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How CBD Oil May Help Dogs With Cancer

It’s not a cure — but it may slow cancer growth and ease your dog’s aches and pains.

by Joey DiFrancesco
April 17, 2020
Happy and calm dog laying on her back on the bed
AnnaFotyma/Adobe Stock

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Disclaimer: This article is here to share information. But, much like pineapple on pizza, the topic may be controversial. Meaning, not all vets or pet professionals agree. Because every pet is a unique weirdo with specific needs. So, don’t take this as medical advice. Talk things over with your vet when making decisions, and use your best judgment (about both your pet’s health and pizza toppings).

Finding out your dog has cancer is something you never want to hear. But the fact is, 1 in 4 dogs will be diagnosed with cancer, and it’s the leading cause of death in dogs who are over age 10, according to the Veterinary Cancer Society.

The good news is, cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence for your dog. Certain cancers are very treatable, and research on preventing and curing cancer in dogs is ongoing.

One area of research that shows promise is on the natural supplement, cannabidiol (CBD). In fact, there are many research-backed ways that CBD oil may offer important support to your dog’s cancer treatment plan: It may increase the efficacy of their cancer treatments and improve the overall quality of their life during treatment. 

To be clear, CBD oil is not a cure for cancer in dogs. But it may offer some benefits. Talk to your vet before trying it on your pup, and keep reading to learn more.

How CBD Oil May Help Dogs With Cancer

Depending on the type of cancer, as well as the stage of progression, a veterinarian or veterinary oncologist (a vet with a specialization in cancer) may recommend a variety of treatment protocols: Surgery to remove tumors, chemotherapy to help shrink them, and auxiliary medications to address the side effects of treatment. In some cases, vets will recommend natural supplements such as CBD.

Fighting cancer in dogs usually follows a multifaceted approach, and there is research to support the notion that CBD oil may be beneficial to canine cancer patients as part of a veterinarian approved treatment plan. Here’s how:

1. It May Support Anti-Tumor Medication

CBD has the potential to help reduce the size of tumors. In fact, it has been shown to have anti-tumor effects in several types of human cancers, including:

As this study explains, in addition to having its own tumor-shrinking properties, CBD may also enhance the tumor-shrinking mechanisms of radiation therapy. In fact, it may be possible to decrease the dosing of radiation without reducing its efficacy.

Another recent study demonstrated that mice with pancreatic cancer who were treated with CBD, in addition to gemcitabine (a type of chemotherapy), had a threefold increase in survival rate compared to treatment with gemcitabine alone.

As more and more research on the science of cancer emerges, what researchers are coming to realize is that the body’s endocannabinoid system (yes, your dog has one, too) is intimately related to cancer. That is, the parts of the central and peripheral nervous system’s complex signaling process related to the development of cancer actively respond to cannabinoids such as CBD.

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2. It Can Reduce Pain and Inflammation

Pain and inflammation can be side effects of treatment or symptoms of the progression of the disease itself. Pain management is almost always a part of how to treat cancer in dogs.

Unfortunately, many prescription pain medications have unwanted side effects. Opioid medications run the risk of ever-increasing tolerance and the potential for overdose. NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) have increasingly been scrutinized for their significant side effects in some dogs, including serious GI problems, liver and kidney failure, and even death.

As researchers point out, the more severe negative side effects may be understudied and, in fact, pose more of a threat to senior and immune-compromised dogs.

Meanwhile, the ability of CBD to reduce both pain and inflammation is well-documented. In addition, it may enhance the mechanisms of other classes of pain medications, allowing doctors to prescribe fewer or less of these drugs without compromising the comfort of the patient.

Best of all, research has suggested a strong safety profile for CBD in humans and dogs, with fewer and less-severe side effects than other pain-management drugs commonly prescribed by veterinarians.

3. It May Boost the Immune System

The endocannabinoid system and the immune system are closely linked. The relationship is so strong that some researchers have coined a term for these interrelated systems: the “immunocannabinoid system.”

CBD has been identified for its ability to reduce oxidative stress, an important process related to the body’s ability to fight off invading pathogens without further attacking and damaging healthy tissue. In addition, cannabinoids can help regulate healthy gut function, which is also connected to immune health.

4. It Can Improve Sleep

Although research has shown that the endocannabinoid system plays a role in modulating sleep, the details as to what role each cannabinoid is playing are still being studied. It is thought that THC and CBD, the two most prevalent cannabinoids found in cannabis (note: hemp strains contain only trace amounts of THC), work in opposite ways.

THC may act as a sleep agent, while CBD acts as a wake agent. This might not seem like it could help your suffering dog get a better night’s rest but research suggests that by promoting “wake time” during the day, CBD oil may help with better sleep during the night.

To be clear, this is an area of research that has had some mixed results in laboratory studies. In clinical practice, many veterinarians who use CBD as part of a complete cancer therapy may use a trial-and-error approach to find out if daytime, nighttime, or both works best to help their patients get a solid night’s sleep.

5. It May Help with Nausea and Appetite

The most common side effects of cancer treatment in dogs are problems maintaining a strong appetite and persistent nausea that can lead to anorexia. In addition, cancer-induced cachexia (a metabolic disorder where the body breaks down too much muscle and fat tissue) can be caused by several forms of cancer. It can result in a severe loss of appetite and is the cause of as many as 20 percent of deaths among patients.

One of the reasons many oncologists are enthusiastic about the integration of cannabis-based medicine into a complete treatment program is the benefits various cannabinoids have for improving appetite and nausea.

In fact, it has been argued that the endocannabinoid system is deeply involved in regulating metabolism, as well as overall gut health. The gut is jam-packed with endocannabinoid receptors, transmitters, and enzymes. These systems help maintain an environment favorable for the “good” gut flora, as well as maintain a newly discovered “brain-gut” pathway thought to be critical for regulating a host of autonomic biological systems.

Talk To Your Vet About CBD For Dog Cancer

Although CBD oil is a natural product that is available over the counter without a prescription, it is still important to discuss using it with your vet. This is particularly important if your dog is receiving other treatments or medications.

Cannabidiol does have known drug interactions. In some cases, this may mean you can use fewer medications, such as those prescribed for pain management. In other cases, your vet may recommend that you give cannabidiol at a different time than other medications to make sure this potent supplement won’t interfere with the actions of other drugs.

In some areas of the country, cannabis-based medicine for pets has received full-throated support from the veterinary community. For example, the California Veterinary Medical Association recently won their push for legislation that would protect veterinarians in the state who want to discuss cannabis-based medication with their clients.

Not all veterinarians are receptive to research on the health benefits of CBD. If you are interested in finding a veterinarian more open to CBD oil as part of a treatment program for cancer in dogs, look for a holistic veterinarian in your area and book a consultation. In addition, be sure to choose a high quality CBD oil for pets that is lab tested and full spectrum.

Remember, CBD oil is not a cure for dog cancer. But, there are research-backed reasons to believe that it may be a value-added supplement to a well-rounded cancer treatment program.

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Joey DiFrancesco

Joey DiFrancesco is an animal lover, rescue advocate, entrepreneur and the founder of pet-formulated CBD oil LolaHemp and the online pet novelty shop, Lolawawa’s. Both brands are heavily active within the rescue community and contribute a portion of proceeds to animal rescue efforts.