Using CBD for dogs in pain
As owners, we want to do everything we can to make sure our dogs are happy and healthy. So when pain strikes—be it an injury or a chronic condition—there’s little worse than seeing them suffer.
If your pup is going through a period of pain, you’ve no doubt browsed online or chatted with friends about treatment options. And odds are, alongside prescription drugs, you’ve come across CBD oil as a treatment option.
Cannabidiol (CBD) products for pets have gained massive popularity throughout North America, with brands claiming to treat a wide variety of illnesses and ailments. No doubt, the legalization of marijuana in some U.S. states and Canada has helped peak interest in cannabis-related products—but do these products actually work?
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is an organic chemical compound found in cannabis plants. It’s one of over 100 cannabinoids—a class of unique compounds that are abundant in cannabis and can have profound effects on the body.
Of all cannabinoids, likely the most well known is THC—the compound responsible for delivering the ‘high’ feeling associated with cannabis. Unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive, meaning that it triggers the same beneficial metabolic reactions in the body without producing intoxication.
Research has confirmed that CBD can elicit the same internal response as many anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen. These are typically used to help reduce fever and pain, control blood clotting, and decrease inflammation.
Even though the use of CBD as a medicinal treatment for pets is relatively new, the market has quickly expanded into the mainstream. CBD oil is perhaps the most common product, using tinctures to deliver the product orally. CBD infused treats are also commonplace, as are creams for topical application to your dog’s skin and paws.
CBD and pain in dogs
Pain can be tricky to treat in dogs. While owners are obviously experts in decoding their pet’s internal language, dogs as a species are not the best at communicating when they’re in discomfort (some think this may be related to their evolutionary history as part of the wolf pack).
How to Tell if My Dog is in Pain
But there are some key signs and signals to tip you off when things aren’t quite right with doggo. With acute pain (pain that arises quickly in response to a one-off event), the signs are usually pretty clear. Stepping on a tail, for example, will elicit a sharp yelp!
The Merck Veterinary Manual describes acute pain as a “normal, predictable, noticeable response to an undesirable stimulus,” which can include injuries like bruises, sprains, wounds, as well as surgical incisions. Usually, acute pain begins to improve quickly, within the first three days of an injury or event.
In chronic cases, however, pain is recurring or always present. Chronic pain may be a leftover remnant from an injury or disease, or it may be the result of a progressive or degenerative disorder that gets worse over time. In these cases, be on the lookout for the changes in the following behaviors:
Treating pain in dogs
Treatment for pain should always be determined by your dog’s underlying cause or condition—on the advice of a veterinarian! Prescription treatment will usually consist of either non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or opiates, with the former being the most popular. Keep in mind that NSAIDs prescribed by vets are made specifically for animals; dogs should never be given Tylenol or Advil from the medicine cabinet.
NSAIDs work by blocking two enzymes in the body that play a part in producing swelling and signaling pain sensations. They’ve grown in popularity for humans and animals alike because they don’t contain steroids or narcotics like morphine. In dogs, NSAID tablets require a prescription and are marketed under names including Rimadyl and Metacam.
For stronger pain, your vet may prescribe opiates, but only on a short term basis. They work by blocking the brain’s ability to recognize existing pain sensations. Because they are a narcotic, pets on opiates require close monitoring.
Both types of prescription drugs can come with a heavy dose of side effects. For NSAIDs, common symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, appetite loss, and other GI issues. This is because NSAIDs block the formation of inflammation-inducing prostaglandins, which also protects the stomach lining (hence why probiotics are usually recommended while taking NSAIDs.)
As for opiates, common side effects include mood changes, constipation, confusion, restlessness, or trouble breathing. And the longer either NSAIDs or opiates are used, the higher the risk of negative side effects.
A New Pain Treatment Option
Almost as soon as CBD wellness products proved a hit with humans, there was interest in the use of CBD to treat pain in pets. While owners of dogs who don’t respond well to prescription NSAIDs or opiates may have been among the first to switch to CBD, the truth today is that CBD is a widely used supplement for all pups experiencing pain, anxiety, or inflammation issues.
The scientific field of research on using CBD to treat pain in dogs is still being built. But, the evidence is emerging on the benefits of CBD for chronic pain. For example, a recent study of dogs with osteoarthritis found that CBD oil treatments helped improve comfort and activity levels when compared to a placebo.
Specifically for osteoarthritic dogs taking CBD oil, owners have noticed a marked change in their ability to move around in their daily life. Decreased pain was reported by owners in activities including standing, running, walking, and climbing, in the Canine Brief Pain Inventory questionnaire.
There’s also good reason to be optimistic about CBDs benefits for dogs with other inflammatory pain conditions, like intervertebral disc disease. Since initial research suggests that CBD shares important metabolic pathways with NSAIDs, most think that CBD should help across cases of pain and inflammation in the same manner as an NSAID—without the side effects.
The researchers estimate that about a quarter of all dogs are diagnosed with some form of arthritis in old age, and other veterinary scientists have estimated that as many as 60% of all dogs will show signs of the disease. What’s more, current NSAID treatments can also sometimes cause unwanted side-effects in dogs like an upset stomach, leading to vomiting or diarrhea. As a result, there definitely seems like a place for CBD in the treatment options for chronic pain in dogs.
There is also good reason to be optimistic that CBD would benefit dogs with other inflammatory pain conditions, like intervertebral disc disease. Since the initial research suggests that CBD shares some important metabolic pathways with NSAIDs, it would be reasonable to think that CBD will help across all cases of pain and inflammation in the same way a NSAID does. Since inflammatory pain makes up such a huge class of diseases, CBD has the potential for a bright future as a pain treatment. If you decide it’s right for you and your furry friend, check out our best CBD oil for dogs review article!
How Does CBD Work to Help Pain in Dogs?
Researchers have been studying cannabinoids and their potential health benefits since the 1970s, but most of this research has been directed toward human use. It wasn’t until recently that scientists devoted more time and resources to understanding the effects of CBD on animals.
Nevertheless, we know that cannabinoids like CBD interact with the endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is found across all mammals and most of the entire animal kingdom. This system is responsible for helping maintain homeostasis (our body’s inner balance) in a number of organ systems, including the nervous and immune system, as well as the reproductive and digestive processes.
The ECS itself consists of receptors and chemical signaling molecules that respond to both cannabinoid compounds made by our own body, and those that are introduced from outside. In dogs, many of these receptors are found in the brain, as well as cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, immune, and reproductive system tissues.
For pain specifically, we know that the ECS modulates the conduction of pain signals to the brain by reducing the sensitivity of pain receptors and the intensity of the signal itself. At the same time, the activation of cannabinoid receptors helps reduce inflammation. This all happens within our own bodies as part of our natural reaction to injury.
The precise mapping of how CBD affects the ECS of dogs and other animals is still an ongoing project. However, we know that using CBD is associated with less pain and inflammation in dogs, plus, we know that the canine ECS is partly responsible for modulating pain sensations and the inflammatory response.
So, the stage is set for future research to prove what many owners already know: that CBD (and its effect on the ECS) presents a new and bright option in the treatment of pain in dogs.