Marijuana is a plant that has been used recreationally and medicinally for centuries. Its current legal status in the United States has been changing rapidly. In some states, it is legal to use marijuana medicinally. However, there are still many people who smoke it for recreational purposes. Pets can be exposed to secondhand smoke from marijuana just as humans can, putting them at risk of health problems. If a dog or cat ingests marijuana, the results can be dangerous and even deadly. Here are the reasons why pets and marijuana are not a good mix.

A kitten sniffs a marijuana leaf.

What is marijuana toxicity in pets?

The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center reports that in 2019, marijuana poisoning in pets increased 765% over the previous year. Due to the legalization of medicinal marijuana and, in some states, specific amounts of recreational pot, dogs and cats have a higher chance of exposure to this drug.

Most people know how cannabis affects humans differently, depending on whether they smoke or ingest its psychoactive ingredients (the tar called tetrahydrocannabinol or THC). Unfortunately, many pet owners might not realize what impact pot consumption can have on their furry companions.

Marijuana exposure in pets is called marijuana intoxication, or sometimes, THC toxicity. There are many ways that pets can be poisoned by marijuana. They might ingest marijuana edibles laced with THC, inhale smoke, or get into their owner's supply of pot (in any formulation).

It doesn't take much marijuana for a pet to become ill, and a small amount may affect one pet differently from another. Although death from marijuana poisoning is rare, it does happen, especially if the pet consumes a lethal dose. In dogs, that amount is roughly 3 grams of THC per kilogram of the dog's weight.

A Beagle mix sniffs a marijuana leaf.

What are the signs of marijuana poisoning in pets?

For general cases of THC poisoning in pets, various symptoms can occur, almost all neurological. This issue is directly related to dogs having more cannabinoid receptors in their brains than people do. Those receptors make dogs more sensitive to THC exposure. Cats will also react to exposure, but as they don't have as many cannabinoid receptors as dogs, their symptoms might not be as severe.

Pet responses to THC toxicity can include any of the following dangerous effects:

  • urinary incontinence (dribbling urine)
  • glassy eyes and dilated pupils
  • vocalization
  • disorientation
  • incoordination and difficulty walking
  • hyperactivity
  • drooling
  • vomiting
  • depression
  • sedation
  • sleepiness or lethargy
  • staggering or stumbling
  • low body temperature
  • low blood pressure
  • seizures
  • coma

The signs of intoxication will appear roughly an hour after ingestion. Marijuana poisoning in pets is similar to excessive marijuana consumption in humans. The difference? They're not having fun! While many pet owners think that their animal companions enjoy the high, they feel anxious and neurologically impaired from consuming weed.

While THC toxicity is rarely fatal, marijuana ingestion in pets makes seizures, comas, and death a real possibility. At the very least, the discomfort your pet will experience and the impact on your pet's health should be enough to give you pause about THC in your home.

A cat nibbles on a marijuana leaf.

What THC exposure is the most threatening to pets?

Cats and dogs can be exposed to marijuana in many ways, including eating edibles and exposure to marijuana smoke. Edibles' sweet smell and taste, whether candy or cookies, is attractive to pets, especially dogs. The majority of THC toxic cases occur when dogs eat edible or other marijuana-baked goods. Add chocolate on top of that, and there is a double threat to your pup's health.

The worst type of THC ingestion for pets is marijuana butter, as it contains incredibly high THC levels. The chemical enters the body by being absorbed into fat and tissue, resulting in more severe toxicity cases. In rare circumstances, pet exposure to marijuana butter can be fatal.

What should you do if your pet ingests marijuana?

If your dog or cat has ingested marijuana, or you suspect that she has, call your veterinarian immediately and bring your pet into the clinic. The veterinary staff can give supportive care to help pets through the clinical signs of marijuana use. Vets regulate the pet's body temperature and provide intravenous fluids to maintain hydration. They provide activated charcoal to induce vomiting for fluid loss control while closely monitoring an animal's heart rate so that they are not injured by their inability to walk independently.

Vet costs can escalate quickly in an emergency. Depending on how much exposure your pet has had, hospitalization may be necessary. Additional treatments such as anti-anxiety care, thermoregulation, and nursing care will also add to those already pricey vet bills. Pet insurance can help support you and your cat or dog in an emergency by reimbursing you the costs minus your deductible. The price of THC toxicity treatment runs between $300 - $1000, and a pet insurance policy can ensure you see a majority of those funds returned to you.

A dog sniffs a marijuana plant.

Pet Safety Tips for THC

You can prevent marijuana poisoning in your pet by following these simple suggestions:

Use appropriate storage

Store your cannabis in a secure location that is inaccessible to pets. An empty coffee can with an appropriate top will work well for this purpose, as long as it's clean and free from any odors or stains.

Choose pet-free smoking locations.

Pets can get high from marijuana smoke, so do what you can to smoke away from where your pets are in your home. Outside is ideal, but if that isn't possible, find a room to close the door or use a basement or garage.

Know the signs and symptoms

Be aware of the signs and symptoms that may indicate your pet has been poisoned. These signs include uncoordinated movements, balance disturbances, vomiting, urinary incontinence, disorientation, hyperactivity, or dilated pupils.

Don't hesitate to contact the vet.

It can be hard to know what your pet needs in an emergency. When you feel that they are showing signs of THC poisoning, it's essential to seek immediate medical care from their veterinarian. Vets can monitor and regulate all of a pet's vital signs. They can treat your pet with anti-vomiting medication and provide IV fluids, which will help keep them safe until the poison is out of their system. 

A dog stands by marijuana plants.

Keep your pet's safety in mind.

Marijuana toxicity is a type of poisoning increasing in pets, mainly due to legalization in some states. Pets and pot don't mix, so do everything possible to keep them separate from each other. Remember to assume that your pet can get into anything and everything and take the appropriate steps to ensure your pet cannot access marijuana. 

A pet health insurance policy is the best plan to have in an emergency. Pet parents don't have to worry about high vet costs with a support plan that gives you access to the best treatment for your pet. Let Pet Insurance Review help you find the best policy! Get your dog or cat a free pet insurance quote, and be prepared for whatever mischief your pet will inevitably get into in the future.

 

References:

1. ASPCAPro. (2021). Marijuana Toxicosis in Animals. Retrieved from https://www.aspcapro.org/resource/marijuana-toxicosis-animals

2. Fitzgerald, K., Bronstein, A., Newquist, K. (2013). Marijuana poisoning. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23796481/

3. Gyles, C. (2016). Marijuana for pets? Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5109620/

4. Butler, A. (2018). Cannabis is NOT a dog's best friend. Retrieved from https://blog.scienceborealis.ca/cannabis-is-not-a-dogs-best-friend/

5. Klivans, L. (2019). Legal Weed Is A Danger To Dogs. Here's How To Know If Your Pup Got Into Pot. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/06/20/732332846/legal-weed-is-a-danger-to-dogs-heres-how-to-keep-your-pup-away-from-pot