As a cannabis educator who tackles issues for both people and their pets, the question I’m most often asked is, “Can CBD help my dog’s arthritis?” It’s not surprising, given that CBD (known in scientific circles as cannabidiol) is popping up everywhere. Today’s pet parents have an enhanced awareness of their options, and the desire to provide the best possible care to their furry children. As a result, our pets are living longer, happier lives. As our pets age however, they can suffer from the typical aches and pains that go along with living a full life. It’s no wonder that more and more pet parents are asking about CBD to help alleviate some of the common symptoms of arthritis or “joint pain” in their senior pets.
Osteoarthritis, aka degenerative joint disease, is one of the most commonly reported ailments facing senior dogs. One study, as illustrated in this graphic from the American Animal Hospital Association, reported that 1 in 5 dogs will be diagnosed, and this percentage increases with age and other factors. This condition is defined, in its simplest terms, as inflammation of the structures within the joint, and can result in swelling, stiffness, and pain. Pet parents often report a wide range of symptoms, possibly including one or more of the following:
Numerous factors contribute to the likelihood of developing this condition, especially for dogs with previous injuries or surgeries, congenital abnormalities, weight issues, and those from large breeds. Regardless of the cause, no parent wants to see their four-legged family member in pain.
CBD is the second most abundant cannabinoid (the first being THC), and it has long been used in humans for all kinds of painful conditions. It’s well-known to be non-euphoric, but it can be used to manage severe pain thanks to its anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and analgesic effects. In humans, pain relief is one of the most common reasons for turning to cannabis. But what about our pets? Despite the lack of voluminous scientific data, pet owners are reaching for CBD for their pets in pain. Advertisements for products using testimonials about the effects of CBD for arthritis in pets are everywhere, but is there any research to back it up?
The answer to this question is yes. There is a slowly increasing body of evidence that CBD can help manage pain in pets as well as people. The first scientific study on dogs, completed in the U.S. in conjunction with a major veterinary university, was published in 2018. The results were encouraging and indicated that the CBD product used in the study was well tolerated and effective for dogs with osteoarthritis pain. This is not surprising given that CBD has powerful anti-inflammatory effects via multiple mechanisms within the body. Currently, there are numerous other studies underway to further examine the use of CBD for dogs and other pets in pain.
Traditional drug treatment for osteoarthritis in dogs consists of several classes of prescription medications, all with long lists of side effects. The category veterinarians will usually reach for first are the NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). We’ve all encountered drugs in this category, like aspirin, ibuprofen, carprofen, and meloxicam, just to name a few. Even though people and pets utilize these products regularly, long term use increases the risks of vomiting and diarrhea, gastric bleeding and ulceration, and liver/kidney damage in dogs.
Pet parents are seeking better, more progressive options in getting relief for their fur babies. As a result, today’s veterinarians looking to have a more holistic or “multimodal” approach will generally opt to add several different methods of treatment — for example, combining prescription medications with physical therapy, acupuncture, and weight loss. I would argue that when treating osteoarthritis, a condition characterized by inflammation, reaching for a potent anti-inflammatory compound with a more favorable safety profile is warranted. CBD fits these criteria and may be a valuable addition to the tools needed to manage your older dog’s joint pain. It may even be helpful in decreasing the doses of other prescription medications.
If this sounds intriguing, talk to your veterinarian and let them know you want to explore this option. This is a conversation you will probably need to initiate. There are a wide variety of formulations available to pet parents, and products need to be evaluated for safety and quality. In addition, CBD is not “one size fits all.” The appropriate methods for delivery and dosing schedules are very individualized. Products made for people may not necessarily be safe for pets. While CBD may not be the best choice for every pet, it’s worth the discussion.
Remember, it’s crucial to have your licensed veterinarian oversee your pet’s treatment. You and your veterinary team should work together to establish goals and a reasonable plan. You will need to choose a product, determine an appropriate dosing schedule, monitor your pet’s progress, and watch for any unintended effects. Be aware that this is a “trial and error” process that can take time and may need periodic changes and re-evaluation. Always start with a low dose and slowly increase until the desired effects are noted. I advocate for having baseline lab testing done, ideally before starting a CBD regimen. This is important, as CBD has been noted to increase some liver enzymes, and at this time we do not know the significance of these changes. Regular monitoring via exams and periodic lab testing is also an important part of caring for your senior pet.
Picking an effective, quality product is an important part of this process. For those needing assistance in making this choice or in navigating any part of this process, there are resources available. To get started, talk to an experienced veterinary cannabis counselor at www.veterinarycannabis.org.
The content on cannabisMD is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your licensed veterinary medical provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
*All information provided above is intended to be educational only and does not represent veterinary medical advice. Please see your pet’s regular medical provider with whom you have a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship for discussion and treatment. Any discussion of dosing or how to use medical cannabis products is not a legal prescription, recommendation or endorsement. Use of medical cannabis products in an animal species should only be done after a full examination and discussion with a licensed veterinarian in compliance with all applicable laws.