CBD to calm anxiety. Mushrooms to boost immunity. Probiotics and plant-based diets. No, this isn’t a rundown of advice from your favorite Instagram wellness coach–it’s a list of rising wellness trends for dogs. Are these new trends truly beneficial for your dog, or are they merely passing fads? Get to know each trend and how it could impact your dog’s health.
CBD for Dogs
CBD is short for cannabidiol, and as its name suggests, it comes from the cannabis plant. But CBD doesn’t contain THC, the ingredient in marijuana that induces a high. For humans, CBD is an effective treatment for anxiety and other conditions, such as seizure disorders. But that doesn’t necessarily translate to treating those same conditions in dogs, and research is still underway.
“Use of CBD with pets is a very new trend,” says Dr. Marcus Dela Cruz, DVM, owner of The Friendly Vet. “Because of legal restrictions, not much research has been done by pharmaceutical companies into how CBD could benefit pets. However, as CBD laws have changed, more studies are being performed.”
Initial research shows some promise in using CBD to treat dogs. “There are some indications that CBD can be useful in the treatment of pain, inflammation, anxiety, and nausea,” says Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM, who serves on the advisory board for Pet News Daily. “A few published papers provide evidence that CBD can be effective in the management of canine epilepsy and osteoarthritis.”
Both vets caution, however, that research on treating dogs with CBD is still in its infancy. “There are no [published] studies that I am aware of that show CBD helps with anxiety, stress, vomiting, or many other ailments that it is often marketed for,” says Dr. Dela Cruz, who also stresses the importance of obtaining CBD from a reputable source that provides both a certificate of analysis and a third-party evaluation of safety and effectiveness. “CBD products are notorious for having contaminants–like THC, which is toxic to pets–or not containing the amount of CBD that they claim on their label.” Dr. Coates agrees, and also adds, “Many CBD products [for pets] actually contain very little CBD.”
Supplements containing medicinal mushrooms are filling more and more shelf space in the dog supplement aisle at your local pet store, and ‘shrooms are also finding their way into commercial dog food and treats. Proponents of medicinal mushrooms for dogs claim that they’re an effective immunity booster and stress reducer, and they’re also sometimes used to aid in the treatment of cancer. But are they actually effective?
“There is some evidence that certain types of medicinal mushrooms can have health benefits, particularly with immune system support and cancer treatment,” says Dr. Coates. However, as with CBD, research is still in its beginning stage. “Medicinal mushrooms are in serious need of more research in pets,” says Dr. Dela Cruz. “The last update I saw on medicinal mushrooms was that they showed promise in several areas but had only been used in studies using other species.”
Both vets strongly caution against the potential toxicity of giving mushrooms to dogs. “Some types of mushrooms can be deadly to dogs,” says Dr. Coates. “Medicinal mushrooms should only be given under veterinary supervision and purchased from reputable sources.” As for feeding your dog treats or pet food laced with mushrooms, it’s generally a bad idea. “Overall, I think we are still years away from understanding if and how we should use medicinal mushrooms in our pets,” says Dr. Dela Cruz.
Lots of attention has been paid in recent years to gut health in humans, with a large focus placed on probiotics to help maintain a healthy gut. Can probiotics–beneficial bacteria that live in your gut and aid digestion–also be good for dogs?
“There is plenty of research to support the use of probiotics,” says Dr. Dela Cruz, who points out the damage use of antibiotics to treat infections can do to a dog’s healthy gut flora. “The downside to antibiotics is that they don’t differentiate between ‘bad’ bacteria and ‘good’ bacteria. Antibiotics will actually kill bacteria that normally live in the gut, which can lead to problems like diarrhea, vomiting, or decreased appetite. When we pair antibiotics with probiotics, we help replace that gut flora to maintain a healthy gastrointestinal system.”
“Used for a short period of time, probiotics can help dogs get over an acute case of diarrhea,” says Dr. Coates. “For more chronic conditions, probiotics need to be given regularly. Some probiotic strains can also help relieve anxiety in dogs.” She adds that while probiotics are extremely safe when used correctly, they should be administered under the supervision of a vet. “It is important to give pets the right strains of probiotics, at the right dose, based on the condition being treated,” she says. “Follow label directions on pet-specific probiotics and talk to your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns.”
While plant-based diets have long been touted for their health benefits for humans, it’s also long been assumed that, as descendants of wolves, dogs need meat in their diets. Lately, however, that assumption is being challenged as many in the pet food industry are exploring plant-based proteins as a viable and more sustainable alternative to meat. Additionally, there’s a rising trend in those who follow vegan diets, whether for health or for ethical reasons, wanting to feed their dogs a vegan diet as well. But is this trend actually good for dogs?
Contrary to popular belief, dogs are not strict carnivores like their wolf ancestors. “Dogs are omnivores, so a nutritionally complete and balanced plant-based diet can be appropriate,” says Dr. Coates. “Plant-based diets may also be beneficial in the treatment of some health problems like food allergies or intolerances and inflammatory bowel disease.”
Dr. Dela Cruz is more skeptical. “I think plant-based diets are a trend that will have a short life,” he says. “In theory, a dog could do perfectly fine on a plant-based diet, but in order for the diet to be nutritionally complete and balanced they would likely need highly digestible plant protein to replace the protein content normally met by meat.”
Whatever you decide to feed your pup, it’s important to make sure they get the right balance of nutrition for their current life stage. “Look for products that are labeled with an Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) statement of nutritional adequacy,” Dr. Coates advises. And be sure to check with your vet before feeding plant-based protein to your growing puppy, or before making any drastic changes to your dog’s diet.
While these popular dog wellness trends show some promise, they can be a mixed bag of potential problems as well as potential benefits. Always talk to your vet before trying something with your pup that you’re not completely sure about, and get their input before giving your dog any dietary supplements or trendy new ingredients.