Marijuana Toxicity

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Don’t let your Buddy around your buds!

Marijuana is a plant that has both medicinal and recreational uses. THC is the psychoactive component (“fun” part), while CBD is the anxiety reducing, appetite increasing, more benign compound.

Regardless of it’s newfound legality or how your pet got into a stash- veterinarians don’t care how or why your pet had access to it. Don’t ever feel ashamed or embarrassed to inform your veterinarian that your pet got into marijuana- we see pets eating things like underwear, chocolate, and leftover chicken bones all the time. While it’s never ideal for your pet to eat something that could block it’s intestinal tract or be toxic, we understand that pets are mischievous and you are human. (I once had to take my dog to the teaching hospital in veterinary school because he ate the 24 chicken bones that I had tossed in the garbage can the night before. I never even considered that my perfectly behaved pooch would tip the trash over. Sometimes our pets act out of character when there’s something incredibly tempting, and sometimes we just plain-old forget to keep unsafe things out of their reach.)

It’s important to stress that we are not here to judge, but simply to assess your pet and provide a treatment plan to keep them comfortable or safe. Veterinarians’ only obligation to law enforcement is to report animal cruelty and neglect- and bringing your pet in to a hospital right after you saw them nibbling something they shouldn’t is neither of those!

So now that we have covered the anxiety inducing “Will I be in trouble if I call the vet?” question- onto what happens if your pet ingests it and how we will manage it!

Can I smoke marijuana around my pets?

We’d rather you didn’t. While the second hand smoke hasn’t been shown to be toxic, inhaling smoke isn’t good for anyone- human or animal! Do your pet a favor and keep the smoke outdoors or in a well ventilated area. While humans are able to consent to things that can damage their body, such as alcohol and cigarettes, our pets cannot consent to the harmful side effects. So while it’s unlikely to cause a toxicity issue, it can lead to chronic respiratory diseases later in life- such as asthma and bronchitis.

When do the signs of toxicity start? How much time do I have to make it to the vet?

Signs will start 30-90 minutes after ingestion. You definitely have enough time to get your critter to the clinic! 

What are the signs? I didn’t see my pet eating anything, but my roommate is known for leaving things out, and when I came home from work, my pet was acting a little strange.

Clumsiness, lethargy, urine dribbling, tremors, and dilated pupils are all signs of marijuana toxicity. These signs can also be associated with other neurological disorders, such as herniated discs or seizures. A physical exam can help point us in the right direction as far as any diagnostic tests or treatment is concerned. 

Alright, you saw your pet get into your stash and brought them in. Now what’s going to happen to them?

If you bring your pet to the vet within a half hour of them eating the plant, your vet will likely induce vomiting. If this is done soon enough, there may not need to be any other treatment. Sometimes they will still need supportive care even after vomiting, but the supportive care will be less intensive than a pet who digested everything they ate. It’s also dependent on their size and how much they ingested- a 5 pound Yorkshire terrier who ate several grams of substance will definitely need more care than a 100 pound Labrador that licked an ashtray clean.

After the half hour mark, the toxin has likely already made its way past the stomach and your pet will need supportive care. As the pets are often dribbling urine and too sedate to eat or drink, it’s important to keep them from getting dehydrated- IV fluids are great for this. Their slow heart rate and lethargy may also mean your pet can get hypothermic, or unable to keep themselves warm. At Park, we use a rubber “blanket” that circulates warm water to keep pets warm without the risk of skin burns that other heating devices can cause.

Depending on the amount ingested, some pets may become comatose from marijuana toxicity. This is a medical emergency that needs intensive monitoring and supportive care to keep your pet alive during the coma. This is a rare occurrence, but a very serious one!

So to recap- depending on how long ago the ingestion was, vomiting may or may not be induced. Afterwards, we’ll set them up with an IV catheter, fluids, and a warming cage to keep them comfortable. Generally, pets can be discharged within one or two days and get back to their normal lives.

Can marijuana be used medicinally in pets?

All of the toxin talk from above is specific to the THC component. A lot of people are curious about the CBD component’s effects on animals in regards to seizure control, pain management, and cancer treatment. The American Veterinary Medical Association is supportive of research to find out if there are any helpful properties of this component, and if so, how to use them to help pets best. We stick with evidence based medicine for our recommendations here, so it’s not something we can prescribe as a treatment. However, if you’re passionate about this and dead-set on giving it to Fido or Fluffy, come talk to us. We can help with teaching you how to assess pain scores at home to determine the usefulness of the product, as well as looking for a source of product that doesn’t contain any of the toxic THC.

Penelope Graben, DVM

Park Animal Hospital

Las Vegas, NV