The Highs (and Lows) of Marijuana Toxicity In Pets

It is safe to say that most pet owners have asked themselves this question at one point-did I leave that bag of (insert hazardous product here) on the kitchen counter? Inevitably the answer is yes, and now our pet may need to be seen by a veterinarian or pet urgent care clinic. Our pets typically find themselves getting into things that they are not supposed to. With legalization of marijuana in many states, there has been a rise in marijuana ingestion by our pets. The booming business has developed a slew of methods to consume marijuana such as edibles, drinks (sodas/coffee/beer), infused foods, along with the traditional method of smoking the plants. As more people have access to these products, more will ask:  Did I leave something on the counter?

Why should I be concerned about marijuana and my pet?

In general, marijuana is made up of two main compounds, CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). CBD is the nonpsychoactive compound that is thought to help with various disease processes. THC is the psychoactive compound within the plant, which causes most of the signs seen with marijuana consumption. Clinical signs of marijuana consumption vary, and largely depend on the amount of THC ingested and time since ingestion.  Mild signs consist of neurological changes (listing, legs crossing over while walking, appearing unsteady), vomiting, dribbling urine, low body temperature, low heart rate, and mild sedation. More severe signs include extreme sedation, seizures and coma. Some edible marijuana products may contain other toxic compounds such as chocolate or xylitol.

What symptoms may my pet exhibit?

Signs of marijuana toxicity can have an onset time of 30-90mins after ingestion. Possible signs include: 

  • In-coordination/disorientation
  • Flinching, appearing hyper reactive
  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Dribbling urine
  • Dilated pupils
  • Listlessness/lethargy
  • Hyperactivity
  • Hypothermia
  • Tremors 
  • Seizing and coma (severe cases)

Diagnosing and treating marijuana toxicities in animals:

Many times marijuana ingestion is not witnessed.  Unless ingestion is confirmed, veterinarians need to rely on their physical exam findings, and history from the owner to potentially diagnose the toxicity. It is important for owners to be truthful about potential exposure. Urine drug tests can be used, but are not always accurate. Urine drug screen tests are designed for humans and since animal metabolites differ from human metabolites, these tests are not always reliable.

My animal has ingested marijuana, or I am suspecting ingestion-what should I do?

If an animal has recently ingested marijuana or you are suspecting ingestion, seek veterinary care. If the marijuana product came in a package, save it for reference. A veterinarian may start by inducing vomiting, but if a prolonged time has passed, inducing vomiting may not be beneficial.  Additional treatment recommendations will depend on the severity of the signs. Such treatment may include activated charcoal, fluids, intravenous lipids, and other possible medications. In general, the prognosis for marijuana ingestion is good.

Precautions to take:

Make sure that any products that contain THC are stored and kept away in an area not easily accessible to your pet. If your pet does happen to get into marijuana or THC containing products, please contact your veterinarian right away. If you are unsure of the amount of product or potential additional ingredients (chemical or edible), call the ASPCA poison control or Pet Poison helpline, immediately. 

Further references:

ASPCA Animal Poison Control 

(888) 426-4435

https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control

Pet Poison Helpline

(855) 764-7661

https://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/

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Angelika Demers, CVT

Clinical Supervisor

Angelika started her animal health career in 2014 when she attended the University of Maine Augusta, Bangor campus, for Veterinary Technology. She graduated in early 2018 and became a Certified Veterinary Technician later that year. Her internship, and first veterinary field job, was at the MSPCA Angell in Boston, where she discovered her interest in emergency medicine. Throughout the years, she has continued to advance her knowledge in the field of emergency medicine, but also in cultivating relationships with patients and clients alike to offer the best quality care. Outside of work she likes hanging out with her cat, Mew, spending time outdoors, watching game shows, and photography.