Watching your dog struggle with painful joints, lameness, and decreased activity due to arthritis can be almost as painful for you as an owner as it is for them. So it’s no surprise that you’d be willing to try just about anything to find your pup some relief.
CBD oil has gotten a lot of attention in the last couple of years as a potential treatment for arthritis in dogs and humans. But how much of this hype should you actually believe?
A Deeper Look Into Doggy Arthritis
Before we delve into the effectiveness of CBD for dogs with arthritis, let’s take a closer look at arthritis and the causes behind this painful condition.
What Causes Arthritis in Dogs?
Arthritis is a broad term for any type of joint pain that involves damage to the protective cartilage layer between the bones. There are a number of ways this cartilage can become damaged.
The majority of arthritic dogs develop the disease as they get older and their cartilage layers naturally break down due to years of use. Dogs that are overweight, especially, are at risk for late-life arthritis because their joints experience more stress.
But arthritis isn’t just a condition experienced by senior dogs. Younger dogs can get painful joint inflammation if their joints haven’t developed normally. This might be due to a birth defect, or more commonly, to dysplasia of the hips or elbows. This inherited disorder results in joints that don’t fit together perfectly. As the pup moves, the bones wear abnormally on the cartilage causing premature damage.
Another common cause of arthritis in dogs has nothing to do with the shape of the joint at all, but instead, with the immune system. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that affects both dogs and humans. The immune system of these individuals mistakenly attacks the joint cells causing inflammation. Over time, this inflammation can cause permanent damage to the cartilage layer.
How Does Arthritis in Dogs Progress?
Once the cartilage is damaged, it can’t be repaired or regrown. As the protective layer between the joints disappears, the bones begin to rub against one another. Not only is this condition painful within itself, but it leads to further damage and the development of bone spurs.
As more bony material grows between the joints, mobility decreases and pain increases. If left unchecked, dogs can develop debilitating limps in one or multiple limbs.
Depending on the cause of arthritis, some interventions like physical therapy or surgery may be possible to reduce damage. Even with these measures, there is no cure for arthritis. While pain can be managed and steps can be taken to limit the damage to the joint, the loss of cartilage cannot be reversed.
The Effects of CBD Oil
There are numerous reported uses for CBD oil in addition to pain management, including anxiety, seizures, and nausea. So how can one supplement be used for such a broad spectrum of ailments? And do so many claims as to what CBD can do mean that you shouldn’t believe any of them?
To answer these questions, we first have to look at something called the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The Dog Endocannabinoid System
All mammals have a similar endocannabinoid system that works to regulate multiple areas of the brain and body including nerve and pain centers, hormones that affect stress and sleep, and the immune system.
Endocannabinoid receptors are especially concentrated on nerve endings in the brain and peripheral nervous system and in the lymph and immune systems. The body produces a number of cannabinoids that work to communicate within this system. CBD is a phytocannabinoid that affects the balance of the ECS and helps the body more effectively utilize its own cannabinoids.
Since the ECS controls so many areas of the body, the use of CBD has a broad range of effects. But, since it works with your body to target only areas in need of balance, it has few unwanted side effects.
The Effect of CBD on Pain and Inflammation
With the ECS being so highly concentrated in the nervous system, it should come as no surprise that CBD oil would have an effect on pain. The exact method by which this is accomplished is less than clear, but we do know that multiple pain perception pathways appear to be interrupted by phytocannabinoids.
But what makes CBD oil such a potentially effective treatment for arthritis has more to do with inflammation than anything.
When your dog’s immune system senses damage in the body, it reacts by inducing inflammation. If this reaction is in response to a viral attack or a wound, this inflammation serves to protect and help the body heal. But when it happens chronically, such as in response to damaged joints or an autoimmune attack, it can lead to pain and further damage.
Because the ECS is so heavily involved in the regulation of immune responses, CBD and other phytocannabinoids are capable of reducing inflammation. Studies have shown that CBD acts as an immunosuppressant and interferes with the signaling proteins involved in inflammation.
CBD as an Arthritis Treatment
When you look at the mechanics behind CBD oil, every indication is that it should be a helpful product for dogs suffering from arthritis. But does the research back this theory?
There are thousands of herbal treatments used around the world to help with the pain and inflammation caused by arthritis in both people and animals. And there are plenty of people who swear by specific cultural and cross-cultural treatments. But so many of these naturopath prescriptions lack scientific studies to prove their efficacy.
CBD is different. And that in itself should tell you something.
Natural remedies are rarely taken seriously by the scientific community unless they show potential for being synthesized into a profitable medicine or their effects are just too impressive to deny. CBD is one of those rare substances that checks off both boxes.
Up until 2018, hemp, and by association CBD, was illegal to cultivate in the US. Because of this and its former classification as a schedule 1 drug, CBD was not widely studied. Now that the restrictions have lifted, multiple studies have come out showing CBD as an effective pain and arthritis treatment.
The Effect of CBD on Osteoarthritis in Animals
A recent Cornell University study in dogs with osteoarthritis showed significant pain reduction in over 80% of the dogs that participated.
Similar studies done in rats using topical CBD creams to treat sore joints showed a noticeable reduction in swelling and improved mobility.
CBD Can Stop the Progress of Rheumatoid Arthritis
While there is no cure for arthritis, especially in the case of autoimmune arthritis, a recent study showed significant results when CBD was used in the early stages of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Researchers using both animal models and the cells of humans affected by RA found that CBD oil inhibited the progression of the disease. In one mouse study, well established RA actually improved with the use of CBD.
In fact, phytocannabinoids have recently shown a lot of promise in treating various human autoimmune diseases from MS to type 1 diabetes.
How Much CBD Oil for Dogs with Arthritis?
If you’re wondering if it’s worth trying CBD oil to help your arthritic dog, all arrows point to yes! So how much CBD oil should you give them?
Most sources recommend 1 mg of CBD per 10 pounds of body weight twice daily for dogs. But many holistic vets who use CBD to treat more advanced cases of arthritis and other conditions recommend even higher doses, closer to two or three times that amount.
Many studies have shown that the effect of CBD plateaus at a certain dose, so it is probably best for your wallet to start at the lower recommendation and slowly up the dose over the course of a few weeks. Once you see results, you can taper the dose back down to find the optimal amount for your pup.
But do make sure you are using a quality CBD oil product that is safe for dogs. It should be sourced from hemp oil or be labeled as having 0% THC. CO2 extracted, full-spectrum hemp oils provide the most benefit with the highest levels of CBD.
If you’ve been waiting to try CBD to ease your pup’s pain, why wait any longer? There’s every indication that CBD oil is the answer to a less-painful, higher-quality life for your four-legged friend.
Lauri-Jo Gamble, et al. “Pharmacokinetics, Safety, and Clinical Efficacy of Cannabidiol Treatment in Osteoarthritic Dogs.” frontiersin.org, 23 July 2018.
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Kristeen Cherney. “Using CBD Oil for Pain Management: Does It Work?” healthline.com, 13 August 2019.
Prakash Nagarkatti, et al. “Cannabinoids as novel anti-inflammatory drugs.” ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, Future Med Chem. 2009 Oct; 1(7): 1333–1349.
Ethan B Russo. “Cannabinoids in the management of difficult to treat pain.” ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, Ther Clin Risk Manag. 2008 Feb; 4(1): 245–259.
Sara Seitz worked in the pet industry for over a decade. In addition to being a certified dog trainer, Sara gained experience working as the general manager of a dog daycare and boarding facility, as the creator and manager of a pet sitting company, as a groomer, and as a dog behavior evaluator. She also has a bachelors in animal behavior from CSU. Currently, Sara works as a freelance writer specializing in blog, article and content writing.