Marijuana Toxicity in Pets

Dr. Jacqueline Brister

marijuana toxicity in dogs and cats

Traditionally, marijuana has been used as a recreational drug to achieve a sense of euphoric relaxation or a “high.” More recently, marijuana and its derivatives or byproducts have also become a popular method of holistic treatment for various ailments and pain disorders in humans as well as their pets.

Unfortunately, with the increased presence of this drug in society, marijuana toxicity has become a more common occurrence among pets.

Marijuana toxicity can occur as a result of a pet coming into contact, breathing in, drinking, or eating any form of marijuana. Toxicity has been historically accidental, with pets unexpectedly coming across poorly concealed or recently-used marijuana products. Now, newer and potentially poorly regulated or tested products are becoming available, marketed specifically to pets. Thus, toxicity is being seen with administration of products thought to be safe by owners as well.

In addition to the naturally-grown plant, synthetic, manufactured forms also exist. The synthetic forms can cause a significantly-greater toxicity than the natural forms of marijuana, especially because synthetic forms tend to be more concentrated (meaning that they contain more of the toxic ingredients). Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is one of the major ingredients that causes the “high” sensation. Most forms of marijuana used for holistic purposes have very little THC and instead have increased levels of other marijuana derivatives such as cannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD). While these ingredients do not induce a “high,” they can still cause marijuana toxicity in pets if given improperly or too high of a dose.

Symptoms

If your pet develops marijuana toxicity he or she may seem depressed or less aware of his or her surroundings. Wobbliness (“ataxia”), drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, or uncontrollable urination are also common symptoms. In some pets, these symptoms may worsen and can progress to seizures, coma, or death. Most symptoms will occur within 30 minutes to an hour of receiving marijuana or its byproducts and can last up to three days.

Diagnosis

Your veterinarian may be able to diagnose marijuana toxicity based on your pet’s physical examination and symptoms, even if you were unaware of marijuana exposure to your pet. Blood work and urine testing may be required if your pet’s symptoms are severe or it is not known what type or how much marijuana your pet received.

Treatment

Treatment will depend on the severity of your pet’s symptoms and the type and amount of marijuana he or she received. Hospitalization is sometimes necessary, as well as IV or oral medications to control the symptoms. Sometimes it may be necessary for the veterinarian to cause your pet to vomit or feed activated charcoal solution, a black chalky medication, to help rid the body or absorb the remaining marijuana. Most pets will recover well and be back to themselves within a few days after starting treatment. Be sure to call your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns related to any lasting symptoms.

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