Comparing Endocannabinoid Systems – How Cannabinoids Effect Humans and Pets

We have all witnessed the rise of hemp-derived products over the past five years, from obscurity to everyday life. CBD was once only available in medical cannabis; now, consumers can buy bacon-flavoured CBD dog treats. Cannabinoids like CBD and THC affect nearly all animals, including cats and dogs. More and more pet owners are buying CBD to help their favourite companion deal with pain, get better sleep, and reduce separation anxiety. 

Cats and dogs can experience the benefits of CBD because nearly all animals have an endocannabinoid system. While humans and animals have seen success treating a number of conditions, it is essential to understand the differences in each being’s ECS. Cannabis compounds are processed differently in cats, dogs, and humans. Before treating an animal with a cannabis product, it is important to understand the differences in their ECS and digestive systems. 

What is the Endocannabinoid System?

The endocannabinoid system is a complex internal network responsible for keeping multiple organs in homeostasis (1). There are three main parts to the ECS: 

Endocannabinoids - Endogenous ligands that resemble plant-based chemical compounds

Endocannabinoid Receptors (CB1 and CB2) - Membrane receptors found in many organs throughout the body

Deactivating Enzymes – Responsible for controlling the production of endocannabinoids (2)

Cannabis scientists believe that the ECS is responsible for regulating reactions by releasing chemicals from CB receptors. The two we are aware of currently are CB1 and CB2. CB1 is concentrated in the brain and central nervous system, while CB2 is primarily located in the immune system. 

When humans or animals consume cannabinoids, the ECS is either directly affected through CB receptors or endocannabinoid production is increased through the deactivation of enzymes. THC has the affinity to bind with both CB1 and CB2, while CBD works indirectly, promoting a healthy flow of endocannabinoids. (3) 

The ECS in Humans Vs. Animals

All animals, including vertebrates (cats, dogs, birds, reptiles, and fish) and invertebrates (arthropods, molluscs, annelid, and cnidarians), have an endocannabinoid system. Cats and dogs are the most common pets and have emotional intelligence, making them candidates for loving pet owners to help them overcome health conditions naturally. While the ECS in all mammals is similar, there are some critical differences in dogs that could affect the efficacy of cannabis products. 

CB2 Receptors in Canines

The most significant difference between the ECS in humans and pets exists in canines. Binding affinity in CB2 among dogs is 30 times less effective than in humans. A study published in PubMed exhibits that while CB2 receptors are 76-82% similar in rats, mice, humans, and chimpanzees. When a dog CB2 was cloned and tested, the researchers ‘found these ligands (cannabinoids) exhibited altered functional potencies and efficacies for the dog cannabinoid CB(2) receptor, which was also found to be negatively coupled to adenylate cyclase activity.’ (4)

Intolerance of THC in Pets

When veterinarians are asked about pet-specific cannabis products, they usually recommend proceeding with caution (5). Their hesitancy to endorse CBD products comes from personal experience treating dogs with static ataxia, a condition caused by THC toxicosis. 

Dogs exposed to high THC concentrations can encounter a ‘bad trip.’ The dog will experience ‘fear-induced hallucinations,’ lose their balance, drool, and tense up (6).  

Since the legalization of recreational cannabis in the US and increased access to THC edibles, emergency room trips for dogs have increased significantly. Dogs are highly susceptible to static ataxia and marijuana intoxication because they have the highest concentration of CB1 in any animal. (7)

Research with CBD in Cats and Dogs

While pet owners, especially those with dogs, should be cautious when giving their animals CBD products, the WHO concluded in November 2017 that CBD doesn’t present any safety concerns for any animals (8). The biggest threat to giving animals CBD products is ingredients other than CBD featured in the products. 

THC in small amounts won’t have the toxic effects that can lead to static ataxia, plus CBD lowers the affinity for THC to bind with CB1 receptors. 

CBD and Cats

A recent paper published in the Journal of Cannabis Research examines how CBD could help cats experiencing Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers explain that the conditions that lead to Alzheimer’s disease in humans are similar to those in cats. While the research is still only exhibited in vitro, CBD was found to ‘inhibit the hyperphosphorylation of tau proteins,’ ‘increase the cerebral blood flow,’ ‘attenuate the neurotoxicity of the β-amyloid protein accumulation,’ ‘modulate microglial cell function,’ and ‘reverse cognitive deficits in transgenic animal models.’ (9)

CBD and Dogs

The research regarding CBD and dogs is much further along than cats, but still in the beginning stages. A study done by the Baylor College of Medicine directly tested how CBD can help dogs suffering from arthritis. The study consisted of 20 dogs suffering from the condition; researchers gave them a 4-week treatment of CBD or a placebo and evaluated the results. Baylor’s Matthew Halpert Ph.D. was surprised by how fast he saw changes. ‘Almost every dog saw significant improvement in their conditions, in regards to reduced pain and increased ability to move around. And the dogs seemed happier and were able to do more.’ (10)

Cat’s Intolerance to Terpenes

Pure CBD doesn’t present any danger to animals; however, there are other cannabis compounds that pet owners should be aware of before exposing their pets to CBD products. Terpenes are the aromatic plant oils that are highly prevalent in cannabis. Some terpenes are believed to be toxic to cats when they are ingested or applied to topically. 

Limonene, the terpene responsible for the district smell in citrus fruits, can cause an allergic reaction in cats. Pet owners should also avoid linalool, the terpene highly concentrated in lavender. (11)

Specifically Formulated CBD Pet Products from RUDERALEX®

Most major CBD companies have released a line of pet products in reaction to recent research and testimonial from dog and cat owners. Lets take a look at how CBD oils for pets differ from those made for humans:

RUDERALEX® formulates products specifically for cats and dogs, considering the differences in the ECS and digestive systems across species. 

Their broad-spectrum CBD oils for dogs are formulated without THC to lower the risk of an unpleasant reaction to the oil while getting the maximum benefits. RUDERALEX® cat formulas are created with a low concentration of terpenes to help cats process the cannabinoids without experiencing any adverse effects.















Please note that this article was written by a 3rd-party author who is a specialist on the topic of CBD, hemp and cannabis.  Any information or recommendations contained within this article, are independent to the opinion of RUDERALEX CBD and our employees.  We make no claims for any of our products, please read our disclaimer for additional information.