When Stretch, a 12-year-old pit bull mix, developed a cancerous tumor in his hip, his owner searched for anything that might help relieve the dog’s pain.
“It was quite painful, and conventional medicine wasn’t helping him,” said Cammy Donnen, the dog’s owner.
Donnen had read that cannabidiol oil, often called CBD oil, could help ease dogs’ pain. She searched pet shops in Durango for the product usually derived from hemp. But this was three years ago, and the only CBD oil Donnen was able to find was honey-infused in a straw and difficult to administer to a dog.
Since then, CBD oils and CBD-infused treats for pets have become a multi-million dollar industry, widely available online and in Durango stores.
In 2017, consumers nationally spent $13 million on hemp-derived CBD products for their pets. Last year, that number jumped to $48 million, according to New Frontier Data, a company specializing in cannabis statistics.
The products are intended to address pain, improve sleep, increase appetite and calm anxiety, among other conditions, in dogs, cats, horses and other pets. The products do not have any psychoactive effects caused by THC in marijuana.
While there is some strong anecdotal evidence for the products, the science supporting the effectiveness of the products in dogs is in the early stages. The Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve the products.
Durango veterinarian Karlene Stange, who practices traditional Chinese medicine, advises pet owners to know what symptoms they are targeting with CBD products and not to use them in a blanket way for all ailments.
“In my 34 years of veterinary practice, I find every animal is unique; you can’t just assume something is good or not good,” she said.
Pet owners should also observe their animals after giving them CBD oil or treats to see if they can observe a difference and determine what dosage is appropriate.
CBD products may have no effect on some pets, and if that’s the case, there is no reason for pet owners to continue the treatment, she said. The products can also be harmful for some pets who have liver problems, she said.
“It’s a medication, so be careful,” Stange said.
She encourages pet owners to research CBD products carefully because some products advertised as hemp-derived do not have any CBD oil in them.
While the science around CBD oil is emerging, it shows promise. A small study involving 16 dogs at Colorado State University showed CBD was effective in reducing the frequency of the dogs’ epileptic seizures, according to a news release from the university.
Locally, pet owners have seen CBD improve the quality of life for older dogs who have multiple health issues, such as pain, loss of appetite and anxiety, Stange and others said.
Sarah Guinther, manager at Pet Haus, said she gives CBD products to both her dogs, but it has been particularly helpful for 14-year-old Ronan, a red healer and pit bill mix.
The product eased Ronan’s arthritis pain and helped him regain mobility, she said. It took about a week of CBD treatment for Guinther to see the change in Ronan.
“He rests better, he wakes (up) more alert and (is) more spry,” she said.
Cameron Park, a customer service manager for 4Corners Cannabis, a Durango-based company, said he has similar anecdotes from other dog owners who have noticed a marked improvement in the quality of life of older dogs, he said. In some cases, dogs end up living an additional one or two years, he said.
The CBD oil is believed to interact with the endocannabinoid system, which regulates appetite, mood and sleep cycles. It helps balance those systems, said Drew Gremillion, a research and development technician for 4Corners Cannabis, which has national distribution.
Stretch, Donnen’s pit bull mix, did not live to see the explosion of CBD products. But Donnen decided to join the industry after her experience with the honey-infused CBD.
“I thought, there has just got to be a better way,” she said.
A year ago, Donnen and her husband, Jeff Blevans, started Bloodhound Hemp Farms to sell CBD oils for dogs. This year, she plans to grow the hemp on her property and expand distribution to stores in town from her website. She sells bacon and peanut butter tincture flavors dogs lick straight from a dropper.
“They just go crazy for it,” she said.