To calm dogs spooked by fireworks, pet owners are using treats made from marijuana plants

Owner Beth Staley talks about cannabidiol products for dogs at Happy Dog Barkery on July 3, 2018, in Downers Grove. Staley said she gives her own dog Kale Chips products with cannabidiol, also known as CBD, that help with his pain and anxiety during fireworks or thunderstorms. (Erin Hooley / Chicago Tribune)

As the sound of July fireworks sends terrified dogs running into closets, under the bed and possibly even away from home, many pet owners and veterinarians are buzzing about a new way to help man’s best friend relax and enjoy the holiday: products made from the marijuana plant.

Cannabidiol chews, oils and dog treats are selling out at local pet supply stores, and veterinarians say clients have been eager to learn more about CBD products derived from hemp, the same Cannabis sativa plant as pot but which contains little or no THC, the component that provides the high.

“It’s just recently come in favor,” said Natalie Marks, medical director for Blum Animal Hospital in Chicago, where she recommends CBD products, which are available without a prescription for both dogs and cats that have mild reactions to fireworks. “We have lots of clients that are very happy with it.”

But in a statement to the Tribune, the American Veterinary Medical Association discouraged the use of CBD products on pets.

“While marijuana products are being marketed to treat certain diseases and other health conditions in animals, the FDA has not approved the use of marijuana in any form in animals. In addition, the safety and effectiveness of these products with respect to their therapeutic claims has not been demonstrated. For these reasons, the AVMA cautions pet owners against the use of such products,” said Michael San Filippo, spokesman for the American Veterinary Medical Association, based in Schaumburg.

Still, pet supply shops can’t keep the products on the shelves.

At Happy Dog Barkery in Downers Grove, owner Beth Staley said she had to create a waiting list for customers interested in the CBD products the store began carrying at the beginning of the year. The store’s recent supply sold out over the weekend, leaving Staley scrambling to get more inventory from her distributor before the holiday. She expected a steady stream of CBD customers leading up to Wednesday, when the shop will be closed.

“It has been like hotcakes,” said Staley, who said customers also have bought the products for pets spooked by thunder. “In the last four to six weeks, especially with all the storms coming in, it has really taken off.”

The popularity of CBD products for dogs mirrors a growth in CBD products for humans, an industry that has flourished in the nearly three years since medical marijuana was legalized in Illinois. From massage oils to dog biscuits, a variety of products that purport to soothe ailments from insomnia to inflammation are available for sale in Illinois with little regulation.

While some critics are skeptical of the products, Tracy Werner, training manager for Bentley Pet Stuff, a pet supply chain that started in Arlington Heights, said both she and her customers have seen CBD products help pooches to relax and to seem less in pain.

“I’ve seen it in my dogs; I’ve seen it in my customers’ dogs,” Werner said. “Dog people like to tell other people what works.”

Research on CBD is still in its early stages, but some studies have shown that the all-natural products work by binding to receptors in a dog’s head and body, creating desirable outcomes, including: lowering anxiety, controlling seizure disorders, decreasing allergies and alleviating pain, Marks said. Studies are less conclusive about its impact on cats, she added.

“If you have a dog that is mildly aware of fireworks, that might stop what they’re doing to look to see what the sound is, or potentially be a little more clingy, something like CBD oils, or chews … is probably a good start,” said Marks. She added that while she has not seen any negative consequences of using CBD on an animal, she warns clients that it may not be enough to handle the fears of some severely phobic dogs.

For dogs that experience unwanted urinating, defecating, panting and hiding during July Fourth fireworks, a stronger treatment of prescription anti-anxiety medication may be needed. It’s important to know the difference, Marks said, because dogs who experience habitual anxiety, fear and stress can act out in ways that destroy the bond with an owner. Anxiety in dogs also has been shown to cause long-term physical problems, including escalated blood pressure, elevated blood sugar or a suppressed immune system, she said.

The stress-free life is what Staley, the Happy Dog Barkery owner, wanted for her dog, Kale Chips. She began caring for the beagle in 2015, after he was surrendered to Chicago Animal Care and Control after being more than 20 pounds overweight. The beagle trimmed his physique and returned to an active lifestyle — except during thunderstorms, which used to make him pace, pant and drool, Staley said.

Staley, who said she felt comfortable offering Kale Chips CBD oil because of the research she had done before carrying the product at her store, said she was amazed at the way her dog fell asleep in the middle of a storm after she placed a few drops of oil in his mouth.

“I asked my husband, ‘Is this a fluke, or is this crazy?’” Staley said. “It worked amazingly well.”

Twitter @vikkiortiztrib

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