CBD for Horses
The following is a guest post by my good friend and barrel racing extraordinaire, Summer Nicholson.
Not long ago I decided to try CBD oil on a horse of mine with some social anxiety issues. I would like to take you on my journey as to how I chose the right CBD delivery method and how I dosed my horse, along with some observations and suggestions. I will not be endorsing any one company or product but hopefully shortening the time it takes you to decide who to go with if you choose to treat any of your animals (or yourself).
To give you some background on this particular horse, she had been treated for ulcers in the past under veterinary supervision and is still on a maintenance program for prevention purposes. But her anxiety, I believe, is definitely the precursor to her having an ulcer-prone life. Because she’d been orphaned at three months, is easily excitable, and has always been a chronic well, that’s a trip to the vet horse, I became quite in tune with her quirks and “issues”. I truly noticed her social anxiety at first by how distracted she was at public events where there were many new horses.
Unfortunately, it culminated in her forming a habit of kicking out at other horses, seemingly out of the blue. This led to the infamous red ribbon on her tail and me being as nervous as she was if we went anywhere. I was constantly aware of her rear end, stopped in corners only, and didn’t tie her anywhere but the trailer and then usually inside it if I wasn’t going to be nearby. I did decipher some of her “tells” that helped me keep everyone safe, but that was not enough. She displayed other signs of anxiety at home as well–just never anything as drastic as when we traveled. I started researching what I could do for her anxiety, and this research led me to CBD.
First, I began reading up on CBD, which is an easy way of saying cannabidiol. It’s an extract of the hemp plant. Usually the first question people ask me is, “Is your horse on pot/high?”, to which the answer is of course, no, as that would be illegal. THC, which stands for Tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychosomatic or mind altering extract of the hemp plant. Traditionally plants high in THC are called marijuana. “CBD extracted from hemp which is generally defined as Cannabis sativa with a total THC less than 0.3% dry weight in leaves and buds.” (1) This is truly the only difference in the hemp plant vs. marijuana, as they are considered the same plant. Like a rose with a sweeter perfume is still a rose; it just expresses different genetic capabilities. There are a myriad of other cannabinoid compounds (believed to be in excess of 80 different kinds) in the hemp plant. So we really are just scratching the surface here.
When CBD is consumed, it affects the endocannabinoid system, a physiological system all mammals have. A variety of receptors and neurological pathways make up this system. And while we still don’t entirely understand the endocannabinoid system, why we have it, or what it does exactly, recent research says it’s involved in a variety of bodily processes, such as:
- mood changes (or control of them)
- anxiety and depression
So why do we have this system? I have no idea! That is the scientists’ and doctors’ job to figure out. In fact the World Health Organization recently stated, “CBD has been demonstrated as an effective treatment of epilepsy in several clinical trials, with one pure CBD product (Epidiolex®) currently in Phase III trials. There is also preliminary evidence that CBD may be a useful treatment for a number of other medical conditions.” (2) So it’s safe to say they are working on learning all they can. But from the information I can find, it is a series of receptors our body uses to detect imbalances in many other bodily systems and responds by trying to trigger the correction or bring equilibrium to said system.
Most CBD products will state they have less than 0.3% THC, and some will state that level is even lower. I decided that companies who use third-party testing were important to me, as when I first dove into this, CBD oil was still a bit in the gray area of “is it legal”. Third- party testing just means they send it to a lab that is not affiliated with their company. Most companies send a copy of this test along with the product, or the lot can be looked up on their website with the Certificate of Analysis from the third-party lab located there.
I also looked for the extraction method, as there are many, and I opted for a CO2 extraction method as that leaves no residual chemicals.
CBD has many forms of delivery. Originally, it is extracted from the plant and produced as a thick, almost sludgy or chunky oil and then diluted in a carrier oil. Different strengths and concentrations of CBD can be purchased. They also flavor the oil, I assume primarily for human or non vegetarian consumption. Then comes a small glass bottle with a dropper or a glass wand dipstick.
There are the pelleted forms of CBD which, of course, many horse owners would find convenient to add a scoop to their horses ration. Dog owners like this version as well as it top dresses dog food quite well. Some companies are now putting the CBD into a cookie, flavored for dogs, horses, or cats.
I chose to go the oil route and opted for the natural flavor, which I can say by experience tastes like alfalfa flavored oil, which of course your horse will not even notice on its feed and may even like. I chose the oil form because I felt it was the most versatile and was the most cost effective per milligram. I have put it on horse cookies and had no problems with my horses eating it. I have dropped it onto a handful of hay, and of course have put it in their grain ration. I’ve seen it suggested to put in water even, but this method was not direct enough for my liking.
First, to simply save you the Google search, there are typically 20 drops in one milliliter from most glass 1ml droppers. But some companies use thicker oils so checking their suggested number of drops is a good idea. And here is where it can get a little tricky. In other words, you may have to get out your calculator! Some companies label how many milligrams of CBD are in each bottle while others state how many milligrams are in each milliliter in the bottle.
I found that companies who have put the CBD into a pellet or cookie form will have suggested dosing on the container. But not much fits on a 30ml glass bottle.
It’s recommended to dose most full size horses at 75 to 175 mg per day. Minis and drafts will fall somewhere above and below, respectively, to this suggested dosing. I then did some further reading and podcast listening, and it is suggested to do a two-week loading where the decided dose is given daily. Some companies suggest starting at a half dose and over five days working up to the full dose. Another suggestion I found was to administer the CBD oil six days a week, always having one day with no CBD given. The idea behind this is to prevent a “higher tolerance” from developing and the receptors in the body always getting a break.
I was told it would take four to five weeks for me to see any noticeable effects on my horse. As it were, if you would have asked me at week four, “is it working?” NO! would have been my answer. But lo and behold, week five came, and I noticed my mare had the ability to quickly recover from an “exciting encounter”, aka, a horse she didn’t know quickly trotting in her direction.
At week eight, I then bravely (and with the host’s approval) entered her and a three-day clinic, with a giant red JoJo Siwa bow attached to her tail and a public announcement at the beginning of the meeting that it was not there because it was cute! Amazingly enough, she learned a lot from that clinic, never pinned her ears at a single horse, and, I believe, had fun!
I’ve also seen a change in her demeanor when left at the trailer and in her general ability to process and handle stressful situations. Does this mean I have a completely different horse? Not exactly– she is still the weird one in my pasture. And honestly I don’t believe I want her to change too much as she is pretty precious to me and I love her quirky personality. I have spent many an hour with this horse throughout her seven years and as hard as I have fought to keep her healthy and sound, I truly feel that CBD was just another piece to her solving her puzzle.
I hope this post will set you on the right track or maybe clear up some general questions you had about CBD. I, for one, will continue using it and am excited to see what the scientific world will tell us about this new potential “natural wonder drug”!
About Summer Nicholson
Raised in a family run veterinary clinic, some of Summer’s first memories are going on calls with her father, Dr. R. Scott Nicholson. Growing up assisting in the care and healing of animals led her to further her dedication to animals by attending Oklahoma State University and earn a Bachelors in Animal Science Pre-Veterinary medicine. Summer has worked for multiple veterinarians over the years as well as trained and cared for her own horses and several outside horses. Be it in the lab, in sales, marketing, or direct animal care, her focus and profession has remained animal-centered. She lives in Nebraska with her family, two dogs, two cats, and five horses.