The research on CBD’s therapeutic potential for dogs with dementia is still ongoing. In human trials, no clinical evidence has yet shown that cannabinoids can directly help with dementia, but there are indications that the cannabis derivative may be useful in mitigating some forms of neurodegeneration and accompanying symptoms.

As is often the case with CBD for dogs, real benefits are likely to be found in the treatment of side effects of dementia, not dementia itself. Despite the lack of scientific backup, many owners do choose to give their elderly dogs CBD oil for a range of reasons, from maintaining joint health and mobility, to reducing the confusion and anxiety that can often accompany mental decline.

Here’s the current state of research on the link between CBD and dementia!

Dementia in dogs (CCD)

Like many conditions that come with age, rates of canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) are increasing alongside a growing population of older pups.

Much like Alzheimer’s disease in humans, CCD occurs when a dog’s brain begins to degrade and become impaired—usually as a result of the aging process. Age-related cognitive decline will often affect memory and learning abilities, but it’s not the only condition that causes canine dementia. Genetic factors, diseases, and traumas may also predispose an animal to dementia.

According to ABC news, dogs over the age of 14 have around a 40 percent chance of developing symptoms related to dementia and other forms of neurodegeneration. A 2001 study in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, on the other hand, puts the figure as high as 68 percent in dogs over 15 years old.

Symptoms of CCD often gradually increase and commonly include confusion, forgetfulness, and anxiety. For example, a dog may forget their morning walk routine, or lose the ability to successfully navigate around their home. Sleeplessness is another frequent side effect, as well as a loss of recognition of previously well-known family members.

What does the science say?

Over the last decade or so, a number of studies have been undertaken to discover CBDs’ effect on a wide variety of inflammatory and progressive medical conditions. Occasionally, these studies have included dogs, but they usually follow the scientific standard of testing on mice and human participants.

Among the literature, there is increasing evidence that CBD’s effect on the body’s endocannabinoid system may help to regulate the speed and onset of neurodegeneration. Often, neurodegeneration is typified by three biomarkers:

  • Excessive glutamate production
  • Oxidative stress

  • Neuroinflammation

CBD or other cannabis derivatives have been shown in clinical studies to slow or stop all three of these neurodegenerative effects, which has led some to suggest that cannabinoids may be clinically useful in the treatment of people and animals with dementia.

In 2002, a review published in Expert Opinion concluded that cannabinoids can alleviate symptoms in experimental models of neurodegenerative diseases. Likewise, A 2005 study from the Journal of Neuroinflammation found that mice with chronic inflammation responded well to artificially stimulation of cannabinoid receptors in the brain. Cannabinoid receptors played a role in suppressing microglial activation, which is considered a key therapeutic strategy in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

In the UK, a clinical study on the use of CBD and THC (the psychoactive component of cannabis) for patients with Alzheimer’s has reached Phase Two trials. The study by King’s College London is intended to specifically help those dementia patients who exhibit symptoms of agitation or aggression.

Research of this kind suggests that cannabinoids, of which CBD is currently the most popular non-psychoactive type, could be useful in the treatment of neurodegenerative dementias—or the symptoms and behaviors associated with them. Unfortunately, however, we’re still waiting for a specific study on CBD and dementia—and that’s in human patients, not dogs.

What do owners say?

As the UK Alzheimer’s society cautions, “The jury is still out on whether cannabis or its by-products could be used to treat dementia. A lack of strong research means dubious and anecdotal reports have taken the place of hard evidence.”

That said, the internet abounds with testimonials on the benefits of CBD for aging dogs, as well as those with progressive inflammatory conditions. The extent to which CBD can really go above and beyond therapeutic uses and genuinely treat CCD is unknown, and remains largely a matter of owner perceptions.

Whether or not you place value on the anecdotal reports of owners will depend on personal preferences. It’s worth maintaining a healthy level of skepticism and being critical about exactly what people are saying, and who exactly is saying it. After all, there’s a big difference between following the advice on a Reddit forum vs the experiences of a trusted friend.

The verdict

  • The preliminary research and anecdotal reports on CBDs benefits for dementia are encouraging, but they haven’t been verified by clinical trials or veterinary recommendations.

  • Dementia is often accompanied by a range of symptoms that CBD is well-suited to treat. These include inflammation, stiffness, anxiety, and poor sleep and eating routines.

  • CBD is a safe, non-toxic treatment; but all dogs are individuals with different needs and tolerances. Always begin with a low dose of CBD oil (we recommend a starting dose of 0.2mg of CBD per pound of body weight) and carefully observe your pet.

  • Senior dogs are often already taking medications or supplements. While CBD does have a very high toxicity threshold and appears to interact well with other medications, the statistical information on CBD and drug combinations simply isn’t there yet. So, always talk to your vet when planning to supplement your dog’s treatment plan in any way.