Is your dog living out their senior years?
Do you notice him getting stuck behind furniture or soiling the house?
While they’re often just dismissed as signs of aging, these can be symptoms of a serious condition known as canine cognitive dysfunction or “doggie dementia.”
If you’re worried that your dog is suffering from cognitive decline due to their age, I have some good news:
There’s some pretty solid research suggesting CBD can help reduce the symptoms of canine cognitive dysfunction and maybe even slow its progression.
Keep reading to learn more.
What is Canine Cognitive Dysfunction?
Canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) is a condition which causes dogs to become senile.
In fact, the condition is sometimes referred to as canine senility or “doggie dementia.”
Canine cognitive dysfunction causes a variety of different symptoms of senility which I’ll describe in further detail below.
Unfortunately, many pet owners and even vets dismiss early symptoms of this disease as just signs of “getting old” or “senior moments.”
However, canine cognitive dysfunction is a real disease that, over time, can become increasingly debilitating.
How to Spot Canine Cognitive Dysfunction: Signs of Doggie Dementia
Senility affects every dog differently.
Some dogs might suddenly seem to forget the route on their daily walk.
Others might lose track of their owner around the house, even if they just saw them only a few seconds ago.
Some dogs might walk in circles, bump into walls, and get stuck behind furniture, while others might seem less active and excited to do things that they previously enjoyed.
Below is a list of some of the common symptoms:
- Disorientation: This is a very common symptom of doggie dementia. You might notice your dog looking lost even in familiar places like your home. You may also find him staring out into space or directly at walls.
- Forgetfulness: Just like people, dogs with dementia can start to forget familiar aspects of their lives. This can include other pets, people and, in advanced cases, even their owners.
- Dysthymia: Dogs with dementia tend to lose awareness of their size and suffer from reduced spatial perception. Hence, they might get stuck behind furniture or in corners.
- Behavioral changes: Your previously popular, friendly pup might become irritable or even aggressive as a result of canine cognitive dysfunction. Dogs with dementia also tend to withdraw from social interactions with people or other animals.
- Barking: Persistent barking, whining, or growling, especially during the night.
- House soiling: It is very common for house-trained dogs to begin urinating or defecating inside the house as a result of CCD.
- Decreased alertness and activity: Dogs with CCD tend to be less alert to things like sounds or smells. They might struggle to find their food, struggle to hear their owners when being called or even forget to respond to their name. Dogs with dementia also tend to become less active,
- Repetitive movement: If your dog repeatedly bobs their head, shakes their legs, or walks around in circles, this is usually a pretty solid sign that they are suffering from some kind of cognitive decline.
- Changes to sleep cycle: Dogs with CCD are often restless at night and sleepy during the day.
- Anxiety and depression: Canine cognitive dysfunction can leave dogs acting anxious and suddenly getting scared by objects, people, or actions which previously didn’t bother them.
- Reduced learning ability: Dogs with CCD struggle to learn new tricks.
Many of these symptoms, especially in isolation, are subtle, and many pet owners dismiss them as signs of just “getting old.”
If your dog is starting to show signs and symptoms like these, make sure to report them to your vet.
While canine cognitive dysfunction can’t be cured, it is possible to manage it and slow down its progression when detected early.
What Causes Canine Cognitive Dysfunction?
CCD is very similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans.
In fact, dogs with CCD have been suggested as a model of study for early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Dogs with CCD (like humans with Alzheimer’s) develop amyloid plaques in the brain.
Amyloid plaques are made up of deposits of beta-amyloid, a fragment of amyloid precursor proteins.
Normal healthy brains are able to process these compounds and eliminate them.
In dogs with CCD and humans with Alzheimer’s, the body doesn’t do this and the proteins deposit and form hard plaques that affect the proper communication between neurons.
People with Alzheimer’s disease also suffer from neurofibrillary tangles, which are tangled fibers inside brain cells caused by abnormal proteins and the collapse of structures within neurons.
Some dogs with canine cognitive dysfunction also suffer from neurofibrillary tangles, although this is less common.
Over time, both Alzheimer’s and CCD cause neurodegeneration, or the loss of brain cells, which ultimately lead to the symptoms I mentioned above.
Like Alzheimer’s, CCD seems to be somewhat genetic, but it can affect dogs of any breed and sex.
It is more common in older dogs and has been estimated to affect over 25% of dogs aged 11-12 and almost 70% of dogs aged 15-16.
How is Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Treated?
There is no cure for canine cognitive dysfunction.
However, you and your vet can work to slow down the progression of the disease and reduce the severity of its symptoms using a combination of lifestyle changes, behavioral therapy, prescription medications, and supplements.
Making small changes to your dog’s lifestyle can have a big impact on the progression of their dementia.
Diet, for example, is super important for older dogs and there are special prescription diets formulated for dogs with CCD.
These diets usually contain higher amounts of antioxidants to help reduce the number of free radicals (highly reactive compounds that can combine to make a long list of mainly toxic chemicals) in the animal’s brain.
You can work together with your vet to create a tailored diet plan especially for your pet and reduce the effect of CCD on their quality of life.
Just like humans with Alzheimer’s can benefit from cognitive stimulation, so can dogs with CCD.
If your dog knows tricks or obeys commands, make sure to engage them in this way.
You can also set up a simple “find the food” game to help stimulate your dog's senses and cognitive abilities.
Also, remember to rearrange your house in order to accommodate the changing needs of your pet.
This includes things like:
- Making sure your dog can easily access their food and water.
- Avoiding stairs or steps when possible.
- Removing furniture or any other hazards from your pet’s way to accompany the decline of their depth perception and motor skills.
As we saw earlier, it's very common for dogs with dementia to undergo behavioral changes.
Behavioral therapy, while not a cure for the behavioral changes caused by CCD, can help your dog hold on to some of the behavioral traits that made them who they are.
The exact type of behavioral therapy used to treat CCD is very case-specific, and you should work together with your vet to come up with a plan tailored to your pet’s needs.
This can include re-training of old tricks or rehouse-training, re-socializing with other animals and people, cognitive stimulation via games, and more.
Prescription Medications and Supplements
There are a number of drugs on the market that have been shown to help reduce the impact CCD has on a dog’s life.
- Selegiline (Anipryl): Selegiline chloride inhibits monoamine oxidase (MAO) enzymes. These enzymes play a crucial role in regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin, melatonin, dopamine, tryptamine, phenethylamine, and many more. Too much or too little MAO activity is believed to play a role in a number of diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Selegiline chloride can be used on dogs to treat CCD via the same mechanisms.
- Nicergoline: Nicergoline helps decrease vascular resistance and increases blood flow to the brain. In doing so, it allows more oxygen and glucose to be delivered to the neurons, potentially improving cognitive function in pets with dementia.
- Propentofylline: Propentofylline is thought to increase blood flow to the brain by increasing the flexibility of red blood cells and stopping them from clumping together, ultimately increasing the amount of oxygen transported to the brain.
Besides these medications, there are also a number of supplements that are believed to help dogs with canine cognitive dysfunction.
- SAMe (S-Adenosyl methionine): SAMe is an amino acid that has been shown to increase activity levels and awareness in dogs and cats in a number of studies.
- Apoaequorin: Sourced from jellyfish, apoaequorin is a protein said to help fight neurotoxins associated with Parkinson’s and dementia in humans. Studies have shown that apoaequorin improves the learning ability and attention in dogs.
- Phosphatidylserine: Phosphatidylserine is used in human patients with Alzheimer's and is also used in a variety of pet supplements designed for older animals.
- Adrafinil: Adrafinil is used to promote wakefulness and alertness. It has been shown to improve learning ability in some dogs as well as promote positive locomotion.
CBD: Can Cannabidiol Help With Dog Dementia?
Now that you have a better understanding of CCD and how it works, let's start talking about CBD.
Over the last couple of years, CBD has gotten a ton of attention from the media thanks to its potential health benefits.
Studies show, for example, that CBD can help fight chronic pain, reduce the intensity and regularity of seizures in patients with epilepsy, and much more.
There’s also a growing body of research looking into the potential use of CBD and other cannabinoids for Alzheimer’s disease.
Given that Alzheimer’s and CCD are very similar, this is pretty exciting news for the veterinary world, too.
Below I’ll cover some of this research.
The Endocannabinoid System as a Therapeutic Target for Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
Your dog, just like you, has an endocannabinoid system.
This system mainly comprises of cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2, as well endocannabinoids anandamide and 2-AG.
Research suggests that this system could be an exciting potential therapeutic target for new Alzheimer’s treatments.
That’s because the endocannabinoid system seems to be involved in various aspects of the Alzheimer’s pathology.
Increasing endocannabinoid signaling, for example, has been shown to reduce neurotoxicity, inflammation, and oxidative stress in the brain.
Cannabinoid receptors, especially CB1, are also found in extremely high concentrations in key parts of the brain affected by Alzheimer’s.
These include the cortex and the hippocampus, both of which play a central role in learning and memory.
Endocannabinoid deficiency has also been linked to brain disease.
Dr. Phillip Blair, Medical Director for Elixinol (a brand fo CBD oil for humans) has openly discussed some of the research into endocannabinoid deficiency and its role in brain disease.
Dr. Blair explains that increased expression of CB2 receptors, low levels of endocannabinoids, and increased numbers of the enzymes used to breakdown these endocannabinoids are common traits in patients with Alzheimer's.
Luckily, cannabinoid therapy with compounds like CBD can help restore this imbalance of the endocannabinoid system.
That’s what makes CBD and interesting potential treatment option for patients with Alzheimer's, as well as dogs with CCD.
Endocannabinoid Activity Can Influence Amyloid Generation and Clearance in the Brain
This is a really important finding.
Studies show that activating CB2 receptors can drive down the activity of microglia, a special type of cell which, when active, seems to contribute to the production amyloid.
This has led some researchers to hypothesize that activating CB2 receptors could reduce the production of amyloid and therefore fight the formation of amyloid plaques in patients with Alzheimer's.
Animal studies have also shown that activating CB2 receptors can increase the clearance of amyloid from the brain.
Cannabinoid Therapy Could Fight Neurofibrillary Tangles
Studies also suggest that endocannabinoid activity could help prevent the formation of neurofibrillary tangles in the brain.
Studies have shown, for example, that activating CB1 receptors with selective antagonists can help drive down the abnormal hyperphosphorylation of tau proteins.
This hyperphosphorylation (basically an abnormal growth of tau protein) has been suggested as one of the main mechanisms contributing to the tangles that characterize Alzheimer’s and are sometimes also present in cases of dogs with dementia.
Other Important Roles of The Endocannabinoid System in Brain Disease
As I mentioned earlier, there are many different ways in which the endocannabinoid system seems to be involved in the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Neuroinflammation: Studies show that endocannabinoid activity can help drive down inflammation of the brain cells, a common symptom of brain disease.
- Neurodegeneration: While we’ve long been told to believe that cannabis kills brain cells, studies are showing exactly the opposite; cannabinoids like CBD and even THC have been shown to promote neurogenesis in various parts of the brain.
The way the endocannabinoid system relates to Alzheimer's and other brain diseases is really complex, and there’s no way I can cover this topic entirely in the span of this one article.
What I’ve tried to do above is highlight at least some of the key research showing the important role the endocannabinoid system seems to play in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
For more information on the role of the endocannabinoid system in Alzheimer’s, make sure to check out the following resources:
- The Role of Endocannabinoid Signaling in the Molecular Mechanisms of Neurodegeneration in Alzheimer's Disease, Journal Of Alzheimer’s Disease (2014)
- Alzheimer, Dementia and CBD - Dr. Philp Blair, Senior Medical Director at Elixinol
CBD for Dogs With Canine Cognitive Dysfunction
Unfortunately, no studies have actually tested CBD on dogs with CCD.
However, the information I covered above makes a solid case that your dog’s endocannabinoid system could be an interesting target for addressing their symptoms of CCD as well as the progression of the disease.
And the fact that CBD can increase endocannabinoid activity in a safe and natural way obviously makes it an interesting supplement for people whose pets are dealing with this condition.
Now, I know you might be skeptical about trying a supplement that hasn’t been tested on dogs with your furry friend.
I was exactly the same when I first learned about CBD and it’s potential health benefits for dogs.
However, after seeing the positive effects CBD had on my dog Rosie (who suffered from cancer and hip dysplasia) I was convinced:
CBD, based on my experience and the research I’ve read, can be a super effective treatment for dogs with a wide variety of ailments.
If your pet is showing signs of CCD, I highly recommend talking to your vet about trying CBD.
For this particular ailment, I recommend using top-shelf CBD oils made by HolistaPet.
HolistaPet is a really respected company that makes high-quality CBD pet products using full-spectrum CBD extract.
I highly recommend looking into HolistaPet’s oils and capsules, both of which are available in various strengths.
You can visit their official website here: www.HolistaPet.com.
Remember, CBD is completely legal and safe, and usually doesn’t produce any side effects.
And even in the rare cases that CBD does produce adverse effects, these are very mild when compared to those of other prescription medications.
For more information on CBD and the health benefits it can have for your pet, make sure to check out the other articles on my blog.