New study: CBD shows promise for treating canine epilepsy

Stephanie McGrath, DVM, MS, and clinical trials coordinator Breonna Thomas examine Atticus, a three-year old St. Bernard enrolled in a CBD clinical trial at the Colorado State Univeristy Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Photo credit: © John Eisele/Colorado State University

“I see a lot of epileptic patients,” says Stephanie McGrath, DVM, MS. “It’s a very heart-wrenching disease. It’s very hard to watch dog have seizures. It’s very hard to coach owners through the process. It’s very traumatic.”

Canine idiopathic epilepsy affects up to 5.7% of the pet dog population worldwide. McGrath, a neurologist and researcher at Colorado State University’s (CSU) Veterinary Teaching Hospital who says she’s frustrated at the lack of good options for treating it, thinks cannabidiols (CBD) might be one answer.

Her interest in the hemp byproduct was sparked when she started hearing anecdotal stories about the successful use of CBD in treating adult and pediatric epilepsy. When pet owners and veterinarians started calling her to ask if she knew of any studies going on at CSU about the use of CBD to treat pets, she started checking around: “Across the board, people were saying no.” They’d heard the anecdotal stories, McGrath said, but no one was doing the research.

So McGrath asked herself, “Could we be doing the research?”

Turns out the answer was yes.

McGrath’s recently led a small pilot study at CSU on the use of CBD to treat canine epilepsy.

The results of that study, just published in Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, are “promising,” says McGrath.

The study focused on 26 client-owned dogs with intractable idiopathic epilepsy. Dogs enrolled in the clinical trial were randomly assigned to the treatment or placebo group. Those in the treatment group received CBD oil for 12 weeks. All of the dogs were required to stay on standard anticonvulsant drugs, including phenobarbital and potassium bromide, during the study.

The CBD product used in the study was derived from a hemp plant, which has 0.3 percent or less of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC),the psychoactive component of cannabis.

Once the study was completed, the 9 dogs in the CBD group and the 7 in the placebo group who remained were included in the analysis. Dogs in the CBD group showed a significant reduction in seizure frequency compared with the placebo group. While the CBD group showed a greater range of response to the treatment, the proportion of dogs showing any response was similar in both groups.

No adverse behavioral effects were reported by owners.

About 90% of the dogs receiving CBD had a reduction in seizure activity.

NEWStat spoke with McGrath about the findings and asked her what she thought of CBD as a potential treatment for canine epilepsy.

“I think overall, it definitely shows promise,” McGrath said. “However I’m not sure we’re quite at the point where we can say we can have a drug we can put widely out there [to treat] epilepsy. We have a lot more work to do. I think there are still a whole lot of unanswered questions.”

McGrath acknowledges that the numbers are good, but she’s a little disappointed that they weren’t better. “We did have significant reduction in seizures in the treatment group as compared to the control group, but we didn’t quite hit our mark,” she says. The control group showed a 33% median reduction in seizures. “We really like to see a 50% reduction and we didn’t get there.” But she remains upbeat: “Hopefully this study has shown that CBD does have potentially anticonvulsant effects.”

McGrath says one thing’s certain: “It gave us the data that we needed to [justify] a bigger study.”

In fact, they’ve already begun. And they need more dogs.

“We’re dying for dogs,” McGrath says, and notes that the trial is fully funded, “so it won’t cost dog owners anything.” She says her team will work with other neurologists and veterinarians to help collect blood samples and make the process of participating “as easy as possible.”

Given that there’s still no definitive proof that CBD is an effect epilepsy treatment, what does McGrath tell pet owners and veterinarians who ask if they should give CBD to epileptic dogs?

“If you want to try it, it probably won’t hurt,” McGrath says. “But do we know it will help? We don’t.”

For more information about participating in the new CSU trial, referring veterinarians and dog owners should contact Breonna Thomas at 970-305-0455 or [email protected].


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