CBD and Osteoarthritis in Dogs
Dr. JoAnna veterinarian and freelance medical writer
Date Published: 2020-01-30
Date Updated: 2020-01-30
Visit any dog park, and you’ll see dogs running, jumping, or just moseying around sniffing the ground. Unfortunately, for dogs with osteoarthritis (OA), which is joint inflammation, going to the dog park or even for a casual walk around the neighborhood, can be difficult. It’s not that they don’t want to play and be active; it’s that their painful joints prevent them from doing so.
OA, also known as degenerative joint disease, is a common orthopedic condition in dogs, especially large breed and older dogs. Although OA is progressive and cannot be cured, it can be managed so that a dog feels better and can move around more easily.
CBD (cannabidiol) has shown promise for helping dogs with OA. Before we get into that, let’s first talk about the disease itself.
What is Osteoarthritis?
A normal, healthy joint has cushiony cartilage that allows for smooth movement through the joint’s normal range of motion. For many reasons, including developmental orthopedic disease, genetics, or just old age, the cartilage starts to break down, creating inflammation and painful bone-on-bone rubbing.
Dogs with OA have the symptoms that are listed below:
- Slower mobility
- Difficulty getting up
- Reluctance to jump
- Aggression, secondary to pain
To diagnose OA, a veterinarian will closely evaluate a dog’s joints during a physical examination and take x-rays to determine the amount of arthritic damage to the affected joints.
Managing OA involves relieving pain, reducing inflammation, and improving overall quality of life. Management strategies include those listed below:
- Weight management: Excess weight stresses the joints, which can worsen OA. For dogs with OA who are overweight or obese, veterinarians recommend decreasing caloric intake and increasing exercise to achieve and maintain an ideal weight.
- Exercise: Gentle, low-impact exercises like walking improve muscle tone around the joints, helping to improve joint function.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs, such as meloxicam, reduce joint inflammation and pain. Long-term NSAID use, though, can cause negative side effects, particularly gastrointestinal problems like vomiting.
- Nutritional supplements: Supplements like glucosamine, chondroitin, and omega-3 fatty acids help to restore joint health.
- Acupuncture: Acupuncture can be very effective at relieving pain and promoting relaxation.
- Massage: Like acupuncture, a gentle massage promotes relaxation and relieves pain.
- Surgery: For dogs with advanced OA, surgery is often needed to repair or replace the affected joints.
What is CBD?
CBD is a cannabinoid and is derived from the hemp plant, which is a strain of the Cannabis sativa species of plants. Unlike the marijuana plant (also a strain of Cannabis sativa), the hemp plant contains only 0.3% THC, the psychoactive cannabinoid that produces a “high.” Therefore, CBD will not get a dog high.
Interestingly, the body naturally produces cannabinoids! These ‘endocannabinoids’ are part of the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which also includes cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) throughout the nervous system and body. The ECS plays key roles in regulating pain perception, emotions, sleep, and many other body functions.
In recent years, CBD’s popularity has skyrocketed as people increasingly use CBD, especially to relieve anxiety. CBD has also been used to treat epilepsy in children and insomnia. What makes CBD so appealing is that it can promote health benefits without producing a “high” or serious negative side effects.
CBD and OA
So, where does CBD fit into OA management for dogs? Here’s the answer: CBD can reduce joint inflammation without serious negative side effects.
To date, very little research has been done on CBD in dogs. Reports of CBD’s benefits in dogs are primarily anecdotal and come from pet parents.
A Cornell University study has provided valuable information on how CBD oil can help dogs with OA. For this study, researchers recruited client-owned dogs with OA, demonstrated by radiographic evidence of OA (e.g., bone spurs), detectable lameness, and joints that were painful to the touch.
First, the researchers tested 2 doses of CBD oil (2 mg/kg, 8 mg/kg) in a few healthy dogs. No negative side effects were reported at either dose.
Next, the researchers split the dogs with OA into 2 groups: CBD oil at 2 mg/kg every 12 hours, or placebo every 12 hours. All dogs received treatment for 4 weeks. During the study, the researchers evaluated each dog by performing a physical exam, assessing pain and lameness, and analyzing blood work.
Dogs receiving CBD treatment experienced significant decreases in pain and increases in physical activity, without negative side effects. Such results are encouraging and provide scientific evidence of how CBD can help dogs with OA.
Bringing it Together
OA is a painful disease in dogs that can rob them of a good quality of life. CBD oil holds promise as a safe and effective treatment option for dogs with OA. If you are interested in giving your dog CBD, talk with your veterinarian first.