It’s not just humans who have easier access to weed now that more marijuana laws have been relaxed. An increasing number of dogs, cats and others Pets are accidentally consuming marijuana. — and experience the potentially dangerous symptoms of THC toxicity.
If your dog or cat ingests your marijuana or THC edibles, here’s what to know about symptoms, toxicity, and when to call the vet
“I was like, ‘Oh, no, no, no, no… It was fear. It was panic,” says Tam. “And it was a series of panic Google searches.”
Tam called an animal poison control hotline who recommended she contact a vet. Ernie’s doctor advised waiting at home to let him rest. After 12 hours of experiencing symptoms like hyperreactivity and incontinence, Ernie was back to his old self (and Tam says his boss was understanding). But the result is not always so happy.
More than half of the US states have legalized medical marijuana and 21 have legalized recreational use (DC has legalized both). Christine Klippen, a veterinarian at Friendship Hospital for Animals in DC, says she treats at least half a dozen animals each week that have ingested weed, a notable increase since DC voted to legalize marijuana in 2014.
This year, for the first time, recreational drugs were listed by the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. Top 10 Pet Toxins. The organization received nearly 300 percent more calls about marijuana toxicity in 2022 compared to the previous five years.
Keeping pets safe, veterinarians say, will depend on more humans learning to recognize the symptoms of marijuana poisoning and taking steps to prevent them in the first place. This is what you should know.
According to the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center (APCC), most cases of marijuana toxicity in dogs involve baked goods laced with cannabis, which is more dangerous than ingesting plant material due to high doses of THC concentrates. Human users can limit their consumption to one serving, but animals, particularly dogs, are more likely to consume larger amounts, according to Tina Wismer, senior director of the APCC. “They’re going to eat the whole tray of brownies, or the whole batch of chocolate chip cookies,” she says.
Marijuana poisoning can also occur when dogs eat leftover plant material that hasn’t been disposed of properly, as part of a leftover joint in a house or on the sidewalk. These cases become more common after large outdoor events or during times of the year when more people smoke outside, Klippen says. Fecal matter from human users can, when consumed by animals, also be toxic.
A dog’s size can affect its vulnerability to marijuana toxicity, but Doug Kratt, a veterinarian at Central Wisconsin Animal Hospital and past president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, says it’s important to remember that dogs are five times more sensitive. to marijuana than their owners.
Cats are also at some risk of ingesting marijuana through edibles or discarded joints, but they are especially prone to nibbling marijuana plants, says Wismer, which can be dangerous. Cats experience most of the same marijuana toxicity symptoms that dogs do.
The bottom line, says Lori Teller, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, is that pet owners need to be careful whenever cannabis is present, in any form. “Whenever [animals] have access to marijuana, they are at risk of poisoning, whether at home, visiting someone else’s home, or if it is not well contained [outside],” she says.
Animals react to THC, the cannabis extract that causes a “high”, differently than humans: they experience poisoning, not a high.
While being in the same room as secondhand marijuana smoke is generally not dangerous to animals, deliberately blowing smoke into a pet’s face can be harmful, Wismer says.
THC Toxicity Symptoms in Pets
When dogs and cats use marijuana, they can experience lethargy, depression, changes in heart rate and blood pressure, vomiting, seizures, dilated pupils, excess saliva, and decreased body temperature. Pets can “look like they’re drunk,” Wismer says, with wobbly movements, an inability to walk or hyper-reactivity. When you catch up with a pet experiencing marijuana intoxication, they may jump back or appear startled. Dogs can present with urinary incontinence and not respond to their name. In severe cases, pets can experience respiratory depression or coma. Death is rare but possible.
Since edible marijuana products often come in the form of candy, poisoning from chocolate and artificial sweeteners can coincide with marijuana toxicity.
Dogs and cats are not the only types of pets affected by marijuana. Outdoor animals, such as horses, are prone to wandering into home gardens and can experience toxicity from chewing on marijuana plants. Smaller pets, such as rabbits, ferrets and birds, can also be affected and are more vulnerable to getting into plant material in plastic bags or ashtrays, according to Wismer.
If you have any suspicion that a pet is exhibiting symptoms of marijuana toxicity, call your veterinarian or a animal poison control hotline immediately. Treatments could include intravenous fluids, induced vomiting, or blood pressure moderation.
Marijuana is “very difficult to test” in pets, Klippen says, and the symptoms of marijuana ingestion can mimic serious neurological conditions. That’s why it’s important to be honest with your vet if he suspects your pet is experiencing marijuana intoxication.
“I don’t care if you smoke weed or eat edibles,” says Klippen. “What I do care about is that you lock things up, dispose of them properly, and if there’s a chance your pet has gotten in, be completely open and transparent with me. I’m not going to call anyone. I just want to do what’s best for the pet.”
Marijuana Toxicity Prevention
In your home, treat marijuana as you would treat drugs or dangerous goods if children are present, Teller advises. Keep marijuana products in an airtight container or locked cabinet, or on a high shelf. Outside, keep an eye on what your pet eats. Keep your dog on a leash while walking, and reserve off-leash time for designated people. dog areas where people are less likely to dispose of marijuana products.
Even if you don’t have a pet, be careful around other people’s animals by properly disposing of cannabis waste, including edibles, extracts and oils, plant material, and vape pens. Klippen recommends sealing such waste in a container and throwing it away with regular trash.
What about marijuana products marketed for pets?
Marijuana-derived CBD pet treats and other products have become increasingly popular as a way to treat arthritis, seizures, and other ailments in pets. But there’s a key difference between these items and the type of weed you’d find in a human joint or specialty brownie tray: These pet products contain little to no THC, which is the agent in marijuana products that causes toxicity in animals.
Still, there are several reasons why owners should approach CBD pet products with some skepticism. There are quality issues with CBD treats; According to Teller, up to 70 percent of marijuana-based products currently available for pets do not contain the concentration they claim on the label, and some do not contain CBD at all.
CBD can also contain around 0.3 percent THC, Wismer says, so if you use these products, you’ll need to be careful how much you give to your pet. “If the animals get the right dose, there’s no problem,” he says. “We have seen animals that think that a whole bag of treats is one serving, and that they will ingest it all and end up with marijuana-like signs. The dose determines the poison.
While early studies show that CBD-infused pet products can be helpful in treating conditions like seizures and arthritis when combined with more traditional medications, more research is needed. “Right now, we really recommend that clients talk to their veterinarians about therapies that have actually been shown to work,” Teller says. “As we get more information, better research… safety data… and things move through the FDA process, it’s going to be much easier for us to make real therapeutic recommendations.”