One thing about using marijuana, especially potent bud, is that you can end up relaxing too much. While it is an ideal scenario when at home alone in the evening, it isn’t a good idea to leave your stash in the open when there is a pet around. Do we REALLY need to mention responsible use if you have children?
The following scenario has probably played out thousands of times. You’re getting high while watching television and soon forget that your pet dog or cat is around. After spacing out for a while, you come to your senses and discover to your horror that Fido has eaten a couple of grams of weed!
Your first instinct is to panic, but in reality if you rush straight to the vet, your pet should be fine after suffering some initial discomfort – depending on the level of consumption of course. To understand the risks, you must learn how weed can impact your pet. As an interesting aside, the Human Society of Boulder Valley estimates that an incredible 95% of cannabis exposure occurs in canines. Although pets are susceptible to the effects of second-hand smoking, ingestion is easily the most common method of exposure.
Marijuana Toxicity in Dogs & Cats
First and foremost, you must realize that weed IS toxic to pets. There are hundreds of chemicals and compounds in cannabis. THC is usually the most abundant and causes psychoactive effects in both humans and animals. Dogs are especially sensitive to the effects of marijuana because their cerebellums and brain stems have a higher concentration of CB1 and CB2 receptors than humans.
These areas of the brain are responsible for respiratory rate, coordination, heart rate, and a host of other crucial mechanisms. Marijuana poisoning in dogs is caused mainly by the THC in weed activating these receptors. There is some debate as to the lethal dosage of weed in dogs.
A 1973 study by Thompson et al., published in Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, found that single oral doses of THC between 3 grams and 9 grams per kilogram in dogs and monkeys were non-lethal.
However, a 2013 study by Fitzgerald, Bronstein, and Newquist, published in the Topics in Companion Animal Magazine, stated that the minimum lethal oral dose of THC for dogs was 3 grams per kilogram. It isn’t easy to understand why the findings were so different, although it is important to note that the studies related to grams of THC consumption, not grams of marijuana.
A 2004 review by Janczyk, Donaldson, and Gwaltney, published in the Journal of Veterinary and Human Toxicology, had completely different findings to either of the studies above. After feeding doses of weed ranging from 0.5 grams to 90 grams to dogs, the researchers didn’t even see signs of distress until a dog had eaten at least 8.4 grams of weed per kilogram.
The highest reported dose was 26.8 grams of weed per kilogram, almost an ounce, and it did not prove fatal to the dog in question. Therefore, if your dog weighs 10 kilograms and consumes a full ounce of your weed, it is exposed to a level of toxicity that’s approximately one-tenth of what could prove lethal. The review focused on weed consumption, not THC consumption.
There were two cases of dogs dying after consuming marijuana edibles in Colorado between 2005 and 2010. However, these pets died after asphyxiating on their own vomit, which means they did NOT die from marijuana toxicity. Of course, the consumption of weed is what caused the sickness, which means you need to be alert and act immediately if your pet shows signs of distress.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
You can expect your pet to begin showing symptoms within an hour of consuming weed, although it could be up to three hours if they eat edibles. As is the case with humans, animals react differently to marijuana consumption. An estimated 25% of them become anxious and over-excited, but the majority become depressed and lethargic.
Once your pet has eaten the marijuana, the THC is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. Approximately 30% of animals display gastrointestinal symptoms including diarrhea, vomiting, and drooling. As THC is fat soluble, your pet could exhibit mild symptoms for several days. Other symptoms include:
- Slow heart rate
- Disorientation (Your pet will stumble around like it is drunk)
- Dilated pupils
- Leaking urine
- Low body temperature
Even if you don’t see any of these symptoms, we recommend bringing your pet to the vet if you know they have consumed marijuana. The vet will immediately perform a physical examination including a urinalysis, bloodwork, and a biochemistry profile. Your pet’s urine will be tested for cannabinoids. In some cases, the vet may even perform a gas chromatography test. While it will take days for test results to come back, your vet can diagnose marijuana toxicity during the appointment.
Depending on the timing of your pet’s ingestion, and its reaction to the chemicals, your vet may attempt to ‘decontaminate’ by providing medicine to stop vomiting, along with activated charcoal to limit additional THC absorption.
If you care about the wellbeing of your pet, it is essential to be upfront with the vet and admit that your faithful friend was exposed to cannabis. There are no legal hassles to be concerned with as veterinarians are not obliged to report weed exposure.
Time is of the essence. The quicker you get your pet to the vet, the faster he or she can treat it. Ideally, your pet will be seen less than 30 minutes after ingestion. This enables the vet to induce vomiting to remove the weed from the stomach. If the vet tries to induce vomiting after the 30-minute window has elapsed, there is a risk of a potentially deadly condition called aspiration pneumonia occurring.
If your pet is severely agitated, the vet could administer benzodiazepines to sedate it. If your pet is vomiting, the vet might use IV fluids to combat dehydration. Overall, the vet will monitor your pet’s blood pressure and oxygen levels, and in severe cases, your pet will be placed on a respirator or ventilator.
Your pet’s recovery depends on its level of exposure, and the speed of treatment. As you can glean from the studies we posted above, the weight of your pet plays a role in toxicity levels. A 20-pound dog that eats half an ounce of weed is likely to be more severely affected than a 50-pound dog that consumes the same amount.
The good news is that in the vast majority of cases, the effects last no more than a couple of days, and aren’t permanent. If exposure is minimal, your pet could feel better in a matter of hours after treatment. It is important to note that almost all research into marijuana exposure in pets has been performed on dogs.
In rare cases, dogs that have consumed cannabis will show signs of static ataxia; the canine will have difficulty standing and seem rigid. If this happens, your dog needs immediate medical attention because it is a potentially fatal condition if left untreated.
Final Thoughts on Pets and Marijuana Poisoning
The severity of toxicity and the length of time marijuana’s cannabinoids remain in the body depends on a combination of factors unique to each animal. As well as the size of your pet, its breed, age, and general health all play a role. It should go without saying that the best way to protect your pet from accidental exposure is to use and store your cannabis as responsibly as you would if there were young children around.
Keep all marijuana products stored in sealed containers in cabinets way out of a pet’s immediate reach. If possible, keep your containers in locked cabinets. Never leave your weed unattended when using it, and don’t leave any remnants in a compost bin or open trash container. Finally, keep your pet in a separate room when you use your marijuana.