Weed and Pets: Can Dogs and Cats Get High, and is THC Toxic for Our Furry Friends?

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older dog behind marijuana leaf

As the stigma surrounding marijuana use continues to fade, it's important to consider the unintended consequences for our pets. From edibles to second-hand smoke, the ways in which our furry friends can accidentally be exposed to cannabis are numerous. But what does it mean for their health and well-being?

As pet parents, we always want what’s best for our furry friends.  We go above and beyond to ensure they’re happy, healthy, and safe. But with the changing attitudes and laws surrounding marijuana, it’s important to consider the potential impact on our curious canine and feline companions. And while it’s easy to assume they’ll just experience a silly “high” like you see on TikTok, the reality is a bit more concerning. 

You may have questions about weed for cats and dogs. Can dogs get high from accidental marijuana exposure? Can cats get high too? Is weed bad for dogs and cats?  The short answer is yes, they can be affected, but THC for dogs and cats is not an enjoyable or safe experience. 

What is Marijuana? 

Marijuana (weed, cannabis) is a mixture of dried leaves and flowers from cannabis plants (e.g. Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica). Marijuana contains cannabinoids, the most famous of which is called tetrahydrocannabinal (THC). THC is known as a “psychoactive substance.” It can cause central nervous system changes in people to produce a sensation of being “high.”  

Another well-known cannabinoid found in cannabis plants is cannabidiol (CBD), which is currently being studied for numerous potential benefits (e.g. seizures, pain, anxiety). CBD does not produce a “high” sensation. The distinctions are important because numerous CBD- and THC-containing products are out in the world today. Pets are notorious for getting into things that they shouldn’t and knowing what a pet was exposed to will help get them treated quickly and properly. 

Can Dogs and Cats Get High? 

So, can dogs get high? Can cats get high? The answer is yes, but it's not the same experience for them as it is for humans. When dogs and cats are exposed to marijuana (by inhaling smoke, eating the dried plant, drinking oil or liquid form, or eating food or edibles with THC), they can experience symptoms of marijuana toxicity. This can include things like  

  • Disorientation 

  • Incoordination or trouble walking 

  • Increased sleepiness 

  • Abnormal heart rate 

  • Uncontrolled urination 

  • Difficulty regulating body temperature 

  • Vomiting 

  • Drooling 

  • Increased barking or vocalization 

  • Heightened sensitivity to light, sound, and touch 

How Does Marijuana Affect Pets? 

You know how humans can experience a "high" feeling when they consume marijuana? Well, it's all thanks to a complex system in our bodies called the endocannabinoid system. This system is like a network of tiny receptors and chemicals that work together to regulate important functions like appetite, pain sensation, mood, and memory. 

Now, here's the interesting part: it's not just humans who have an ECS – our furry friends do too! The main difference is that pets like dogs and cats have a higher concentration of certain receptors in their brains compared to humans. 

So, what does this have to do with marijuana and pets? Well, in marijuana, THC is responsible for the psychoactive effects or the "high" feeling in humans. When THC enters the body, it binds to the receptors in the ECS, particularly the CB1 receptors found in the brain and central nervous system. 

In humans, this interaction with CB1 receptors is what causes the euphoric sensations associated with marijuana use. However, in pets, the effects are quite different. Dogs, for example, have a higher number of CB1 receptors in their brains than humans, which makes them more sensitive to the effects of THC. This means that even small amounts of marijuana can cause toxic reactions in our furry friends. 

Is Weed Bad for Cats and Dogs? 

So, is weed bad for cats? Is THC toxic to dogs? Experiencing psychoactive symptoms can be really scary for pets, no matter how mild or severe. It happens without their consent or understanding, and the consequences can occasionally be very serious.

The severity of the reaction can depend on several factors, such as the amount of marijuana ingested, the potency of the product, and the size and health of the pet. While severe cases of THC toxicity are rare, they can be life-threatening. 

For instance, if a small dog or cat were to eat a potent marijuana edible, like a brownie or cookie, they could be at risk of experiencing more severe symptoms compared to ingesting a small amount of dried plant material. This is because edibles often contain higher concentrations of THC, and the effects can be more prolonged as the product is metabolized in the digestive system. 

Moreover, some marijuana products may contain additional ingredients that are toxic to pets, such as chocolate, raisins, or xylitol (an artificial sweetener). These substances can compound the risks and lead to more serious health complications. 

My Dog or Cat Ate Weed or an Edible – Now What? 

If you suspect your pet has ingested marijuana or been exposed to THC in any form, it's crucial to seek veterinary care immediately. Discussing your pet's accidental ingestion of marijuana can be uncomfortable or embarrassing, but your veterinarian's primary concern is your pet's health and safety, not passing judgment.  

When you call your vet, they'll likely ask you to bring your pet in for an examination. Your vet will need to know details such as the estimated amount ingested, the type of product (e.g., dried leaves, edibles, concentrates), and the time of exposure.  

Depending on the severity of your pet's symptoms and the time since ingestion, your vet may recommend one or more of the following treatments: 

  • Decontamination: If your pet has ingested marijuana within the past 1-2 hours, your vet may induce vomiting and/or administer activated charcoal to help bind any remaining toxins in the digestive tract and prevent further absorption. 

  • Supportive care: This may include intravenous fluids to maintain hydration, regulation of body temperature, and monitoring of vital signs such as heart rate and blood pressure. 

  • Medication: Your vet may prescribe medications to help control seizures, alleviate anxiety or nausea, or manage other symptoms. 

  • Hospitalization: Pets who have ingested large amounts of THC or are experiencing severe symptoms may require hospitalization for more intensive monitoring and treatment. 

The good news is that with treatment, most pets recover fully from marijuana toxicity without lasting effects. However, in rare cases, particularly when a large amount of THC has been ingested or if your pet has pre-existing health issues, there may be a risk of more serious complications such as seizures, neurological problems, or even coma. 

This is why it's so important to seek veterinary care as soon as possible if you suspect your pet has been exposed to marijuana. By acting quickly and working closely with your vet, you can help ensure the best possible outcome for your furry friend. 

Protect Your Furry Friend with Pet Insurance 

Accidents happen, even to the most attentive pet owners. Marijuana toxicity is just one of the many potential hazards our furry friends face, and the cost of emergency veterinary care can be quite high. That's where pet insurance comes in. 

Pet insurance policies can help cover the cost of unexpected veterinary bills related to accidents and illnesses. Marijuana toxicity can necessitate a range of treatments. Diagnostic tests, often costing several hundred dollars, may be the first step. Additionally, hospitalization, medication, and supportive care can quickly escalate into thousands of dollars. With pet insurance, you can focus on getting your pet the care they need without worrying about the financial burden. 

When choosing a pet insurance policy, make sure to read the fine print and understand what is and isn't covered. Look for a reputable provider with a history of processing claims quickly and providing excellent customer service. By investing in pet insurance, you can give yourself peace of mind knowing that you're prepared for whatever challenges your pet may face.  

How to Protect Your Dog or Cat from Marijuana 

The best way to prevent marijuana toxicity in pets is to keep all cannabis products, whether recreational or medicinal, securely stored out of paws' reach. Use child-proof containers and store them in locked cabinets or high shelves. Avoid smoking or vaping marijuana around your pets, as secondhand smoke can also lead to toxicity. When disposing of marijuana products, ensure they are placed in a secure, outside trash receptacle that your pet cannot access.  

Understanding the potential dangers of marijuana for pets is a crucial part of that journey. By being informed and taking preventive measures, we can create a safe and happy environment for our cherished companions to thrive. 

If you have any concerns about your pet's potential exposure to marijuana, reach out to your veterinarian. They are a trusted partner in your pet's well-being, and their guidance can provide immense peace of mind. 

Remember, a little knowledge and a lot of love go a long way in ensuring a lifetime of happy memories with your furry best friend!