Marijuana Toxicity in Pets: Way More Scary Than Funny

As the laws change and marijuana use becomes more frequent, marijuana toxicity in pets is on the rise.

Marijuana can be deadly for pets. By: Sluitertijd - fotografie | Vanderlaan
Marijuana can be toxic for pets. It’s no laughing matter. By: Sluitertijd – fotografie

With the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana in certain states, marijuana toxicity in pets is on the rise.

The Pet Poison Helpline has seen a 200 percent rise in marijuana cases in the past 5 years.

Every year, I treat the occasional potted-out poodle, but I’ve seen 2 in the last 3 months alone. This is a nationwide trend. In Colorado, where marijuana has been legalized, emergency hospitals are reporting a rise in marijuana poisonings from 1 to 2 cases a month to 1 every other day.

This Just In!

By quirky coincidence, after I started this article, I saw the worst emergency case of marijuana/chocolate toxicity in a dog I have ever seen. So, make that 3 potted-out dogs in the last 3 months alone.

My new little patient had all strikes against him:

  1. A small dog (14 pounds)…
  2. Ate a large amount of dark chocolate brownies…
  3. Loaded with hashish…
  4. And the caretakers didn’t realize this until they found him comatose, about 15 hours later.

Even if the dog’s humans had not told me what the little guy got into, his breath was a dead giveaway. He reeked of marijuana. I’ve never smelled this strong of a pot smell on a pup before.

The good news is that our midnight brownie bandit is recovering and is going to make it. He saved his own life by vomiting up a large amount of his hash bash, and then we supported him through his detox phase.

Here’s a quick video I put together for you:

How Serious Is It If My Pet Ingests Pot?

Thankfully, we can usually relax and laugh — a little — when we see “a party animal” fall into our hospital.

Marijuana has a “wide margin of safety,” meaning it takes a great deal of the substance to be lethal. No marijuana deaths have been reported to the Pet Poison Helpline.

In a very few cases, deaths of little dogs have occurred from ingesting large quantities of food containing marijuana. If a dog ate an entire tray of brownies containing marijuana or hashish, the situation is very serious.

What Are the Signs of Marijuana Poisoning?

  • Dilated eyes
  • Appearing drunk
  • Stumbling

Sound familiar?

If you are chilling with your pet, the 2 of you are going to look just about the same. Your pet may also vomit, become agitated or exhibit urinary incontinence or urine dribbling.

With any luck, you’re not in the same state, so you can get your dog or cat to the vet.

Diagnosing Marijuana Toxicity

The intoxicated state of the pet is a big clue. But other, more serious toxins can create the same signs. This is the hard part. There is no simple, 100 percent effective test for vets to diagnose marijuana toxicity in pets.

‘Fessing up is a great help, but many people are too embarrassed to admit to the marijuana. Often, the caretaker will have suspicions that will have to be confirmed. If non-pot-smoking mom or dad has brought the pet in, an unpleasant conversation will be taking place when the teenager gets home from school.

Most pets get into marijuana accidentally. They find the bag or the brownies and binge. If caretakers are honest and knowledgeable about the amount and source of the drug, it can help us with our treatment plan a great deal.

Occasionally I have had some kids get their dogs high deliberately, and this is just stupid. Unfortunately,  people who exhibit this level of irresponsibility are probably not going to run their pot-head pooch to the vet. Hopefully Mr. Buzz will be able to sleep off a small amount of  dope without serious side effects such as seizure or coma while his human friends continue to party.

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How Is It Treated?

Onset of symptoms after ingesting or inhaling marijuana is 30 to 60 minutes in most pets. Depending on the dosage and strength of the weed, signs can last from 18 to 36 hours.

If we have an intoxicated pet, supportive care is all we can do. There is no antidote to reverse the effects of marijuana. If there were, I think a lot of young Americans would know about the “reverse-pot-pill.” Then they could walk back in their front door and not be so afraid of meeting mom or dad on the landing.

Activated charcoal can be given to absorb some of the toxins. IV fluids, anti-vomiting medication, temperature regulation, and controlling seizures or tremors are all part of the detox phase.

Basically, Dizzy Lizzy and Jolly Wally just have to sleep it off under supervision.

Consequences

Some clients have told me they were reluctant to “come clean” about their pet’s marijuana ingestion because they thought I would report them to the police.

Veterinarians have nothing to do with reporting your use or your pet’s marijuana use to the authorities. Animal abuse is a different story, and we are responsible for reporting abuse — but accidental pot ingestion does not qualify.

Munchies, Anyone?

We recently had a young person bring in her adorable little terrier mix buddy for staggering and strange neurological behavior. After taking a look at the pup’s dilated, glazed eyes and observing his strange pattern of walking, we had our suspicions.

“No, I don’t think he could have gotten into anything. There’s nothing around. We watch him like a hawk. He woke up like this.”

After about an hour, the teetering terrier seemed quite a bit better.

I took him out for a little walk to assess his neurological status. He seemed somewhat uncomfortable in the rear end and stooped to poop. With some difficulty, Monsieur Terry pooped out some very large cocktail almonds, at which point he seemed much happier.

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I believe Monsieur partook in somebody’s pot the night before, and then found some snacks to satisfy his munchies. Within a few hours he was as good as new and could even carry on a normal conversation.

Take-Home Message: Although marijuana has a large safety margin, it can still make your pet quite ill and neurologically impaired. Baked laced goods seem to be much more of a danger. Where the human party animal might have a brownie or 2 and call it a night, the canine party animal will eat the entire tray. This can be very toxic. Keep your illicit party drugs and heavenly baked goods away from your pets. Rehab for Labs has not been founded yet.

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This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was last reviewed April 23, 2014.


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