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Ways to Manage Your Dog's Arthritis and latest CBD study

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New research is out about CBD and dogs’ arthritis; but for a comprehensive approach, I offer other solutions that don’t include CBD to manage older pets’ mobility issues that I learned through my background in the veterinary field below.

Getting older and losing mobility is hard on people, but it can be even harder watching our pets struggle to stay active as they age, and age-related conditions like arthritis begin to affect them.  Arthritis (and degenerative osteoarthritis, or OA) can affect both dogs and cats, of all sizes and breeds.  Larger breed dogs carrying weight on their joints can begin to show signs of stiffness, weakness, reluctance to get up, and limping at a younger age.

Fortunately, there are many treatments and strategies to help keep dogs limber as they age.  Annual physical exams by your veterinarian include checking for signs of arthritis.  Once diagnosed, a combination of dog-safe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, steroids, supplements, and lifestyle strategies will be prescribed.  Something as simple as reducing your pet’s weight can lessen the symptoms of arthritis for years to come.

What about using CBD oil?

For those owners who are looking to fight arthritis naturally, the question of using CBD oil to reduce their pain has been circulating for many years.  Though it’s unlikely you’ve received a straight answer from your vet about if you should give you pet CBD, it’s been on the veterinary radar (perhaps unknown to you) for quite some time. 

The main problem with recommending alternative treatments like CBD oil for pain relief in canines is because there hasn’t been enough clinical research to support the anecdotal evidence.  Please don’t forget that marijuana is toxic to dogs—which is a serious medical event that needs immediate treatment and usually a few days in the hospital to adequately treat, depending on the size of the dog and how much was ingested.  There is usually no active THC in CBD formulas, but until extremely rigorous testing protocols are in place to ensure a CBD pet-quality product that doesn’t contain any THC, most of the veterinary community remains be hesitant.

 That being said, there are some practitioners who may have incorporated it into their practices; but there hasn’t been a firm decision made on behalf of the veterinary regulatory agency in this country (the AVMA, American Veterinary Medical Association).  This can place many vets in a tricky, gray area.  Unfortunately, the legalities of prescribing CBD oil for pets has kept it out of the treatment list, despite a growing anecdotal voice and plenty of off-market products targeted for pets.

However, thanks to a new study published last month, the right kind of scientific research is underway regarding CBD and dogs.

What We’re Learning Now about CBD and Canine Arthritis

This past month, one of the very first clinical trials involving CBD used directly for the purpose of relieving pain from OA took place.  This is exactly the kind of research that needs to occur before regulatory agencies and most veterinarians will feel comfortable offering CBD as a solution.

The study was led by the International Association for the Study of Pain in two phases.  The first phase involved in-vitro and rodent models and the second phase involved large breed dogs who had received a positive diagnosis of OA (osteoarthritis).

In this double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized study, dogs were given CBD for 4 weeks.  They used both a liposomal form of CBD and a nonliposomal form of CBD.  Liposomal medications or supplements are attached or encapsulated by a fat molecule to aid transport in the body and absorption.  In this case, both forms worked well to reduce pain and increase mobility in the canine patients.

The dogs had bloodwork done after the study to monitor for any negative side effects of the CBD trial.  The researchers did not find any changes on the labwork.  It’s a promising start to scientifically validating the anecdotal body of evidence for CBD in dogs.

What else can I do to help my arthritic pet?

There are some great ways that you can help your pet be more comfortable.  Sometimes, it’s difficult for your veterinary team to list all of these strategies in one-30 minute or less office visit.  These are some of the strategies I learned while working alongside geriatric dogs as a veterinary nurse.

  • Ask your vet about Glucosamine and Chondroitin supplements for your dog/cat:  Just like glucosamine and chondroitin can help preserve joint health for people, your vet also has many easy-to-give joint supplements.  This is also a great option for arthritic cats. 
  • Ask your vet about Omega-3 fish oils for you dog/cat:  In addition to helping keep your dog or cat’s coat shiny and healthy, omega-3 supplements can help with joint health.
  • Ask your vet about cold-laser therapy:  This was one of my favorites to use and to see recommended for dogs and cats.  Cold lasers are hand-held wands that are passed over areas of inflammation (like arthritis) that emit laser light therapy which reduces pain and inflammation locally.  Cold lasers are also used for speeding up wound healing.  It is usually performed as an outpatient visit by either a veterinarian or a veterinary tech/nurse a few times per week, and sessions usually only take 10-15 minutes.  If your local clinic doesn’t have one, there is likely a specialty clinic in your town that does.
  • Ask your vet about acupuncture: This was also a close second-favorite of mine because it delivered real results.  Acupuncture for dogs may seem impossible because you’re not sure how they would stay still or react to it.  Veterinary acupuncture is a growing specialty and is commonplace now in regular small animal practices.  Veterinary acupuncture equipment is specifically designed to accommodate a wide variety of sizes from the smallest breeds all the way to the largest.  The animals are made comfortable lying on blankets and do not need to be overly restrained.  The acupuncturist will work with the animal a few times a week and build up tolerance to different needle positions.  It was really a bonding experience for the staff and the patients.  It is usually outpatient and occurs a few times a week, or as needed.
  • Ask your vet about physical therapy:  Just like acupuncture has really begun to work for arthritic animals, physical therapy for pets is the real deal.  Rehabilitation after chronic conditions, injuries, and for arthritis is now established as a viable treatment.  It’s likely that you will need a referral to a specialist veterinarian because most small animal day practices do not have the equipment or training. 

Physical rehabilitation for pets is fun for the pets!  They use many amazing techniques and can even have pet treadmills that have harnesses to keep them safe while getting much-needed gentle exercise.  Some facilities have treadmills that can keep their legs under warm, gentle water to reduce pressure on their joints.  I’ve even known veterinary physical therapists who could do house calls.

  • Ask your vet about massage: Massage is an integral part of physical therapy, to warm up the muscles and offer pain relief.  You can be instructed in how to massage your pet at home, but like physical therapy, you’ll want to go through a specialist.  Sometimes you can find a specialist who can achieve cold laser, acupuncture, physical therapy, and massage all in one!
  • Weight loss:  If your dog or cat is overweight and is starting to show signs of arthritis, managing the weight can be a huge first step which can make a big difference.
  • Help-Em Up Harnesses:  These harnesses have saved many owners’ backs and made mobility better for dogs who are fine once they get up and moving, but just can’t seem to get up themselves.  I can’t tell you how invaluable these are.  They are like little jackets that go over the back of the dog and have handles so you can pick up their rear end until they get their footing.  You can find them in all sizes here.
  • Rolled towel under the hips:  In a pinch, use a rolled towel under the hips and use each end of the towels to help lift up the hips and pelvis to give them a helping hand up.
  • Keeping nails trimmed:  Keeping the nails trimmed will make it easier for dogs with mobility issues to place their paws on the floor correctly.  It will also reduce the possibility of broken nails from back or front legs that are scrambling to maintain balance or rise from a lying position.
  • Boots on the back feet:  Specially-designed canine paw boots can be really helpful to give pets extra traction, especially if you have slick floors.  Sometimes all it takes is boots on the back feet to give them a little more stability.  They come in all sizes and you can find them in your local pet store or look around online here.

There are many solutions for helping your pet fight arthritis.  With time, we may see a more unified approach to using CBD for dogs.  Until then, speak with your veterinary team and inform yourself about the risks and side effects of the medications and supplements available, and be sure to try some of the other methods listed above.

References

Verrico, Chris D.a,b; Wesson, Shondac; Konduri, Vanajad; et al.* A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of daily cannabidiol for the treatment of canine osteoarthritis pain, PAIN: April 24, 2020 – Volume Articles in Press – Issue – doi: 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000001896

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