Sometimes, dogs eat some funky stuff. Working as a veterinarian for 15 years has exposed me to almost every type of pet emergency you can imagine. From dog fights to car accidents and toxicities, I have seen it all. One of the most common pet toxicities I encounter involve cannabis or marijuana ingestion. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve heard, “Help! My dog ate my weed!”
With the rising use and accessibility of marijuana and the varying forms the drug now comes in, we will see more cannabis toxicity in cats and dogs. If your pet ingests marijuana, you must have them evaluated and treated by your veterinarian immediately. Most pet marijuana toxicities need supportive care and observation, and the pet will recover well. However, this accident can be dangerous to our furbabies, and you should take it very seriously.
What is cannabis?
Cannabis comes from the dried parts of the cannabis plant. You can smoke it, inhale it, or ingest it for medicinal or recreational purposes. Cannabis contains more than 100 different chemicals called cannabinoids. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) has the psychoactive effects that it has become known for. THC is also the chemical that is responsible for its medicinal use for ailments such as nausea and to increase appetite in cancer patients.
While cannabis (marijuana) has been around since 500 BC for medicinal purposes, more recent history shows more frequent usage for recreational purposes. Many states are legalizing marijuana. As accessibility to this drug increases, we will see more accidental exposures with our pets.
“My dog ate my weed! What do I need to do?”
What do you do if your dog eats marijuana? This one question is really the million-dollar question for your veterinarian.
Dogs tend to experience more profound effects from THC due to the higher levels of cannabinoid receptors. A small amount of cannabis may affect different pets in different ways. Many factors such as age, healthy status, weight, and disease can lead to toxicity differences in pets.
To put your mind at ease, cannabis intoxication is not usually fatal in pets. The minimum lethal dose of THC in pets is high, but there are occasional fatalities in pets. Highly concentrated cannabis, such as medical grade THC, may cause death in pets.
Diagnosing marijuana toxicity in pets is based on history and clinical signs. We do not have accurate cannabis screening tests for pets. To most efficiently diagnose cannabis toxicity, pet owners must provide accurate information regarding ingestion.
Determining exactly what your pet came into contact with and how is the first step. Ask yourself the following questions, and make sure to tell the honest truth to your veterinarian:
How did my pet get intoxicated by cannabis?
The most common way pets become intoxicated with marijuana is by ingestion (usually eating an edible, e.g. baked goods, candies, bars, and chips containing cannabis). Some pets ingest cannabis directly. Dogs have more cannabinoid receptors than humans and are more sensitive to the effects of this drug. A very small amount of ingestion can cause serious symptoms and toxicity. If your pet ingests any kind of marijuana, prepare to provide as much detailed information as possible to your veterinarian.
How is the cannabis affecting my cat or dog?
Marijuana toxicity in pets generally results in neurological signs as cannabis alters the brain’s chemical messengers, such as norepinephrine, dopamine, serotonin, and acetylcholine. Pets usually appear wobbly and uncoordinated. They may be hyperactive, very vocal, and sensitive to stimuli, or they may present as sleepy or disoriented. Intoxicated pets often have dilated pupils and may present with drooling and vomiting. In severe cases, we see tremors, seizures, and coma. On physical examination, we note increased heart rate, altered blood pressure, slow respiration rate, lethargy, and decreased body temperature.
THC is metabolized in the liver and mainly excreted through the feces (65-90%). A small percentage is excreted through the kidneys in urine (10-35%). The drug must be metabolized and excreted for the effects to wear off.
So you’re having that “my dog ate my weed” moment – what do you do now?
If your pet ingests or inhales cannabis, please take them to your veterinarian immediately. Always provide detailed, accurate information to your veterinarian.
If the toxicity occurred within an hour of ingestion, your veterinarian may induce vomiting to prevent further absorption of the drug. Your veterinarian may recommend hospitalization, observation, and IV fluids to aid in flushing the chemical from the body. Activated charcoal may be initiated orally to help delay absorption of the chemical into the bloodstream. Your vet may also administer an enema to help reduce toxin absorption.
Your veterinarian will want to provide supportive care until the effects of the drug wear off. This care generally involves hospitalization, IV fluids to help prevent dehydration, blood pressure monitoring and support, and organ function monitoring. Your vet may also give medications to alleviate nausea and vomiting as well as maintain heart rate, respiration rate, and temperature.
The Moral of the Story – Pet Insurance is a Must-Have
Accidents happen, and having pet insurance for your pups can help you prepare for the unexpected!
Pet insurance for dogs can be a helpful tool in keeping your new family member in tip top shape! But it also comes in very handy for all those unplanned accidents in life. The very best time to invest in a pet insurance plan is when you have a healthy puppy. You can’t predict the future, but having pet insurance is one thing you can do to help make affordable vet care a reality.
Purchasing pet insurance for puppies can help protect you from potentially expensive veterinary bills. There is accident-only coverage that can reimburse you for vet bills related to accidents like toxin ingestion. Having pet insurance for dogs makes the decision to go to the vet during an accidental ingestion of cannabis easier. Pet insurance can help lower the financial impact of an emergency vet visit.
In addition, pet insurance can also provide financial coverage for the wellness preventative care of your pet (yearly bloodwork, vaccinations, routine dental cleanings). These regular visits can also be expensive over your pet’s lifetime. Investing in a pet insurance plan, like Spot Pet Insurance, while your furbaby is still young helps you to do whatever your pet will need over their lifetime without financial constraints and limitations.
Final Thoughts on Pet Cannabis Intoxication
With more recreational use of cannabis and easier access to this drug, we are seeing more and more toxicities in pets. Like any drugs that you may have at home, be mindful and very cautious to avoid having to tell your veterinarian, “My dog ate my weed!”
Keep all forms of cannabis out of reach of your pet, and be aware of your pet when these drugs are nearby. Be especially careful with edibles as pets have a very keen sense of smell and are drawn to this variety of cannabis.
As always, if your pet shows any signs of toxicity (to cannabis or anything else), contact your veterinarian or the closest emergency clinic immediately.