There’s great potential in the years ahead for retailers to make a lot of green selling pet products that use the leafy hemp plant as a main ingredient. A 2018 report from New Frontier Data predicted that sales of industrial hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) treats and supplements for animals could reach $125 million by 2022. Two years ago, that figure was $13 million.
With this great potential comes great responsibility—and that goes for everyone who is involved in the CBD business. That’s why it’s important to start with understanding the basics.
The medical component cannabidiol is known to provide relief for pets as well as people experiencing stress, anxiety and pain, among other issues. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive element found in substantial amounts in the marijuana plant, CBD is not intoxicating and therefore does not produce a high sensation. Industrial hemp, commonly referred to as hemp, is dominant in CBD and has 0.3 percent THC or less. That means this variety of cannabis differs from marijuana not only in terms of its effects but its lawful status. Also on the legal front, the passage of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (aka the 2018 Farm Bill) broadened the definition of industrial hemp and also removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act.
Anecdotal evidence has gone a long way in spreading the word that CBD pet products are safe and beneficial, and recent clinical studies have provided support as well. In one, Colorado State University had nine of 16 client-owned dogs with idiopathic epilepsy—a common neurological condition—take CBD oil twice daily for 12 weeks along with standard anticonvulsant drugs. In her results, published in June in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, study lead Dr. Stephanie McGrath noted that dogs in the CBD group “had a significant (median change, 33 percent) reduction in seizure frequency,” while “no adverse behavioral effects were reported by owners.”
For retailers and pet owners, knowing where the hemp comes from and what happens to it along the way makes all the difference in stocking and purchasing the safest and most appropriate oral and topical hemp and CBD products for short-term as well as long-term use.
CBD products are like all other items for pets in that using quality, trusted ingredients matters. And as hemp laws have changed, some makers of CBD and hemp pet products have evolved when it comes to where they get their hemp.
“Back in 2012, when we were developing our products, it was not legal to grow in the United States, so we briefly sourced from Europe,” recalled Julianna Carella, the founder of Treatibles, makers of hemp oil soft chews and topical creams for cats and dogs, among other products. After the 2014 Farm Bill became law, the California-based Treatibles sourced from several U.S. hemp companies. To create its proprietary hemp oil, the company partnered with master cultivators to grow hemp on its own organic farm in South Carolina.
“We grow indoors, outdoors and in greenhouses and have complete control of the environment and soil,” said Carella.
Controlling crop conditions is a priority for others, too. New York’s Animal Nutritional Products uses organic hemp grown in Colorado for its PhytoMAXX Plus cat and dog products, which have been on the market since 2018. In selecting a supplier to grow its specific strain of CBD, Robert Kovler, ANP’s vice president, said his company wanted a farm where pesticides were not used to grow produce and other plants.
After sourcing its CBD from three European countries, Pet Releaf in 2015 began farming with U.S.-based hemp partners and now controls “everything from seed to sale and from plant to pet,” says co-founder Alina Smith, whose company makes CBD oils, capsules and chews for cats and dogs.
According to CEO Will Billings, HEMPVET conducted a worldwide search before choosing a hemp supplier based in Europe that owns intellectual property for the development of exclusive hemp products from seed bank-certified, genotyped strains.
“The provider we chose was the only one that met the exacting standards set by Dr. Gary Pusillo, our chief science officer,” he said.
Josh Awad, chief operating officer of Honest Paws, mentioned that after evaluating more than 25 hemp providers for their quality, manufacturing certifications, location and other factors, the company went with a USDA-certified organic farm in Colorado. China has substantial experience with hemp, Awad adds, but “being able to see and touch the hemp that goes into our products” was a priority for making Honest Paws’ bites, chews and other CBD items for pets.
“Our team regularly visits our farm and extraction facility, which would be significantly more difficult if our supplier was located in China,” said Awad. “Additionally, in the United States, we can be confident that our hemp is truly organic because it is USDA certified, and that the extraction process takes place in an FDA-approved food-grade facility.”
Formulation and Creation
An important step in the making of CBD productions is removing the CBD compound from the hemp, and this can be done in various ways, each with pros and cons. For example, natural solvent extraction, while efficient and inexpensive, affects taste and results in a lower concentration of CBD, according to the CBD Awareness Project.
One of the most popular methods is carbon dioxide extraction, which is considered to be expensive but “has proved to be one of the most versatile and safest methods of producing cannabis concentrates,” wrote Patrick Bennett for the cannabis information resource Leafly. Depending on the amount of pressure and the temperature, CO2 extraction is either subcritical (resulting in longer extraction times and generally lower yields) or supercritical (faster extraction times and higher yields), according to Apeks Supercritical, an Ohio-based extraction systems company.
“The first of the many great features of CO2 extraction is that it is so customizable, but that’s only where the benefits begin,” wrote Chelsea Rivera, head of content for HonestPaws.com, in a post this past April. “Another benefit of CO2 extraction is that running supercritical liquid CO2 through the hemp plant… kills any microbial bacteria, insect mites, mold or mildew on the plant. Therefore, CO2 extraction guarantees that your concentrates will not only be cleaner, but significantly healthier for your consumption.”
Treatibles uses what’s called an infusion method. According to the company’s website, it is a proprietary solventless procedure that involves medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) coconut oil, which serves as a carrier.
“The rich infusion requires no further processing, ensures the stability of the cannabinoids and provides the greatest, most consistent levels of beneficial compounds found in all our products,” the Treatibles website says. “Compared to many extraction methods, this infusion method has proven to retain nearly 100 percent of the profile of all 300+ compounds present in the hemp plant.”
After removal, oil from hemp can be refined so it only contains specific chemical compounds, with CBD among the reported 100-plus that have been identified in cannabis. What’s in the refined extracted oil determines whether the CBD in a product is classified as full spectrum, broad spectrum or CBD isolate, according to the website CBD Origin.
As defined by the California-based company Royal CBD, a full-spectrum hemp-derived product has “all phytochemicals naturally found in the plant, including CBD, trace cannabinoids, terpenes and essential oils” as well as “negligible THC content.” Broad spectrum has no THC, while a CBD isolate is typically 99 percent pure.
Smith, whose company employs supercritical extraction, says full-spectrum products work the best.
“The science is absolutely clear on this and, at Pet Releaf, we have always followed the science even if it means lost sales or lower profits,” she said. “In every single clinical study or trial performed on mice, dogs or humans, a full-spectrum extract is, by far, the most bioavailable and most therapeutic form. The bottom line is the more you mess with Mother Nature’s wonderful plant, the less benefits you will be able to gain from her.”
Awad shares a similar view. “Scientific research shows that the full spectrum of cannabinoids, when used together, may be more beneficial than cannabinoids used in isolation,” he said, citing what is known as the entourage effect. This is the “synergy achieved by all the components in cannabis” as they “work together to enhance the potential benefits of the plant,” according to Royal CBD.
Broad and full spectrum “are almost identical,” said Carella. “Recent research suggests that broad-spectrum CBD products have lasting efficacy, while CBD isolate products have a bell-curve effect and may lack the ability to provide continued improvement,” said added.
Billings likens HEMPVET’s Pet Health Remedies products, which are broad spectrum and full spectrum, to “an orchestra, with CBD as just one instrument. While the CBD molecule offers meaningful benefits on its own, the optimal results are achieved when combined with multiple active ingredients to create a symphony of highly efficacious outcomes.”
Hemp on its own has a taste, which Dr. James Sharkey, chief scientific officer for Therabis, describes as “a strong, bitter, almost peppery flavor.” So to address that, Therabis uses natural flavors, such as the vegan bacon flavoring in its Calming product for dogs, “to make each soft chew irresistible.”
“We weigh flavor and acceptability very heavily in the development of all Therabis products— after all, any pet owner will tell you that a big factor of whether they buy a pet supplement is if their pet is willing to eat it,” Sharkey added.
“When mixed with natural add-ons like peanut butter flavor, coconut oil and others, it’s appealing for pets as any other bite,” said Awad about the Honest Paws CBD line. “The formula is not affected or changed in any way.” Among Honest Paws’ offerings featuring such additions are its Calming dog bites made with organic peanut butter and its CBD-Infused Coconut Oil, which can be blended in with a dog’s food or used as a topical.
Testing, Administering and Educating
Although they’re competing in the same space, many CBD pet product manufacturers are united in a sense when it comes to being transparent about their testing processes and revealing the results.
At Animal Nutritional Products, when the raw material comes in, “we test and confirm what the certificate of analysis reports on that CBD material,” explained Kovler. Once confirmed to ANP’s specifications, the CBD is mixed into its formulation and sent to a third-party laboratory that specializes in cannabis and tests for CBD content, heavy metals, pesticides and organic compounds.
Like ANP, Treatibles, Honest Paws, Therabis, HEMPVET and Pet Releaf also conduct third-party lab testing of their CBD products for pesticides and other unwanted elements, and almost all of these companies post the results on their respective websites.
“The third-party analysis never lies,” Kovler said. “If a CBD company gives you excuses of why they don’t have one, proceed with caution.”
The degree of caution doesn’t end after tested, approved CBD pet products make their way to retailers’ shelves. It’s important to know which product is most appropriate and the right amount to give to a pet, and companies make those details available online or on their product packaging.
Honest Paws has a dosage calculator that ask for users to input the type of pet, the animal’s age, weight and what the product is intended for (general health or one of various ailments), then offers a product recommendation.
Pet Releaf’s usage calculator requests the same information, plus asks for a numerical ranking for the severity of what the pet is experiencing and whether it requires the use of food or a treat to take supplements and medications.
“Retailers and pet parents need to be clear on something very important [about] how much CBD to use,” said Smith. “Even though Pet Releaf has the deepest experience with the usage of CBD products with dogs and cats, the usage recommendations are correct approximately 75 percent of the time. The dog’s metabolism, age, severity of condition, diet, etc., all play into how much CBD she needs.”
Even with all the information out there about CBD pet products, there is still a lot of public uncertainty about what they are and what they can do, so education and guidelines are still works in progress. With that in mind, Honest Paws is creating something called the Honest Paws Academy in order to help retail partners comprehend what CBD is and how it can assist customers.
“It’s still a new product, and people aren’t familiar with it,” said Awad. “We want to help them understand its benefits and see if it can be a good fit for their pets.”