As you’ve probably heard, CBD is a popular remedy for humans with a wide array of pain conditions. And since we sometimes love our pets more than our human family members (is that wrong?), more pet parents are wondering if CBD can help their four-legged friends. One question I get a lot is, “Can CBD help my dog’s arthritis?” In short: It’s we’re still learning.
As a veterinarian and a scientist, I want to note that research is still playing catch-up when it comes to CBD. We need to keep learning about the safety and effectiveness of CBD in pets. That being said, the results so far are encouraging. Early evidence suggests that CBD may help dogs with a common type of joint disease called osteoarthritis.
So What, Exactly, is Canine Osteoarthritis?
Canine osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis in dogs. Also known as degenerative joint disease or DJD, it affects up to 20% of dogs over one year old. Osteoarthritis involves a loss of cartilage and the formation of bone spurs (osteophytes) in moveable joints. Common arthritic joints are the knee and elbow. A lack of protective cartilage and the presence of sharp osteophytes can lead to inflammation, pain, and difficulty moving. All of these factors can seriously interfere with your dog’s quality of life. Osteoarthritis is also progressive, meaning it gradually gets worse over time.
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What Causes Osteoarthritis in Dogs?
The causes of osteoarthritis in dogs are complicated. Still, previous research has helped determine which dogs are at the highest risk. Many dogs develop osteoarthritis after having another problem involving the bones, joints, or muscles. These preexisting conditions can be present from a young age. They include issues like hip dysplasia or injuries like cranial cruciate ligament rupture — the dog equivalent of a torn ACL. Osteoarthritis risk is also affected by genetics, age, and body weight.
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How Can You Tell if Your Dog has Osteoarthritis?
What does a dog with osteoarthritis look like? Only a veterinarian can diagnose your pet; however, affected dogs often seem stiff and reluctant to exercise. A dog that usually does laps around the backyard may slow down or stop running entirely. He or she may even act aggressively when painful joints are touched. Some of these changes can sometimes be interpreted as a dog just getting old. But it’s essential to consult your vet as soon as signs appear. Early treatment can help slow the progression of the disease and lead to more healthy, happy years for your pet.
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Let’s Get to It: What About CBD for Pets?
Why are pet owners interested in using CBD for dogs with arthritis? Personal experiences are likely a factor. Fifty-nine percent of human users in a recent survey listed pain reduction as one of their motivations for taking CBD. In the same study, about 40% of participants who used CBD reported taking it to replace non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs often have side effects in dogs. Studies in smaller animals like rats have also shown that CBD may have pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties for osteoarthritis.
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Can CBD Help My Dog’s Arthritis: What Does the Research Say?
Public interest in CBD for pets has not escaped the notice of veterinary scientists. In 2018, researchers at Cornell University assessed the safety and effectiveness of CBD oil in dogs with osteoarthritis. The researchers found that dogs treated with CBD were rated as more comfortable and active at home after the treatment. Pain scores conducted by veterinarians were also lower, and there were no significant side effects.
Interestingly, CBD-treated dogs did not put more weight on their arthritic limbs when tested using floor sensors. More weight-bearing generally means less pain, so this finding disagrees with owner and vet pain ratings. But, the researchers included dogs with arthritis in more than one leg in the trial. Which means that subtle changes in limping or walking were harder to detect.
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Can CBD Help My Dog’s Arthritis: New CBD Research in Dogs
Following the Cornell trial, new studies on CBD for dogs with osteoarthritis have yielded (mostly) similar results. Researchers in a small 2020 study gave CBD oil to dogs with osteoarthritis. Then they combined that CBD oil dose with traditional anti-inflammatory medications for twelve weeks. Dogs in the CBD group had lower pain scores as rated by their owners. Which is pretty exciting.
Out of two more extensive new studies, one found that CBD reduced pain and inflammatory markers. In contrast, the other did not identify any difference in pain scores with CBD treatment. Given the sample size, the researchers emphasized the need for larger trials. The good news: Side effects were uncommon. In both studies but included vomiting and changes in liver enzyme levels that could affect pets on certain medications.
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Can CBD Help My Dog’s Arthritis: What’s the Verdict?
There is no cure for canine osteoarthritis. However, the latest research suggests that CBD oil may help arthritic dogs stay comfortable and active by relieving joint pain. More studies will be needed to define standard doses and identify any long-term side effects. Treatment plans for osteoarthritis combine multiple medications, physical therapy, weight control, and even surgery.
So, adding CBD to the mix requires careful planning. And always make sure you work with a veterinarian with cannabis expertise. That’s the best way to make CBD products a safe part of managing your dog’s arthritis.
Dr. Nicole Wanner is a veterinarian and published scientific researcher. She currently studies the effects of CBD on human and animal health as a Ph.D. candidate and writes articles to help pet parents stay up to date on the latest veterinary research. She shares her home with Sylvie and Nemo, a brother and sister pair of former barn kittens she adopted with her partner Evan in 2014.