Can CBD help with seizures & epilepsy in cats? Seizures are common nervous system disorders in cats, affecting 1% to 3% of the general feline population. Our 18-year-old tabby suffered two seizures a day. Our vet recommended CBD. I was skeptical. Then we tried it.
CBD for Seizures in Cats – August 2022
Why Cat Owners Are Turning to CBD Oil for Seizures in Cats
Studies have shown that CBD’s potential health benefits may be useful in treating a range of medical conditions. These conditions include chronic pain , anxiety , inflammatory bowel disease (IBS), and cancer (6 ) .
In 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) approved Epidiolex, a CBD medication, for treating seizures linked to Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes.
Epidiolex was the first drug to be approved by the FDA for the condition (7 ) .
The Animal Medicinal Drug Use Clarification Act of 1994 (AMDUCA) allows the extra-label (off-label) use of human drugs in animals (8 ) .
Meanwhile, the FDA has not restricted the use of Epidiolex in veterinary medicine.
Still, before giving Epidiolex or any drugs to cats, owners must always consult with a veterinarian for advice first.
In a 2019 study, researchers from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine showed that CBD might alleviate seizures and normalize brain rhythms in Angelman syndrome (9 ) .
Angelman syndrome is a rare condition affecting the development of the nervous system.
The study was done on mice. However, given that the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in all mammals work in similar ways (10 ) , CBD’s purported therapeutic effects may also work in cats with seizures.
The ECS, a system of cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors in the body, regulates body functions to maintain homeostasis (balance).
Seizures are among the common neurologic problems (nervous system disorders) in cats, affecting 1% to 3% of the general feline population (11 ) .
Seizures and epilepsy are not the same medical problems.
Epilepsy is a chronic condition characterized by recurrent epileptic seizures (12 ) . An epilepsy diagnosis needs at least two unprovoked seizures (13 ) .
An epileptic seizure in itself is not a disease but a sign of an abnormal brain function (14 ) .
Seizure characteristics in cats may be different than what is observed in dogs. However, the underlying causes of seizure activity are similar (15 ) .
Unfortunately, information on the causes and options for the treatment of seizures in cats is limited in the veterinary medical literature.
Thus, recommendations for the diagnosis and management of feline seizure disorders have been based on scientific data on canines and humans (16 ) .
CBD for Seizures: What the Research Says
CBD has shown its anticonvulsant properties in animal models and reduced seizure frequency in limited human studies .
In one study, for example, the researchers noted the antiepileptic and antiseizure potential of CBD in generalized seizures (17 ) .
Generalized seizures impact both sides of the brain and often lead to a loss of consciousness.
Another study had similar results. In the study, CBD reduced the percentage of animal subjects that were experiencing severe tonic-clonic seizures (18 ) .
Tonic-clonic (also called grand mal) seizures have two stages. First, there is a loss of consciousness, which can last for 10 to 20 seconds. Then, muscle convulsions that usually last for one to two minutes follow (19 ) .
The results of the study also demonstrate the anticonvulsant characteristics of CBD. The evidence strongly supports CBD as a therapeutic prospect for different types of human epilepsies (20 ) .
Researchers of a 2017 study believe that, compared with THC, CBD shows a more defined anticonvulsant profile in animal models (21 ) .
The results indicate that CBD may be effective against focal and generalized seizures.
There are no studies that specifically examine the effects of CBD use in cats with seizures. The limited studies on seizures and epilepsy were mostly conducted using human subjects and animal models.
Still, the potential therapeutic benefits of CBD use in cats may also be comparable due to the similar ways the ECS works in all mammals.
How CBD Works to Help With Seizures in Cats
CBD interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) through the cannabinoid receptors. The two primary types of receptors are CB1 and CB2.
In cats, CB1 receptors are prevalent in the brain and nervous system. Meanwhile, the CB2 receptors are dominant in the peripheral organs (including the endocrine system organs) and immune cells.
CB1 receptors are involved in motor regulation, pain sensation, memory processing, sleep , appetite, and mood (22 ) .
When activated by cannabinoids, CB2 receptors trigger a response that fights inflammation, which decreases pain and damage to tissues (23 ) .
The antiseizure activities of CBD and cannabidivarin (CBDV), both antiepileptic cannabinoids, may be influenced by their effects on TRPV1 (transient receptor potential vanilloid 1), a pain receptor.
TRPV1 is present in epileptic brain areas. Studies show that the inhibition of TRPV1 in the hippocampus may be a new target for the prevention of epileptic seizures (24 ) .
The Pros and Cons of CBD for Cats
- Epidiolex, a CBD medication for the treatment of seizures linked to Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, is FDA-approved in humans. However, before using human drugs in cats, owners should consult with a veterinarian first for advice.
- CBD is not addictive (25 ) , making it safe for cats when given in veterinarian-approved doses.
- Hemp-derived CBD products are readily available without a prescription in many countries. CBD cat products may come in different forms, such as tinctures or drops, CBD treats (soft chews or bites), capsules, and salves.
- The United States Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) has not received reports of adverse events associated with animals given cannabis products (26 ) . The only reports received were of accidental ingestion of cannabis by pets.
- No extensive studies have been conducted explicitly on CBD’s health benefits or therapeutic use in cats with seizures. Neither are there reports of CBD’s effects of long-term use on cats.
- The FDA has not approved any cannabis products for use in animals. Before using CBD in pets, like cats and dogs, consult with a veterinarian to explore different treatment options (27 ) .
- The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) still categorizes CBD under Schedule I (28 ) Substances belonging to this group have no accepted medicinal use but a high potential for abuse (29 )
- Except in California, veterinarians do not have the legal authority to discuss cannabis use with clients (30 ) . Cat owners need to take the initiative during consultations and ask questions.
- CBD may cause adverse drug interactions with other prescription medicines concurrently taken by a cat. The side effects of CBD include fatigue, diarrhea, dry mouth, and reduced appetite (31 )
How CBD Compares to Alternative Treatments for Seizures in Cats
A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition showed how a ketogenic diet rich in medium-chain triacylglycerols (TAG) achieved levels of ketosis that were useful in preventing seizures in dogs with epilepsy (32 ) .
The keto diet is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet. The MC TAG are fatty acids that help with ketosis, where the body burns stored fat for energy instead of blood sugar.
The dogs were fed with either MC TAG diet or placebo for three months, after which a respective switch of diet was done for another three months .
Results showed that seizure frequency and monthly seizure days were significantly lower in the 21 dogs that finished the 12 weeks compared to those on the placebo diet (33 ) .
Natural remedies, like a change in diet, are preferable to cat owners who want to avoid the adverse side effects of conventional prescription drugs for seizures.
Some herbal remedies, like passion flower, skullcap, and ginger, may also help reduce the occurrence of seizures.
Passion flower is used to treat insomnia, anxiety, and seizures (34 ) . It is known to calm overactive nervous systems that often result in seizures.
The flavonoids that are naturally present in skullcap may be the active ingredients contributing to the anticonvulsant effects (35 ) .
Like skullcap, ginger also has anticonvulsant properties, according to researchers of a study conducted on mice (36 ) .
The studies mentioned above were not done on cats. However, given that the ECS in mammals works in similar ways, the herbal remedies mentioned might also work in cats with seizures.
Meanwhile, CBD in itself is a hemp plant extract that may also help with seizures.
A study lists cannabis as one of the most common herbal medicines used in epilepsy (37 ) . The antiepileptic ingredients of cannabis include CBD (38 ) .
Recent studies have confirmed CBD that it possesses antiepileptic and anticonvulsant effects (39 ) .
There are CBD products infused with passion flowers, skullcap, or ginger that are meant to help calm pets.
The powerful combination of CBD benefits and the therapeutic characteristics of these herbs would be beneficial for seizures in cats.
How to Choose the Best CBD Oil Products for Cats
CBD oil is a potent Cannabis Sativa extract which may be derived from either hemp or marijuana (also called cannabis).
CBD extracts come in different forms or types of oil. Full-spectrum CBD oil contains all of the cannabinoids, essential vitamins, fatty acids (like omega-3 and omega-6), terpenes, flavonoids, and other compounds naturally present in cannabis.
Terpenes are the compounds naturally found in cannabis plants that give the plants their unique aromas and flavors. Flavonoids give plants their vivid colors.
Broad-spectrum CBD oils are full-spectrum oils without the THC content.
Broad-spectrum oils contain only trace amounts of THC (less than 0.3%), making them ideal for those who do not want THC’s psychoactive effects.
Meanwhile, CBD isolates contain only pure CBD. It is the purest and most potent form of CBD.
Whatever type of oil pet owners prefer to use, they should choose only high-quality CBD products for their feline friends to ensure potency and reliability.
Below are useful tips for cat owners looking to buy and try CBD for their cat.
- Choose hemp-derived pet CBD oil that is guaranteed all-natural, organic, and non-GMO.
Note that most reputable CBD brands grow their hemp from their farms or source their hemp only from licensed producers.
- Check state laws in the area where CBD is going to be bought and used. While medical cannabis (medical marijuana) is legal in many states, it remains illegal at the federal level.
Meanwhile, CBD is legally available in most states in the USA as long as it contains less than 0.3% THC.
- Look for CBD cat products produced by brands that use the CO2 extraction technique.
The CO2 method uses pressurized carbon dioxide to effectively and safely extract all the essential compounds from hemp plants.
- Ensure that the CBD hemp oil brand uses all-natural carrier oils. Hemp seed oil, MCT oil (medium-chain triglycerides from coconut oil), and extra-virgin olive oil are natural carrier oils that also have their therapeutic properties.
- Ask for third-party lab results, or the certificate of analysis (COA), of each CBD product.
The COA lists all the other active cannabinoids present in a product. The certificate also indicates whether or not the product contains other additives, preservatives, or contaminants, like fungicides and herbicides.
- Follow the manufacturer’s dosing instructions, as printed on each product label. More importantly, before administering CBD to cats, consult with a veterinarian for guidance and advice.
CBD Oil Dosage for Seizures in Cats
CBD dosing largely depends on the cat’s body weight, diet, health condition, and age. Unfortunately, there has not been any standard dose recommended for any medical conditions in both humans and animals.
Also, different cat CBD oil brands recommend different dosing guidelines. Meanwhile, m ost manufacturers of CBD pet products give dose values in ranges.
Holistapet , for example, has its vet-approved CBD dosing guidelines for cats and dogs. The company recommends between 0.25 mg of CBD (a regular dose) to 0.5 mg of CBD (a strong dose) for each pound of pet body weight (40 ) .
The regular dose is recommended for maintaining health and wellness and boosting immune system function. This dose is supposed to help with skin conditions and appetite and provide pain relief.
The regular dose is also ideal for minor stress and anxiety, digestive issues and nausea, moderate arthritis and joint inflammation, and allergies.
On the other hand, the strong dose is useful in chronic pain, severe arthritis and joint inflammation, mobility issues, and epileptic seizures
The strong dose is also recommended for extreme nausea, vomiting, severe anxiety, tumors, and cancer-related symptoms.
Other manufacturers recommend 1 to 5 mg of CBD for every 10 lbs of a cat’s body weight.
However, when introducing CBD oils into a cat’s diet, being conservative by underdosing may be a wise approach.
From a low dose, gradually increase the amount of CBD until the desired effects are achieved.
In the case of seizures in cats, increase the amount of CBD oil in gradual increments until it shows a positive reaction to the dose.
A positive reaction could mean that the next seizures may be not as severe or as frequent as the previous ones.
A journal or a record of the cat’s seizures and their characteristics is a useful tool for veterinarians in assessing the cat’s progress.
How CBD Oil Can Be Given to Cats
CBD oil tinctures or drops come in a bottle with a dropper, allowing for accurate dosing. Cat owners can slowly introduce CBD, drop by drop, into their cat’s diet with tinctures.
Tinctures can also be administered under the cat’s tongue (sublingually), or by applying it onto its gums with a fingertip.
Aside from giving CBD cat treats, sprinkling the CBD capsules’ contents onto the cat’s food and drink is another way of giving CBD to cats orally.
Meanwhile, there are CBD topicals, like balms, salves, and tinctures may also help. CBD topicals may be applied transdermally to the cat’s bare skin inside its ears, or on its paws to lick.
Cats can reap the benefits of CBD oil through massage. Massaging these CBD-infused products onto a cat’s body provides calming effects and promotes optimal body function.
An article by the American Veterinary Medical Association says there is a lack of consistency in epilepsy research on classifications, definitions, and therapeutic outcomes (41 ) .
Thus, a task force was organized, made up of 26 veterinary and human neurologists and neuroscientists, and other specialists from around the world.
It was the first time that many veterinary clinicians and neuroscientists have formally agreed on the salient aspects of epilepsy in dogs and cats.
Any breed of dog or cat can have seizures and develop epilepsy. According to Ned Patterson, DVM, Ph.D., DACVIM (SAIM), the task force would work on consensus statements on the emergency treatment of seizures (42 ) .
Dr. Patterson of the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine focuses on seizure disorders, genetics, and molecular medicine.
CBD has demonstrated its therapeutic potential in several human and animal studies. However, there are still not enough scientific studies on CBD and seizures in cats.
Until more research has been done showing that the use of CBD is effective in managing seizures in cats, cat owners should use CBD with caution.
Whether using CBD for pain management or reduction of severity and frequency of seizures, any action towards CBD administration and dosing should be under the supervision of a veterinarian experienced in cannabis or CBD use.
We gave Maple the cat CBD for seizures. Here’s what happened
There’s a lot of conflicting information out there about treating pets with cannabidiol (CBD) oil.
As journalist and pet owner I was skeptical about giving CBD to animals.
Maple tussles with coyotes, raccoons, and dogs. But age is catching up to him.
There are few studies to consult. Most of the information is anecdotal. But recently when Maple, my family’s very old house cat, began to have seizures we decided to try a CBD treatment. My information is anecdotal, too, but maybe it’ll help you inform your own decision about whether the treatment is right for your cat. Here’s how it went for us.
Maple is a survivor: 18 years of raccoon encounters and coyote tussles. He wears his war wound like a crown.(Courtesy of Bruce Kennedy)
Meet Maple the Cat
Maple turns 18 this summer. He’s an orange tabby we adopted as a kitten. He likes to snooze in what we call “dead-bug” position—on his back, paws in the air—and has a long history of getting himself into trouble. He’s tangled with coyotes, raccoons, snakes and feral dogs. His most prominent feature is his broken-down and notched left ear, a souvenir from a dispute he settled with our second cat soon after her introduction to the household. Maple is a survivor.
Senior Issues, Then Seizures
As with humans, dogs and cats can get dementia as they age. About a year ago, along with arthritis, Maple began to yowl for no reason, sometimes in the middle of the night. We could deal with that (sort of), but several weeks ago we became alarmed when he began to have seizures.
In the beginning there were at least two a day. They would begin with him collapsing. His eyes would go glassy. Then would come the shaking and rolling: his body convulsing and corkscrewing into agonizing positions while he snapped, snarled and clawed at the air.
After about 90 seconds the tremors would subside. Maple’s eyes would clear, his body would eventually relax, and he’d start panting and would yowl pathetically. It would take several more minutes for him to get to his feet, and he’d sway like a drunk on a bender until his balance came back. We’d often have to clean up the blood from his bitten tongue, as well as saliva and urine.
Maple recovering from a seizure, just before we started one of his early CBD treatments. (Courtesy of Bruce Kennedy)
Advice From Our Vet
Our local veterinarian is very good with cats. He said that we could have Maple undergo a standard treatment, starting with a neurological exam and blood work. But given Maple’s advanced age, he suggested that we instead try CBD oil.
We could do blood work and tests, but the vet suggested trying CBD oil first.
The doctor told us he’s been recommending hemp-derived CBD oil for the past eight months or so, mostly for dogs with arthritis or anxiety issues. We live in suburban Denver, where cannabis has been legal for adults since 2012. “People around here are very open to it,” he said. “In fact sometimes that’s the first thing we try, or I suggest we try.”
When I asked if there had been any reluctance from his clientele about using CBD for their companion animals, he was amused.
“Probably one out of every four of them, they’re taking CBD for themselves,” he laughed.
I trust my vet. He’s been treating our cats for years now. We decided to go with his recommendation and try CBD oil for Maple. But being a journalist means my trust is limited, so I also did a bit of research.
There are literally dozens of pet-oriented CBD products currently available online. I was overwhelmed by the choices. Having covered the cannabis industry for some time now, I’ve learned to be skeptical of any undocumented claims made by those selling medicinal cannabis products—even if they include glowing testimonials from ‘satisfied customers.’ It’s difficult to know which products are clean and reliable, or even which products actually contain CBD. In the end, we went with a product the veterinarian’s office carried.
In early June, several days after the seizures began, we put Maple on a twice-a-day dosage of Mobility Oil produced by ElleVet Sciences out of Portland, Maine. We starting with three drops per dose but quickly ramped up to six drops, as per the bottle’s instructions. Three drops gave Maple a 6.3mg dose of CBD, while six gave him 13.2 mg. (ElleVet’s recommended dosage is about 2 mg per kilogram of body weight for cats. Dogs metabolize CBD differently, so consult your vet and product label for that information.)
A Battle of Wills
The cat was not fond of the CBD oil. At all. After a couple of failed attempts with the dropper I found that mixing the drops into a little water and then squeezing it all into Maple’s mouth with an oral syringe ensured that most of the dosage actually got into the cat.
Personally, I like the earthy bitterness of cannabis as a flavor. But I can see why Maple might object to it.
According to the manufacturers this oil is a “broad spectrum cannabinoid & terpene” compound, which means it also has a strong earthy cannabis smell. I must admit I did try a drop of the oil myself, purely for educational purposes. And while I personally like the bitterness of cannabis as a flavor, I can see why a cat might object to it.
I had to hold Maple’s head up in one arm, his body supported in my lap, to give him his dose. Once he got a whiff of that distinct smell—a smell stronger than the cannabis tinctures I use—his nose would wrinkle and he’d bat down my syringe-holding hand. If you’ve ever tried to spoon-feed an unwilling human infant, you get the idea. The battle of wills would begin.
Maple and I have an understanding. I’ve been able to clip his claws for years with minimal fuss, and I’ve learned that if I calmly but strongly hold him in position for medicines he eventually calms down and accepts his fate.
But he really didn’t like the CBD oil, and I have some scabbed-over scratches on my hands as proof. After getting his dose he’d give me a disapproving scowl, struggle out of my lap and shuffle away. We do this twice a day now.
Not a Miracle, But…
The CBD oil had no immediate effect regarding the seizures but we did notice a marked improvement in Maple’s appetite, as well as his overall movement.
Over time we’ve seen progress with the seizures, too. Ten days into his course of treatment, Maple was down from two seizures a day to one seizure every two days. I wouldn’t consider that a miracle cure, but Maple’s quality of life has definitely improved.
Ten days into his treatment, Maple’s seizures were reduced by 75%. (Courtesy of Bruce Kennedy)
I told our veterinarian about how the CBD appeared to be working. He pointed me towards the results of a newly-released study by Dr. Stephanie McGrath, a neurologist at Colorado State University’s James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
Dr. McGrath’s study was small, involving 16 dogs that suffered from seizures. Nine of the dogs were treated with hemp-derived CBD for 12 weeks, while the remaining seven were placed in a control group and given a placebo.
According to her research, 89% of the dogs that received CBD had a reduction in the frequency of their seizures.
“We saw a correlation between how high the levels of CBD oil were in these dogs with how great the seizure reduction was,” McGrath said in a CSU press release. “It’s really exciting that perhaps we can start looking at CBD in the future as an alternative to existing anticonvulsive drugs.”
Pushback From Veterinary Associations
During our consultations, our veterinarian was very open with his information about CBD and comfortable talking about its potential uses. But he also asked that his name not be used in this article, due to the controversial status of CBD within the mainstream of animal medicine.
The AMVA says ‘the available scientific evidence pertaining to use of CBD in animals is currently limited.’
According to a survey of more than 2,100 vets done last year by the Veterinary Information Network, 63% of respondents said they were asked by their clients at least monthly—and sometimes weekly or even daily—about cannabis products for their pets. Most of the veterinarians surveyed said they had “never been the ones to initiate the discussion” about cannabis products.
That being said, a large part of the veterinary community remains split about CBD—and many are still reluctant to recommend it as a treatment.
On its website, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) notes that while cannabis-derived products appear to have therapeutic promise “in areas such as the treatment of epilepsy and the management of pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis, the available scientific evidence pertaining to their use in animals is currently limited.”
Much of what is known, the AVMA statement continues, “is related to anecdotal or case reports or has been gleaned from studies related to use in humans, including the study of animal models for that purpose.”
Finding a Product That Helps
Curious about the company that produced Maple’s medicine, I contacted Amanda Howland, co-founder and chief branding officer at ElleVet Sciences. (ElleVet did not pay for this article, nor did the company supply any medicine or other consideration. They just happened to be linked in a chain of trust: I trust our vet and our vet trusted ElleVet products enough to stock them, so that’s the brand we went with.)
Howland told me she understands the position of the big veterinary organizations.
“Veterinarians are doctors and they’re protecting their patients,” she said, “and they would like to see evidence.”
Howland pointed to a clinical trial conducted by Cornell University. It was a double-blind placebo trial on dogs with multi-joint pain, which her company supported with a research grant and a supply of products. In that study, researchers found that more than 80% of the dogs had a significant or dramatically positive response to CBD treatment.
ElleVet is currently in the middle of a seizure study with researchers at the University of Florida (also using the company’s CBD products), as well as a handful of other research regarding pain management and oncology in dogs.
One of the primary problems right now, Howland said, is CBD’s booming popularity. There are a lot of products currently on the market with very differing and sometimes very low levels of CBD content, quality and potency.
“There are a lot of products out there that really aren’t very good,” Howland told me. “So we want people to talk to their veterinarians, and we want veterinarians to have a product that they can trust and that they can recommend. We like to keep a good relationship with the veterinarians and we like to keep pet owners talking to their veterinarians, to make sure that the dogs and cats are getting a product that is actually going to help them.”
Realistic, but Hopeful
It will take some time to see if Maple’s CBD regimen is truly helping him, and if so, if it’s sustainable in the long term. (And “long term” is relative. The cat is 18 years old.) His seizure rate has dropped, but there’s no way to know if that would have happened without the CBD oil, or if there are other factors involved.
I do know this. Our goal is to lessen the suffering of this cat that we’ve loved for nearly two decades. And right now the CBD oil seems to correlate with a reduction in seizures and an improvement in appetite and mood. Emotions aside, I’m encouraged about the potential for CBD to gain mainstream professional acceptance as a therapeutic treatment for both humans and their companion animals. It’s not hurting, and it seems to be helping. For Maple and for us, that’s all that we ask.