Already used in a variety of human food and drink products around the world, CBD is now piquing the interest of pet owners seeking to move their animals’ diets closer to their own. But what are the possible benefits of CBD in pet food?

What is CBD?

Cannabidiol, or CBD for short, is the non-psychoactive component found in cannabis – meaning it doesn’t disrupt the central nervous system nor make the user high. CBD is derived directly from the hemp plant, a close relative to the marijuana plant. Although cannabis is classified as a Class B drug in the United Kingdom, CBD is permitted by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). As long as a CBD product only has trace amounts of THC (the psychoactive element of cannabis) it can legally be sold in the UK.

Potential benefits of CBD

While studies are still ongoing, in humans CBD has been linked to improvements in appetite, prevention of cancer, brain cell protection and relief from symptoms of arthritis and multiple sclerosis. It also has antioxidant properties and may reduce seizures.

What about CBD in pet food?

While there is little research on the effects on CBD on pets, much of what is known comes from anecdotal evidence from pet owners. There are six main categories for these effects:

  • Painkiller
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Anticonvulsant
  • Reducing stress/anxiety
  • Antiemetic
  • Slow growth of tumours

Studies suggest the most common reasons for giving CBD products to pets are to provide stress and anxiety relief alongside relief from hip and joint pain. Oil is a popular product for providing pets with CBD, as are bites and soft chews.

Is CBD pet food legal in the UK?

Although companies aren’t permitted to sell CBD products that have been specifically designed for pets in the UK, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate regulations mean that vets are allowed to prescribe CBD products marketed for human use to animals. These products often come in the form of off-the-shelf CBD oils that can be added to pet food.

Any CBD must be procured from a reputable source and contain no trace of THC which can have a very negative effect on animals. Cats and dogs are particularly sensitive to it and may experience “marijuana poisoning”.

Growth of ‘Pet CBD’ in the USA

In 2020, the Pet Industry Green Paper was released by The Nielsen Group and Headset. It found that:

  • Pet products will make up 3 to 5% of all CBD sales in the US by 2025
  • Over $9.4m in pet products were sold at regulated adult-use cannabis retailers throughout California between 2018 and 2019
  • Approximately 74% of consumers who purchase CBD products own pets, and 24% of pet owners use hemp or CBD for themselves, their pet or both
  • Around 26% of dog owners are using CBD products, half of which already administer to their dogs

Nielsen and Headset estimate that the average CBD infused dog treat costs twice as much as a regular version. Clearly, CBD in pet food can command a premium. In 2020, consumers spent $426m on pet CBD and it’s expected that the market will grow to $629m by the end of 2021 (according to a report from the Brightfield Group).

Legal grey areas?

There’s still much legal confusion about CBD for pets despite these products being easy to access. In the USA, CBD still hasn’t been approved by the FDA for use in animal food or feed. More figures from the Brightfield Group say that most CBD for pets is being given to dogs, who were consuming 77%. 21% is being consumed by cats, with the remainder consumed by other animals including rabbits, birds, fish, horses and reptiles.

It’s worth noting that a product hasn’t necessarily been approved for food use even if it’s legal to purchase in the UK. This is one of the reasons why purchasers of CBD products often find the legislation confusing. What’s more, manufacturers are permitted to add pictures of pets to some labels as long as they don’t state that the products are “for pets”. Knowledge is still limited around what the right doses for pets should be and how CBD might interact with other medicines. No CBD products have been authorised for use in animals in the UK by either the Food Standards Agency or Veterinary Medicines Directorate, and only vets are legally permitted to prescribe them.

A big opportunity – in the future?

The likelihood is that more retailers will seek to enter this lucrative space in coming years, including brands that are already supplying products for pets. However, retailers seeking to generate revenue from this market must meet legislation and audience expectations. Both will demand safety, reliability and accuracy when it comes to product formulation and content labelling. It’s likely that legislation will change slowly following more robust testing but when (and it seems more when than if) this ingredient gets the greenlight, there’s a huge opportunity for food producers to tap into the CBD in pet food movement.

If you’d like to know more about developing high quality pet food products, we can help. Book an introductory call today.