Treating osteoarthritis in animals with CBD

Treating Osteoarthritis in Animals

CBD oil - an alternative treatment for osteoarthritis in animals

Osteoarthritis causes pain, stiffness and loss of mobility in animals, just as it does in humans. It’s important to be aware of the symptoms, detect any suffering your animal may be experiencing and then find the best solution with the help of your vet to relieve your pet’s pain and improve their mobility. 

What is osteoarthritis? 

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint condition – it gets worse over time. OA is characterised by inflammation of the joints, resulting in chronic pain. 

OA occurs when protective cells in the cartilage surrounding bone, called chondrocytes, become damaged. Together with inflammation in the fluid surrounding the joint, bone remodelling occurs as the body attempts to heal and preserve the affected area. This creates structures that are progressively painful, leading to decreased mobility and activity. 

Osteoarthritis risk factors in dogs 

Dogs are the most common animals to suffer from osteoarthritis especially in their later years and especially if they are a larger breed, for example, Golden Retrievers, Labradors and German Shepherds. Cats and other species may also be affected by OA. 

Based on collected data researchers estimate the prevalence of osteoarthritis to be 20% in dogs over the age of one year of age. Risk factors for osteoarthritis include breed, genetics, age, gender, body weight and shape. 

Other factors influencing a dog’s likelihood of developing (secondary) osteoarthritis include previous musculoskeletal injury or joint surgery. 

Signs and symptoms of Osteoarthritis in dogs 

Initial signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis can easily pass unnoticed. They are often subtle and could be put down to having played too hard or pulled a muscle.

In younger dogs, symptoms can be transient, making it hard to diagnose. However, spotting signs in young pets can help identify risk factors early, allowing for initiation of supportive and preventative measures before pain or dysfunction gets to critical levels. 

Signs of osteoarthritis in dogs are varying and can include:

  • Frequently changing body positions while resting

  • Shifting weight when standing 

  • Trouble sitting up or getting up

  • Hopping or hitches during normal movement 

  • Limping, stiffness or lameness

  • Reluctance to walk 

  • Physical or vocal examples of pain when being pet or during certain movements

Treating Osteoarthritis symptoms with CBD

Witnessing your pets mobility and quality of life decline due to arthritis is a distressing experience. While conventional treatments can offer relief, novel cannabinoid therapies, specifically CBD oil, present potential for effectively alleviating pain, reducing inflammation and improving the quality of life of dogs with osteoarthritis. 

CBD has anti-inflammatory and analgesic (painkiller) properties. Following research into using CBD for chronic pain in humans, its potential benefits for dogs with painful arthritic conditions is being considered. 

Research studies on using CBD in dogs with Osteoarthritis

In the past few years, three key studies have investigated the safety and therapeutic potential of CBD oil for dogs with osteoarthritis.

A recent study evaluating different doses and formulation of CBD in dogs showed it could potentially have positive benefits for osteoarthritis. Across 4 weeks, 20 large dogs took part in a randomised placebo-controlled study, the most respected form of research methodology. 

The dogs received either a placebo, 20mg CBD (0.5mg/kg/d), 50mg CBD (1.2mg/kg/d) or 20mg of liposomal encapsulated CBD – the latter being a way of delivering medicines that allow for increased bioavailability or absorption. 

Dogs were evaluated before and after the study by the prescribing vet and their owners, measuring signs and factors associated with pain and mobility. Neither vets nor pet owners were aware of which treatment the animals were receiving as to not distort any of the data. 

The placebo and low CBD showed no significant changes. Yet those dogs taking liposomal CBD or the higher dose of CBD exhibited significant improvement both to their mobility and quality of life. 

Not only that, but when assessed two weeks after the CBD dose was ceased, these same positive benefits appeared to be maintained. Researchers attribute this to the CBD treatment not only being symptomatic but also addressing underlying inflammation at the root of the osteoarthritis.

Another study analysing the safety and efficacy of CBD alongside conventional treatments such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), fish oil or glucosamine showed 2mg doses every twelve hours, progressively reduced osteoarthritis symptoms over 4 weeks, as measured by veterinary assessment and owner surveys.

Safety trials have shown CBD oil to be safe and tolerable in dogs in doses as high as 10-20mg/kg body weight/day. To receive medicinal benefits from CBD oil for pets the dose doesn’t usually have to be so high, though it is a good indication of the safety profile. 

Potential side effects of CBD oil for dogs

The most common side effects from CBD observed in dogs are sedation and gastrointestinal changes, such as soft stools. Side effects may be mitigated by careful dosing regimes as prescribed by your vet. 

Cats with Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis affects our feline friends too. Research of using medicinal cannabis in cats is relatively scanty at this point in time but this recent case report from 2023 is a useful resource. The cat in question is a ten-year-old male neutered mixed breed who had difficulty jumping, had decreased his usual activity level and was vocalising during defecation due to chronic pain. After 30 days of treatment with full spectrum CBD oil, at a CBD dose of 0.5mg/kg, pain scores decreased by over 50%. 

This was a satisfactory result for the patient and owner, despite CBD having the potential to increase liver enzymes (such as ALT and ALP). This case report is a great starting point in exploring the potential of CBD therapy in cats but further clinical studies with are needed to fully determine the safety and efficacy of CBD in cats. 
The wrap-up on Osteoarthritis in animals

CBD oil be considered as a therapeutic option for animals with osteoarthritis to relieve joint pain and inflammation, and as a result, to improve mobility and activity, leading to a better quality of life. 

If you would like to learn more, please reach out to our friendly team at CBD Vets Australia on (02) 8294 9303 to see if CBD medication may be suitable for your pet. 

By Jessica Kindynis

Updated by Emma Delaney, MPharm (2024) 

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