Updated August 26, 2021
Owners of dogs with chronic pain are increasingly asking me two questions:
- Will CBD oil help my dog?
- How do I buy genuine CBD oil in Australia?
Here I provide answers, assessing CBD oil by the same standards we use for any other medicine. Let’s start with a short explanation.
What Is CBD Oil?
In theory, CBD oil is an extract from the cannabis or hemp plant containing high levels of cannabidiol and very low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. It may also contain other active ingredients derived from the plant.
The lack of the psychoactive THC means that dogs receiving CBD oil should never appear sedated or ‘stoned’. I have seen enough marijuana poisoning to know how unpleasant it is. Products containing significant levels of THC should not be given to dogs.
Cannabidiol (“cannaba-DYE-ol”) is believed to act on receptors found in the central nervous system and joints, possibly with other active ingredients found in CBD oil. The effect is complex and poorly understood but may involve competitive inhibition rather than activation.
Evidence For Cannabidiol in Dogs
Clinical studies for the use of medicinal cannabis in dogs are only found in epilepsy and osteoarthritis. Other possible uses, such as for anxiety or calming, are not recommended until more is known.
Evidence for the ability of CBD oil to prevent seizures in dogs is poor. There are many ancedotal reports of success, but very little good quality science. Given that conventional treatments for epilepsy work well in the majority of dogs, there is not a strong demand and I will not discuss this use further. Those wishing to try it should talk to their vet.
Evidence for the use of CBD oil to treat the signs of arthritis is stronger. In fact, cannabidiol is actually better supported than some commonly used treatments like glucosamine, green-lipped mussel (GLM), hydrotherapy and cold laser.
Three recent randomised placebo-controlled trials all found that outward signs of arthritis improved when dogs received twice daily oral doses of cannabidiol. Although these studies used only small numbers of dogs, the effects were statistically significant.
Vets reading this can find treatment protocols detailed in the papers linked below.
When To Use Cannabidiol For Arthritis
The conventional treatments for canine arthritis (listed on this page) work well in the majority of cases. However, as dogs age, arthritis inevitably worsens. Eventually there comes a time when these treatments don’t always provide enough relief.
Cannabidiol is probably not strong enough to work on its own, and likely to give only partial relief. Therefore, it is a sensible choice to add to existing therapy, not replace it. But pet owners also need to be careful.
The desperation of vets and pet owners for anything to try has created a demand often filled by less-than-ethical sellers. Much of the current batch of products claiming to be CBD oil in Australia are likely to be ineffective. Not only does this deprive dogs of the help they need, it tarnishes the name of what may actually work if it had a chance.
Note that there is no evidence to support the use of CBD products in cats, and it is not recommended.
Is CBD Oil Legal For Pets?
Vets in Australia can prescribe cannabidiol as a Schedule 4 drug for patients under their care with the following conditions:
- Cannabidiol comprises 98 per cent or more of the total cannabinoid in the preparation
- Any cannabinoids, other than cannabidiol, must be only those naturally found in cannabis
- Owner consent is obtained to trial an unlicensed and potentially harmful treatment
- There is adequate monitoring of the patient’s response and any side effects
However, the second issue for vets is finding a supplier. There are no locally registered products, and special approval is needed for importation. The easiest solution is to find a compounding pharmacist who offers it, as compounding on an individual basis is exempt from licensing.
I found a supplier by talking to state regulatory authorities and then selected pharmacies. You could do this too for your state.
What Is The Best CBD Oil?
Due to current Australian regulations, only CBD oil sold under prescription is likely to be of sufficient quality. Products available for sale online can only be one of two things:
- Containing very little active ingredient
The latter is probably the correct statement. These products are often in the form of treats or oils, and use words like hemp, cannabinoid, cannabis or CBD to describe their contents. They conspicuously avoid saying how much cannabidiol they contain.
Anecdotal reports of success are likely to represent instances of the caregiver placebo effect, which we all suffer.
The Drawbacks Of CBD Oil
There are several reasons why CBD oil containing cannabidiol may not be the best treatment for your dog.
- Availability: you might not be able to find a vet or pharmacy in your area able to supply it
- Side effects: although it appears well-tolerated, cannabidiol can cause adverse effects including diarrhoea, drug interactions and possible liver damage
- Cost: CBD oil containing cannabidiol is surprisingly expensive
My experience of using CBD oil is that it will cost the owner of a 25kg dog around $10 a day, or around $4 for every 10kg bodyweight. This is far higher than the costs for other conventional arthritis treatments. If it works, you can try reducing the dose, but we can only hope that the price will come down in the future.
Regulation may be partly to blame for this, but it isn’t wholly a bad thing. The situation in the USA, where CBD oils are easily available, is one of very unreliable drug levels and even some dog products with undeclared THC.
Medicinal Cannabis Protocol
At Walkerville Vet, we are happy to prescribe cannabidiol, but only under the following conditions:
- The dog is already receiving a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug
- A pre-treatment checkup and baseline blood test is performed
- A further blood test is done one month later, and check ups are then every three months
We apologise for this conservative approach. It’s quite likely that other vets will be happier to prescribe more liberally.
If you think your dog could benefit from CBD oil, talk to your veterinarian, but also forgive them if they seem sceptical or dismissive. There have been so many pet owners taken for a ride that they may reject the idea. But personally, I think the time is right to take cannabidiol more seriously.
Like we once did for other outlandish treatments that later became our standards. But just a word of warning though: I don’t have a sense of humour for jokes about weed or stoner dogs. That’s what’s holding us back.
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These articles are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story!
Brioschi, F. A., Di Cesare, F., Gioeni, D., Rabbogliatti, V., Ferrari, F., D’Urso, E. S., … & Ravasio, G. (2020). Oral Transmucosal Cannabidiol Oil Formulation as Part of a Multimodal Analgesic Regimen: Effects on Pain Relief and Quality of Life Improvement in Dogs Affected by Spontaneous Osteoarthritis. Animals, 10(9), 1505. Full Article.
Gamble, L. J., Boesch, J. M., Frye, C. W., Schwark, W. S., Mann, S., Wolfe, L., … & Wakshlag, J. J. (2018). Pharmacokinetics, safety, and clinical efficacy of cannabidiol treatment in osteoarthritic dogs. Frontiers in veterinary science, 5, 165. Full Article.
Verrico, C. D., Wesson, S., Konduri, V., Hofferek, C. J., Vazquez-Perez, J., Blair, E., … & Halpert, M. M. (2020). A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of daily cannabidiol for the treatment of canine osteoarthritis pain. Pain, 161(9), 2191-2202. Full Article.