Since marijuana was legalized, pets’ cannabis poisoning has increased, with the Pet Poison Helpline reporting a 400% rise in animal toxicity cases since 2016. Our Roosevelt Animal Hospital team explains how marijuana affects pets, and what you should do if your pet gets into marijuana. 

Cannabis basics for pet owners

Cannabis has been used for recreational, religious, and medical purposes for more than 5,000 years. The plants include numerous species that contain at least 480 distinct compounds, including 60 active cannabinoids. The two most understood cannabinoids are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC has psychoactive effects, which have led to some of marijuana’s medical uses. Although CBD may have some medical applications, the substance does not produce a psychoactive response. Marijuana has a THC concentration exceeding 0.3%, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) classifies and regulates it as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. Cannabinoids work by binding to endocannabinoid system receptors in the brain and spinal cord, which are important for regulating normal body functions such as hunger, temperature, and alertness. Today, most people use cannabis for medicinal or recreational purposes. Products can be smoked, inhaled using vaporizers, or ingested through food or drink. Also available are synthetic cannabinoids, typically designer recreational drugs, which are usually sprayed on dried plant material for smoking or produced as a liquid to be vaporized and inhaled. 

Marijuana exposure in pets

Pets are most often exposed to marijuana when they have eaten cannabis edibles or have ingested the actual plant, including the leaves, seeds, stems, and flowers. The substance can also affect your pet if they inhale secondhand smoke or consume hashish oil. Pets have more cannabinoid receptors in their brain than humans, and marijuana causes them to experience a stronger reaction, and they have a higher toxicity potential. Another concern is that many edibles are made with chocolate and xylitol, which are toxic to pets, and they can suffer multiple toxicities at one time. Synthetic cannabinoids may be laced with other chemicals or drugs, and a pet’s serious toxicosis risk increases more with exposure to this substance form than to marijuana-derived THC products.

Marijuana toxicity signs in pets

Marijuana alters the brain’s chemical messengers, including norepinephrine, dopamine, serotonin, and acetylcholine. Marijuana toxicity signs include:

  • Incoordination
  • Lethargy
  • Hyperreactivity
  • Dilated pupils
  • Excessive vocalization
  • Excessive drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Urinary incontinence

Depending on their age, health status, and weight, each pet reacts uniquely to marijuana. No official safe marijuana dose has been established for pets, but cannabis poisoning is rarely fatal unless other toxicities complicate the situation. 

Marijuana toxicity diagnosis in pets

Diagnosis is typically based on your pet’s marijuana exposure history, and the signs they are exhibiting. To treat your pet effectively for marijuana toxicity, you must tell our Roosevelt Animal Hospital team how your pet was exposed to the substance. For example, treating a pet who ingested brownies made with THC butter involves addressing chocolate and cannabis toxicity, while treating a pet who inhaled secondhand marijuana smoke may require treatment for respiratory irritation. Although urine testing is used to determine the THC level and confirm exposure, this test tends to be unreliable in pets. 

Marijuana toxicity treatment in pets

Although your pet is likely to recover from marijuana toxicity, their treatment will depend on their condition’s severity. A pet’s treatment for marijuana toxicity may involve:

  • Induced vomiting — If your pet has ingested marijuana, and fewer than 30 minutes have passed, our Roosevelt Animal Hospital team may induce vomiting. After this period, the cannabidiol’s anti-nausea properties may make this procedure ineffective. Never induce your pet to vomit on your own, because if done improperly, they can inhale the vomit, which can lead to aspiration pneumonia.
  • Activated charcoal — We may administer activated charcoal to help bind toxins and prevent absorption as they pass through your pet’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
  • Intravenous (IV) fluids — IV fluids may be necessary to prevent dehydration, support blood pressure, and maintain organ function.
  • Intralipid therapy — In severe cases, our team may recommend intralipid therapy, which involves infusing lipids to bind the marijuana, helping speed toxin elimination.

Marijuana toxicity prevention in pets

Your pet’s curious nature can lead to an accidental marijuana exposure. To reduce your pet’s maijuana toxicity risk, follow these tips:

  • Secure all prescribed and recreational medications in an area that your pet can’t access.
  • Never leave marijuana edibles unsupervised.
  • When smoking marijuana, keep your pet out of the room, and ensure the residual smoke clears before allowing them back.
  • Keep your marijuana plants in a room inaccessible to your pet, especially cats.

Medical cannabis use for pets

Many owners express interest about medical marijuana’s benefits for their pet, and many products are marketed for your furry pal. However, you should be cautious before deciding to provide your pet these products because they:

  • Lack Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval — The FDA does not recognize these products as legal, and manufacturers don’t have to prove the product’s efficacy. In addition, a product may not contain the amount of active ingredient they claim.
  • Cannot be prescribed by a veterinarian — The American Veterinary Medical Association states, “Under current federal and state law, veterinarians may not administer, dispense, prescribe, or recommend cannabis or its products for animals.” The laws that make cannabis legal for human consumption do not extend to pets’ use.
  • Have undergone limited research — Limited research about marijuan’s effects on pets has been performed. Until more information is available, verified veterinary treatments are better for your pet. 
  • May react with other medications — If your pet is currently taking a prescribed medication, adding cannabis to the mix may cause them health complications. Always consult our veterinary team before administering any substance to your pet. 

Marijuana alters the brain’s chemical messengers, including norepinephrine, dopamine, serotonin, and acetylcholine. If your pet gets into your marijuana stash, contact our Roosevelt Animal Hospital team, so we can assess their condition and provide the care they need.