis, the available scientific evidence pertaining to their use in animals is currently limited.”
Much of what is known, the AVMA statement continues, “is related to anecdotal or case reports or has been gleaned from studies related to use in humans, including the study of animal models for that purpose.”
Finding a Product That Helps
Curious about the company that produced Maple’s medicine, I contacted Amanda Howland, co-founder and chief branding officer at ElleVet Sciences. (ElleVet did not pay for this article, nor did the company supply any medicine or other consideration. They just happened to be linked in a chain of trust: I trust our vet and our vet trusted ElleVet products enough to stock them, so that’s the brand we went with.)
Howland told me she understands the position of the big veterinary organizations.
“Veterinarians are doctors and they’re protecting their patients,” she said, “and they would like to see evidence.”
Howland pointed to a clinical trial conducted by Cornell University. It was a double-blind placebo trial on dogs with multi-joint pain, which her company supported with a research grant and a supply of products. In that study, researchers found that more than 80% of the dogs had a significant or dramatically positive response to CBD treatment.
ElleVet is currently in the middle of a seizure study with researchers at the University of Florida (also using the company’s CBD products), as well as a handful of other research regarding pain management and oncology in dogs.
One of the primary problems right now, Howland said, is CBD’s booming popularity. There are a lot of products currently on the market with very differing and sometimes very low levels of CBD content, quality and potency.
“There are a lot of products out there that really aren’t very good,” Howland told me. “So we want people to talk to their veterinarians, and we want veterinarians to have a product that they can trust and that they can recommend. We like to keep a good relationship with the veterinarians and we like to keep pet owners talking to their veterinarians, to make sure that the dogs and cats are getting a product that is actually going to help them.”
Realistic, but Hopeful
It will take some time to see if Maple’s CBD regimen is truly helping him, and if so, if it’s sustainable in the long term. (And “long term” is relative. The cat is 18 years old.) His seizure rate has dropped, but there’s no way to know if that would have happened without the CBD oil, or if there are other factors involved.
I do know this. Our goal is to lessen the suffering of this cat that we’ve loved for nearly two decades. And right now the CBD oil seems to correlate with a reduction in seizures and an improvement in appetite and mood. Emotions aside, I’m encouraged about the potential for CBD to gain mainstream professional acceptance as a therapeutic treatment for both humans and their companion animals. It’s not hurting, and it seems to be helping. For Maple and for us, that’s all that we ask.
CBD Oil for Seizures & Epilepsy in Cats
If you have never seen what a seizure looks like, you may be terrified to witness your cat having one. They aren’t easy to watch because you can’t do much for them except keep them from hurting themselves.
What you can do is protect them from the dangers around them. Move them away from potential hazards like stairwells or drop-offs and keep their head away from furniture or rocks that could harm them. After you do this, it’s just a matter of waiting for the seizure to pass.
If your cat suffers from seizures and epilepsy, a suitable alternative that may help manage them is CBD oil. It’s worth looking into as it has the potential to help your furry friend.
What Is CBD Oil?
CBD is the acronym used for cannabidiol. While other cannabinoids may be present in several types of plants all over the world, CBD is unique in that it is only found in cannabis and accounts for up to 40% of the plant extract. Therefore, being a cannabinoid has nothing to do with whether it derives from marijuana; it depends on the molecular structure.
CBD oil derives from hemp. The reason is that hemp has the least concentrations of THC (the cannabinoid that marijuana is famous for as it causes you to feel the head high). THC, however, is toxic to animals such as dogs and cats. Therefore, hemp-derived CBD is preferable for two reasons.
Is CBD Legal for Cats?
As mentioned above, when CBD derives from hemp, it is low in THC and perfectly legal. You need to ensure you are buying CBD extracted from hemp, as it can come from marijuana
as well. This type should only be for sale in a legal marijuana dispensary in a state that has legalized medical marijuana. It will not be safe for pets, however.
What Effects Does CBD Have on a Cat?
CBD can trigger the body’s Endocannabinoid System (ECS) to work more efficiently. The process improves the body’s response to pain, tremors, appetite, metabolism, and more.
The ECS is responsible for bringing balance back to the body. Its primary job is to maintain the status of homeostasis within the body. Homeostasis improves the efficiency of every body system, with the ECS working as a “supervisor” for these systems. All mammals have an ECS, and scientists believe it is the most critical system of the body.
We have only known about the ECS since the 1990s, and researchers are still learning much
about it. Many people have never heard of it because information about the ECS didn’t exist when we were in school.
Are There Any Negative Side Effects for Cats?
If your cat is rubbing their head, they may have a headache. The most common of the three is diarrhea. If you notice it, reduce the amount of CBD you’re giving your cat or skip a dose entirely. Reducing or stopping treatment will typically mitigate the problem.
Reduce the amount of the doses going forward until they’ve had a chance to adjust. CBD is not addictive. There have been very few reports of side-effects, and they have never been life-threatening. The worst side-effects may be extreme tiredness, diarrhea, or headaches. You do not need to have any concerns about your cat getting high from using CBD. It will not impair their ability to function normally. Nor will it cause them to have any issues with dependency.
How Can I Get a Hold of CBD Oil?
CBD is available in many places, especially on the internet. Please, do some research to learn the difference between a quality CBD oil and one that may be questionable. It’s also essential that you speak to your veterinarian and keep them in the loop when it comes to decisions about your cat’s care. They should agree with whatever you decide to do and know about it.
Is CBD the Right Option for My Cat?
It’s important to understand that CBD is not a cure. It is an excellent tool for managing many different conditions, such as epilepsy and seizure conditions. Whether it’s the best option for your furry friend, is something only you can answer. CBD may be the right choice for your cat, but only you can determine that. It requires you to do a fair amount of research and learn the pros and cons. You should understand the general way in which it works within the body, and you should prepare for the good and the bad.
You must run it by your veterinarian, especially if your cat is already taking other medications. CBD can be a natural blood thinner, and this means that it could interact with other medicines that also thin the blood. Your veterinarian will be able to inform you properly, as will your own research.
Dr. Ivana Vukasinovic
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, University of Belgrade
Ivana Vukasinovic grew up in Serbia and attended the University of Belgrade where she received a degree in Veterinary medicine in 2012 and later completed surgical residency working mostly with livestock. Her first year of practice was split between busy small animal practice and emergency clinic, and after two more years of treating many different species of animals, she opened her own veterinary pharmacy where an interest in canine and feline nutrition emerged with an accent on fighting animal obesity. In her free time, she acts as a foster parent for stray animals before their adoption, likes to read SF books and making salted caramel cookies.
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The Innovet Team
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