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Marijuana Exposure & Your Pets

With an increasing number of states legalizing the use of marijuana, these same states are experiencing a marked spike in the number of emergency cases involving dogs and cats exposed to marijuana. Approximately 97% of the cases seen are dogs and 3% are cats. While the majority of exposures occur from ingestion, a smaller number of toxicity cases also occur from second hand smoke inhalation.

The active ingredient in marijuana is tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly called THC. The amount of THC in marijuana can range anywhere from 1%-8%. Hash oil varies between 30%-50% THC concentration. While millions of people use marijuana as both a recreational drug and a medicinal one, the same should not be assumed for your pets. Marijuana can cause neurotoxicity in both cats and dogs—so every effort should be made to avoid exposure.

In dogs, clinical signs usually begin 30-90 minutes after ingestion. Since THC is stored in the pet’s fat, the effects of marijuana can last for several days. Cats are subject to the same effects as dogs; however, cats are less likely to eat marijuana.

The following is a list of some of the potential clinical signs following marijuana ingestion / smoke inhalation: disorientation/ incoordination/stupor, dilated pupils, urinary incontinence, slow heart rate, vomiting/diarrhea, hypothermia hypotension, abnormal gait, hypersalivation seizures/tremors.

It is very important that you are completely honest with your veterinarian if you suspect your dog or cat has eaten marijuana. Veterinarians are not obligated to report these cases to the police. Providing optimal treatment for your pet is every veterinarian’s goal —and if the guesswork is removed from the equation, treatment is more likely to be successful.

Urine testing can be performed on pets—similar to how it’s done on humans— however, if marijuana ingestion is known or suspected, then testing (along with the expense of the test) can be avoided. Your veterinarian will want to know what was eaten, how much was eaten, and how long ago it was eaten.

Not every pet will need treatment, but many will need fluid support and overnight monitoring by a veterinarian. If your pet has lost consciousness, more intense treatment will be needed; while death is extremely rare, it is still possible.

Obviously, prevention is always best. Keeping all substances—both recreational and medicinal—out of reach from your pets will keep your pets healthy and spare you a lot of heartache. However, if it does happen, stay calm, and call your veterinarian. We’re here to help.

Dr. Nicholson was born in NY City and graduated from Kansas State College of Veterinary Medicine in 2007. She has extensive experience in emergency medicine, surgery, internal medicine, oncology, ophthalmology, dermatology and neurology.