My dog has been through several rounds of hell over the last year and a half while overcoming paralysis from a damaged back. But nothing tested her or I more than the brief period she was on a prescribed combination of codeine and a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory.
My last 15 or so months have been primarily focused on recovering my now-five-year-old dog, Delly, an 18-pound beagle-Jack Russell mix. Depending on which day you catch me, she’s either named after delicatessens, a city in India, or, my favorite response, Australian basketball player Matthew “Delly” Dellavedova.
No matter the fake origin story, her past year and a half has shaped both of us in immense ways.
On the night of April 5, 2022, I was preparing dinner after taking Delly to the park. As I chopped some bell peppers, one of her favorite snacks, I noticed she was walking awkwardly, almost like she’d been drugged, crossing her back legs with every step. When walking, she tailed hard to one side or the other, like a badly aligned car.
In less than an hour, her back legs would worsen. Pain coursed through her, leaving her grunting and whining in ways I’d only heard once before after a collision with an adult bloodhound at the park. The pain persisted when she stood or laid down. Soon after, she lost the use of her back legs.
My girlfriend and I rushed the dog to a nearby animal emergency room. Doctors admitted her right away. Thirty or so minutes later, a doctor told us she had grade 4 IVDD, or Intervertebral Disc Disease, a disorder caused by a herniated disc in her lower back. The severity of the injury meant Delly had to go into surgery the following day. From there, she’d face an uncertain future where we’d have to wait several months to see if she would ever walk or control her bowels again.
CBD Plays A Part In My Dog’s Recovery
Required to stay in bed for six weeks post-surgery, Delly laid immobile while given medications like gabapentin, an anticonvulsant, and carprofen, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory. I mashed pills into the wet food she was fed bedside every morning and evening.
One month into recovery, Delly was able to start taking “walks” outside. Essentially, I’d hold her lower body in a harness, allowing her to drag her legs in the grass in an attempt to stimulate and rehabilitate her damaged nerves.
Around that time, I started introducing a roughly 2-4mg dose of CBD to her regimen to help with any pain or muscle inflammation. We had tested CBD on her before during long trips, which allowed me to anticipate how she’d react this time around. In previous uses, Delly never had any negative reactions to CBD. I picked up a pump-based oil oral dispenser from Green Gorilla. Full disclosure: Green Gorilla sent me products once or twice long before this injury, and my dog liked them, so I stuck with them for this endeavor. Grab whichever product you and your vet deem best.
I can’t say precisely what the results were early on, due in part to the additional drugs still in her regimen. But over time, as CBD became her only supplement, I did notice subtle effects, including continued deep rest and some body pain relief the day or two after some exhaustive therapy sessions.
Muscle inflammation and soreness would certainly be the norm as we stepped up her rehab efforts over the following months. I knew Delly was in good hands at her rehab facility, Water4Dogs. One of the first things that put me at ease about the place was their support for CBD. The facility recommended CBD along with other meds and supplements to aid dogs with bad backs, knees and other mobility and rehab needs.
Allow me to digress for one moment. If anyone is scoffing at the absurd, possibly bougie, levels I went to rehab my dog, I hear you loud and clear. I never thought I’d do this for anyone, much less have the funds to front the thousands of dollars for my pet. But thankfully, I had some money from my writing and more importantly I had pet insurance. It may sound like another bougie thing you don’t need. But pet owners, trust me, it paid off immensely, saving me around $10,000 over the past year. Without it, I don’t know if any of this could have been affordable. I shudder to think what might have been our outcome without.
Back to the point at hand: I felt CBD could help keep any rehab pain in check with therapy sessions going on every week through the summer. I thought it could also help with appetite stimulation. But my dog is a food-driven little goblin, so eating wasn’t an issue during her recovery.
By June, two months after the injury, Delly took her first steps post-surgery. From there, she blew past expectations that continue to astound her doctors.
We continued the CBD regimen, stopping sometime in the fall after several months when her recovery was in a good enough place. Around that time, rehab sessions began to happen two to three weeks apart.
Getting to that point took a lot of work. Setbacks certainly occurred along the way. There were many instances early in the recovery process when bathroom accidents happened multiple times a day. Sometimes she still poops in her bed or pees when she gets excited, but we’ll take it in exchange for her life.
She may never be able to play much again, or walk up stairs or jump, but she’s doing great otherwise. Today, Delly can walk/run, hike, swim and even high five with relative ease. She also wears pink protective Croc-like shoes on her back paws when walking on concrete. I’ve modified them with grip tape to increase their durability because she occasionally drags her paws. They’re a real crowd pleaser in the neighborhood.
…CBD Steps In When Prescribed Drugs Go Wrong
Delly’s recovery journey has been long and arduous but certainly worthwhile. But no two days tested us more than November 18th and 19th, 2022, when she was on codeine and a non-opioid drug for an unrelated medical issue.
During a routine heartworm pill check up, Delly’s vet found she had fractured a tooth some time ago. Thankfully she wasn’t in pain but needed another surgery or risk further oral health issues. The surgery went normally, leaving her a bit groggy but otherwise fine. I took her home and did as instructed that night, giving her a 15mg tab of prescribed codeine and 1.5 mg of Metacam, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory used for stiffness and pain in dogs.
The following morning, I woke up to find something akin to melted cacao all over my dog’s bed.
By month eight of her recovery, seeing some accidents in the bed was an occurrence I’d gotten used to. With Delly’s injury, controlling her backside was not what it used to be. But what came out of her that night was of a magnitude and of a brown-black hue I hope to never see again. The cleanup of the dog, her bed and the bathtub afterward took well over an hour.
“But hey, all’s well,” I said to myself. “The worst usually occurs overnight. The day can only get better from here.”
Yeah, that didn’t happen at all.
I underestimated what drugs can do to a mammal. Let’s start with the usual suspect and source of the concern: the opioid. Like most medications, Codeine has many similar adverse effects on canines and other mammals as it has on humans. The vet’s discharge form mentioned sedation may happen. It did not cite a list of other possible side effects, including:
- Trouble breathing
- Increased excitement
Constipation certainly wasn’t our issue. That became further evident after two more incidents that day. In our home, we now call this day “The Brownout.”
By the end of the night of the 18th, I knew the medication, be it the codeine, metacam, or both, was causing her issues. My gut said it was the opioid and not the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory. Foolishly, I didn’t research and went with my gut, accusing opioids, because of course that kind evil would do something to my dog. But after the third accident, I learned it was the metacam that came with a diarrhea and soft stool side effect warning.
I let doctors know on the 18th that something wasn’t right. They empathized but suggested I keep up the medication regimen that was supposed to last another several days. They also pointed out that codeine is sometimes used to treat diarrhea. Reluctantly, I agreed.
The next morning, it looked like the dog had once again curled up to a leaking soft-serve chocolate ice cream machine. Two pees in the house by that afternoon, and I was at my wit’s end. Frustrated and determined to resolve this problem, I pushed on as my Irish-Catholic elders taught me: First, I made fun of the situation, then I took action. So, after giving Delly the nickname “The Heinous Anus,” I again phoned the vet.
I told them that neither she nor I could continue like this. I no longer asked if CBD was an option. I insisted on it. Typically, I’m not one to rebel against my doctors, mostly because I have no idea about medicine. This time around, I wasn’t going to let up. It’s not like I needed their permission but I would feel better having medical opinions on my side.
To the vet’s credit, they didn’t push back on the CBD pivot. And while it looked like Metacam was the cause, they did not specify which medication or effects led to the diarrhea. The doctor then told me to do what a pet owner should do with any medication: keep a close eye on your pet and monitor for any warning signs.
Thankfully, after the switch to CBD, Delly was pain-free, resting and maintaining her stomach contents.
Choose Your Treatments Wisely
I’m not saying Metacam, codeine and other drugs don’t have a place in recovery. Sometimes you need substantial medication to help with acute pain that cannabis probably can’t address.
Experts typically feel that opioids work best when managing pain for short periods, with some recommending less than a week of use. Metacam follows similar dosing guidelines, with most vets suggesting that dogs take it for a few weeks at most, unless recommended otherwise.
And while Metacam’s list of adverse effects suggest it made my dog sick, I couldn’t help but shake the worries of opioids. We know the damage it does to humans, so why shouldn’t I be worried about my dog? At this point, I don’t care which it was. Going forward, I’ll do my best to avoid them both.
Research continues to assess the impact of opioids on animals with limited to no conclusive decisions made. However, one recent study suggested that injectable opioids are more effective for dogs. Another study has led some to believe that animals can become addicted to opioids.
It’s important to remember that I’m only speaking from my experience. Neither High Times nor I are offering any medical advice for readers or their pets. With the sum of lab studies currently inconclusive, making any sort of definitive statements would be risky. As always, medical choices should be made by you and trusted professionals.
With my dog, it feels like CBD may have a place in her long-term recovery and maintenance. I wouldn’t have relied on CBD alone to treat the severe pain of the first few weeks, but now I feel like it is more than capable of addressing any future muscle soreness and stiffness. IVDD is a lifelong condition, so CBD may come back into play at some point to help her with muscle inflammation, body pains or to help her rest. Right now, she seems okay on her own, but you never know what life will bring next.