Endocannabinoid System in Dogs & Cats Explained

When it comes to learning about CBD oil and other cannabis pet products, many pet owners often have questions about how it affects their pets and why. Some pet owners may feel concerned about their pet getting a “high” from the CBD oil and other cannabis-containing products. This fear may stem from the reaction that is often associated with a cat when they sniff catnip or valerian root.

Don’t worry unlike human grade cannabis products, the ones made for pets won’t cause a “high” effect. While CBD oil and other pet grade cannabis products are safe for use, it never hurts to learn why these products work the way they do. It is also interesting to know just how close humans, dogs, cats, horses, and other mammals are when it comes to using cannabis products.

There are plenty of medical studies showing the many medicinal and nutritional benefits of CBD oil. Armed with this information, it is no surprise that many people, including pet owners, are flocking to use it for their own needs or for their pets. CBD oil is like many other types of essential oils that give users a slew of soothing effects and other benefits.

However, there is still plenty of information scientists don’t know about cannabis and how it may interact with other substances, potency, new therapeutic uses, and so on.

This definitely leaves many wondering how CBD oil and other cannabinoids work on animals. Are there any negative side effects to using too much CBD oil? Why can’t animals have THC containing cannabis products while humans can? What is the difference between THC and CBD oil?

For you to understand the answers to these peculiar questions, one must first learn about the very system that makes it all happen – the endocannabinoid system.

Endocannabinoid System: How CBD Oil Works for Your Cats and Dogs

CBD oil and its THC containing counterpart are two major cannabis products that influence certain receptors in many creatures. Many, if not all, mammals including humans, dogs, cats, dolphins, rabbits, horses, monkeys, and even elephants have an endocannabinoid system. This system is still fairly new to scientists as they learn about the various effects cannabis has on the body.

So far scientists have seen positive results in how cannabis can help fight against multiple chronic diseases and other conditions in both humans and animals. You may already be familiar with cannabis’s pain relief benefits and its use in helping treat your pet’s anxiety. There are many other things the endocannabinoid system is good for.

Some of these effects are:

  • Antiviral properties
  • Promotes anti-inflammatory activity in your pet’s body
  • Blocks cell growth and blood vessel supply to tumors
  • Can help relieve muscle spasms
  • Can help treat seizures and epilepsy in both cats and dogs
  • Increases appetite and helps pets who suffer from nausea and vomiting
  • Helps with bowel diseases in dogs and cats
  • Helps slow down neurodegenerative diseases in cats and dogs
  • Helps your pet’s cardiovascular health

CBD oil is only one of 113 different cannabinoids that are found in the cannabis plant. Most of these cannabinoids are still being researched so there still isn’t much about their therapeutic nature known currently. The other known cannabinoid is THC which is often associated with the psychoactive effect on people.

Unlike THC, CBD oil does not cause any psychoactive reactions, otherwise known as a “high”. While THC is safe for humans it can be very dangerous to pets. Small amounts of THC exposure may not kill your cat or dog, but exposing cats and dogs to THC can cause an intoxication effect.

A dog or cat that is suffering from THC intoxication will show symptoms such as dilated pupils, drool excessively, become hyperactive, vocal i.e. barking and mewing more than usual, and disorientation. In severe cases, your pet may end up suffering seizures, tremors, and/or go into a coma.

It is extremely important that you purchase pet-grade cannabis products and keep all THC containing products away from your pet at all times. Even second-hand smoke can cause a slight intoxication effect in animals so make sure you don’t smoke around your pets either.

While this may leave some concerned there is a reason CBD oil is safer than THC when it comes to your cats and dogs. It all goes back to the very system humans and animals share and how it interacts with these substances.

Remember humans, dogs, and cats do share many similarities as mammals, but each animal has a slightly different way in which things are metabolized within their bodies. These slight variations in metabolizing cannabis can differ from pet to pet the same way it differs from person to person.

What is the Endocannabinoid System?

The endocannabinoid system is simply an endogenous response to being exposed to cannabinoid compounds. Basically, it is you and/or your pet’s reaction when exposed to cannabis products such as oils, extracts, edibles, and so on. This cannabis driven system is the reason you see the physiological and psychological effects of cannabis use.

This system is the one responsible for regulating many important functions in your pet’s body. The main functions that are regulated by the endocannabinoid system in cats and dogs are:

  • Appetite
  • Mood
  • Sleep
  • Metabolism
  • Immune function and response
  • Memory, learning and neural development
  • Pleasure response
  • Movement and coordination
  • Pain relief
  • Reproduction
  • Digestion
  • Neuroprotection
  • Cardiovascular functions
  • Temperature regulation

For a happy, healthy cat or dog, it is important that they have a properly functioning endocannabinoid system.

How the Endocannabinoid System Works

Now that you understand what the endocannabinoid system does for your family pet, you can now look at the intricacies of how it works inside your pet’s body. The endocannabinoid system can be broken down into three mechanisms. These mechanisms are the endocannabinoids, cannabinoid receptors, and the enzymes that are used to create and break down the various endocannabinoids.

How this biological system is triggered is when your pet’s main functions are thrown out of balance. Their body will then respond by releasing enzymes that are designed to synthesize and/or breakdown endocannabinoids.

Once the endocannabinoids are synthesized they are then bound to either the CB1 or CB2 receptors in your pet’s nervous system. After the cannabinoid receptors are activated, they will then take control of the of the proteins passing through various cells while also sending chemical messages along the nerve cells.

These chemical messages will be used to help determine which adjustments will need to be made inside your pet in order for their body to return to homeostasis. After the chemical messages are received, your pet’s brain will then produce a chemical response that is specifically meant to help balance out all unbalanced functions.

This, in turn, alleviates whatever is ailing your pet whether it be anxiety, poor appetite, seizures, and so on. Basically, this system functions just like the other metabolic systems within the bodies of all animals.

Now you may be wondering about the finer details of the endocannabinoid system. What are these two cannabinoid receptors? What are cannabinoids? Is there a specific classification for the different kinds of cannabinoids? What are endocannabinoids and why are they so important in the endocannabinoid system?

What are Cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids are simply chemical messengers within the endocannabinoid system of your dog, cat, or any other mammal. Back to that long list of cannabinoids. Many are still being discovered, documented, and experimented with. 113 different cannabinoid compounds definitely is a long list. While not all of them are currently known, there is a type of classification for cannabinoids.

There are two major categories in which a cannabinoid is listed based on where they originate. These categories are exogenous and endogenous. Two well-known cannabinoids are CBD and THC. CBD stands for cannabidiol. THC stands for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol


Basically means the chemical messengers originate from outside the body of your cat or dog. This is where many cannabidiol compounds such as CBD and THC are classified under. This classification is primarily because CBD and THC are consumed. You will get them from the cannabis plant.

These are the compounds that are responsible for producing the physiological and psychological side effects when they interact with your pet’s cannabinoid receptors.


The category that also defines the system itself. This category means the chemical messengers originate within the body. This category includes all of the endocannabinoids compounds that are produced by the body. These endocannabinoids interact with the cannabinoid receptors are responsible for the regulation of basic functions.

Cannabinoid Receptors

This is the part of the endocannabinoid system that is neurological in nature and is a part of the immune response inside your cat or dog. Depending on where the compounds are received determines which receptors are used the most. Cannabinoid receptors are typically located on the surface of most cells.

These receptors are responsible for monitoring the conditions outside of the cell and transmit any abnormalities to the inside of the cell. This will then trigger the endocannabinoid system’s regulatory response within the cells.

All mammals have multiple types of cannabinoid receptors. But for simplicity, you can focus on the two major types of cannabinoid receptors. These receptors are cannabinoid receptor 1 and cannabinoid receptor 2.

CBD oil doesn’t bind directly with the cannabinoid receptors. In order for the cannabinoids to be absorbed, they are first broken down by enzymes such as FAAH (fatty acid amide hydrolase) and MAGL (monoacylglycerol lipase).

These enzymes are mainly there to breakdown endocannabinoid anandamide. This process of breaking down the cannabinoids is a slow one and can cause a build-up of endocannabinoids in the brain.

  • CB1 receptors

    While these CB1 receptors can be found throughout your pet’s body, they are usually centered around the central nervous system. This means these receptors are often concentrated in your pet’s brain, spinal cord, and nerve endings.

    CB1 receptors are responsible for most of the regulatory functions such as metabolism, appetite, sleep, mood, memory, and so on.  
  • CB2 receptors

    These receptors can be found in both the immune system and nervous system of your cat or dog. Activation of these receptors is what helps boost your pet’s immune function, response, alleviate inflammation, and help with pain. It is this receptor that is affected most by CBD oil and other CBD containing products.

Areas of Your Pet’s Brain that are Affected by Cannabinoids

Now you may be wondering which areas of the brain are affected by these exogenous and endogenous cannabinoids. The specific areas of your pet’s brain that are affected most by cannabinoids are:

Basal Ganglia

This is the part of the brain associated with motor skills and learning

Cerebral Cortex

The part of the brain associated with awareness, consciousness, thinking, and memory


This is the area of the brain associated with memory storage and memory recall


The part of the brain responsible for muscle control and coordination


The area of the brain that is responsible for metabolic processes such as appetite, temperature, digestion, reproduction, hormones, and so on.


This is the part of the brain associated with emotions and mood


A crucial part of the brain that controls many functions such as blood pressure, heart rate, vomiting reflex, sensations of pain and pleasure, muscle movement, muscle tone, respiration and more.

What are Endocannabinoids?

The final component of the endocannabinoid system is the endocannabinoids themselves. These are the endogenous cannabinoids produced from within your pet’s body. There are currently two major types of endocannabinoids. These endocannabinoids are 2-AG and anandamide. Basically, endocannabinoids are neurotransmitters that are synthesized on demand based on biological needs.


2-AG stands for 2-arachidonoyl glycerol. It was the second endocannabinoid to be discovered. It is found in high concentrations within the brain and interacts differently with the CB1 and CB2 receptors. It will often interact the most with the CB1 receptors in the brain. This endocannabinoid is often broken down quickly within the body.


This is the first endocannabinoid to be discovered. It is found throughout the body and also interacts with both CB1 and CB2 receptors. It is more likely to interact with the CB2 receptors. This is the endocannabinoid that takes longer to process and often builds up in the brain and body. It is responsible for the blissful effect that is experienced with cannabis use.

There are other types of endocannabinoids that are currently being discovered, however, their function within the body of both humans and animals is still being determined.

Endocannabinoid System in Dogs & Cats Explained
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