24 Feb Marijuana Intoxication in Pets
Veterinarians and pet poison lines across the country have been reportedly plagued with an over 400% increase in calls regarding cannabis intoxication in their beloved family pet as more people have access to marijuana and medicinal cannabis. Despite Hollywood considering it good humor to show a “stoned” dog, there’s nothing funny about a drugged animal. It’s incredibly scary for them and without an antidote or way to communicate to them that it won’t last forever it’s an experience you and your pet should avoid at all costs.
What Happens if Your Pet Eats Marijuana?
Does Cannabis Have an Effect on Animals?
Every mammal is born with what is known as the Endocannabinoid System (ECS.) The ECS is a biological system with receptors in your brain and throughout your body. These receptors are what cannabinoids like THC and CBD bind to, creating different effects, depending on where in the body they attach.
Your ECS more or less maintains your health status by regulating physiological and cognitive processes in your body. It manages things like body temperature, mood, motor control, appetite, pain, and memory. If something gets out of range or balance, your ECS signals for a response or a series of responses that work to bring your body back to homeostasis.
Not only are we born with this natural system, but so are our pet friends; with some distinct differences. First, canines possess more concentrated receptors that THC bind to. This means if your dog eats marijuana, they will suffer a more intense effect when compared to you. Secondly, animals metabolize and process things differently than humans. Sometimes it’s faster, sometimes slower, and sometimes through a different pathway in the body. Not everything from the (limited) research on humans correlates to animals and vice versa.
>> BONUS READING: Learn How Cannabis is Medicine for Pets Too! <<
Can Pets get ‘High?’
In a word, yes. Your furry family members get “high” just like humans. When they are exposed to secondhand smoke or eat cannabis flower, concentrates, and edibles the effects your pet feels are the same effects you experience. The higher the dose and potency, the more intense the effect to your pup.
Your pet’s reaction will depend on their size and the amount and kind of cannabis product they consumed. A five-pound dog is going to have a more severe reaction compared to an 80-pound dog eating the same thing. This doesn’t mean there isn’t cause for concern if you found your 100+ pound dog licking your medicated candy. Like their owners, every dog and every ECS is different.
How Dogs Overdose on Marijuana
- Edibles (cannabis medicated foods)
- Cannabis flower
- Concentrates (wax, shatter, etc)
- Cannabis medicines (transdermal patch, suppositories)
- Vape cartridges
- Cannabis tinctures
- Vaped flower, joint roaches, other remnants
Dogs will be dogs. Most dogs are naturally curious and arbitrary eaters. It may not smell like food to you, but dogs have a tendency to go nosing around — on neighborhood walks, hikes in the woods, and in nooks and crannies in the house when you aren’t looking. From black market dime bags to concentrates, dogs will swallow it without a second thought. Medicated foods (edibles) are even more enticing and dangerous.
Toxicity and Poisoning
When your beloved pet has accidentally ingested an edible, marijuana toxicity could be the least of your concerns. Ingredients that are safe for humans but are poisonous to dogs are often included in cannabis medicated foods. Chocolate, raisins, macadamia nuts, caffeine, xylitol (sweetener), and even the packaging is a serious risk if swallowed.
Then, there’s the same standards and concerns to consider if your pet got ahold of street marijuana with questionable origins. Toxins like pesticides, insecticides, solvents, and other nasty contaminants that are present on the unregulated market are also cause for worry when your pet swallows them. These chemicals make people sick, nevermind smaller pets.
Signs and symptoms of cannabis intoxication in your pet:
- Ataxia (unbalanced, stumbling, disoriented)
- Severe depression
- Lethargic, slowed response
- Dilated pupils
- Glassy eyes
- Dazed appearance
- Excessive salivation, drooling, dribbling
- Excessive/uncharacteristic vocalization
- Decreased/abnormal respiration
- Urinary incontinence
- Abnormal heart rate
- Blood pressure irregularities
When to take your Pet to the Vet
Since you may not witness your pup consuming cannabis or cannabis containing products, if you witness the above signs and especially if they are getting worse, it’s time to call the Veterinarian.
If you are fortunate enough to catch Scruffy in the act or come home to evidence of their accidental cannabis ingestion, seek your Vet’s help immediately rather than wait. Just like their owners, ingested cannabis has a delay in onset, giving you and your Vet some time to mitigate and manage its effects.
How long do you have?
Certain concentrates and tinctures can elicit an immediate effect (in under five minutes), while edibles and cannabis flower could take from 45 minutes to 12 hours before you see any signs of intoxication. Effects could range from minimal to catastrophic and could last for minutes to days.
It comes down to how much they ate, the potency of the marijuana consumed, your pet’s weight, their health, and so on. Of course, not knowing what your pet ate makes it more difficult, so call your Vet immediately with the first suspicion of accidental intoxication.
What Your Vet Can and Will Do
If possible, determine what cannabis product, how much of it your pet ingested, and when. Relaying an accurate timeline and your pet’s health history will help the doctor determine the best course of action. Your Vet may call upon urinalysis to fill in missing information in order to help your pet. Your pet’s doctor can induce vomiting or administer activated charcoal to absorb what your pup ingested before it’s absorbed and produces its effects.
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Veterinarians also provide optimal supportive care for your pet. Cannabis’s intoxicating effects put your pet at risk for self-injury. Stumbling, falling, seizing can all lead to further unnecessary injury. Your pet’s Vet can administer antiemetics and safely confine your pet until any intoxicating effects wear off. They’ll monitor and regulate your dog’s respiration, body temperature, and fluids as well, making your pet as comfortable as possible until the effects pass.
The Worst Part
The sooner you can get your furry family member to the Veterinarian, the better. Whilst fatalities are rare from ingesting cannabis, they can happen when consumed in very high quantities or when complications lead to further health concerns. Detrimental risks include aspiration (inhaling) vomit, injuries inflicted from falling, stumbling, seizing, and psychological distress.
Higher concentrations of medicine mean your pet could endure the equivalent of a really bad “trip,” and not recover from the negative physiological effects that a high dose of THC could cause for them. Unfortunately, we don’t have the means to work out a way to communicate with our pets that eases their mind in this tragic circumstance.
It’s Not All Bad
In spite of how scary it can be for both you and your pet, with supportive care and time, your pet should make a full recovery. Even better, with proper medicinal cannabis, your furry friend could be healthy and ready for physical activity in no time!
>> BONUS READING: Everything You Need to Know about Giving Medicinal Cannabis to your Pet <<
Just in Case…
Don’t let fear paralyze you from taking action to save your pet. We couldn’t find any evidence that Veterinarians are turning in anyone that brings in an intoxicated animal. They are generally concerned with the welfare of your pet over any issues with the law.
Although your Vet mostly likely won’t have the antidote for THC intoxication, you just might. As it turns out, CBD counteracts some of the adverse effects of THC. Again, there are no controlled trials to show its efficacy in animals, but it works well for their human owners.
Keeping Your Pet From Getting Intoxicated
Prevention is nine-tenths of the law here. Just like you would protect your kids from medication, do the same for your pet kids. Store all cannabis flower, concentrates, medicine, etc. safely and out of their reach. Use odor-proof storage boxes when possible to not attract prying noses and indiscriminate eaters. Make sure to dispose of medical cannabis residuals like vaped flower, ashtrays, and packaging.
What About Cats?
Felines are just as much a mammal with an ECS as dogs are. Since cats don’t seem to possess the same inquisitive way of eating that dogs do, there are fewer instances of reported feline intoxication. As few studies that exist with canines, there are even fewer that look at the effects of cannabis on felines.
Because cats have a different gastrointestinal tract than dogs and they are known to metabolize things differently, stay on the safe side and consider it a state of urgency if it’s your kitty that shows signs of cannabis intoxication. Better safe than sorry.
THC won’t kill your pet but its debilitating effects could be fatal in the wrong circumstances. Safeguard your family and pets by securing any and all cannabis products completely out of reach and access. Accidental ingestion and overdoses happen and are scary for both you and your pet. Your Veterinarian is your best solution to protect and comfort your pet in the distress of marijuana intoxication. Remember, it might not be just cannabis that your pet ingested; other ingredients can be fatal (not just unpleasant.)
What’s the worse thing your pet swallowed? What happened? Share your horror story below!
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