Cannabis toxicosis in companion animals is on the rise. Veterinarians across the United States, and other countries, are seeing more and more cases. Marijuana poisoning is dangerous and can be fatal to pets. Information about prevention, attention, and honest communication, is crucial to save the lives of pets near pot.

A study published in the Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care1 in 2012 found an uptick in cases of marijuana poisoning in dogs in states that had legalized marijuana. It was a small study, covering two hospitals over a five-year period, but nonetheless points to a trend that is becoming more obvious as more states legalize marijuana.

The two hospitals involved in the study saw 4 times more cases than before legalization. As the number of people registered for marijuana cards increased, so did the poisoning cases.

At the beginning of 2019, the ASPCA’s poison control center had an increase of 765% in calls regarding marijuana poisoning.  They attribute this to the increased availability of edibles that dogs see as enticing treats and the herb itself to which cats are drawn. 

No matter the reason for it, the fact is that marijuana toxicosis in our domestic friends is increasing. It’s a concerning issue, but it’s preventable. Keep pets away from marijuana (and ALL drugs and medications). Keep it secured in a space pets cannot access such as a high cupboard or locked drawer. Don’t leave open bags or purses that contain marijuana where pets can retrieve it. Never underestimate the ability of a curious pet to get into what they shouldn’t. 

In addition to keeping pets from eating marijuana, keep them away from the second hand smoke. Whether it’s inhalation of second hand smoke or consumption of the plant or edibles, all ingestion leads to toxicosis of some degree.

Just as important as prevention is that when accidents do happen, pet owners feel secure in seeking immediate help for their stricken pets. As veterinarians, we are here to care for animals and to inform clients of the best practices for their wellbeing. When it comes to cannabis toxicosis, our sole focus is to help the pet, not judge the owner.  

Humans are very different animals than dogs and cats, and our bodies deal with just about everything differently. Marijuana affects the brains and organs of pets at a quicker pace and with more intensity than it does humans. 

Symptoms of cannabis toxicosis vary depending on the amount ingested, the state of the pet’s health prior to ingestion, and whether or not the pet consumed other dangerous ingredients such as chocolate or xylitol. Symptoms can include confusion, vomiting, drooling, instability, anxiety, hyperactivity, aggression in cats, incontinence, excessive vocalization, and disorientation.

Marijuana can also cause concerning changes in heart rate, blood pressure, respiration rate, and body temperature. Aside from the neurological and physical havoc marijuana causes in pets, it makes sense that being high is not a fun experience for them. They can be confused and scared by what’s happening to them.

Diagnosing cannabis toxicosis is tricky business because it can take a long time for a lab to process urine tests and return results. When diagnosing and treating pets, veterinarians rely on pet parents to be forthright about the type, timing, and amount of ingestion. Honesty about marijuana ingestion saves precious time and money otherwise wasted on unnecessary testing. 

Treatments vary depending on time factors, amount consumed, and overall health of the pet. They can include inducing vomiting, the use of activated charcoal, IV fluids, enema, and comfort care to ease the pet’s anxiety. Treatment also includes close monitoring of organ function, blood pressure, body temperature, and heart rate. Death can occur in severe cases, when a pet’s health is already compromised or in cases where diagnosis and treatment was not timely. Otherwise, symptoms can pass within a few days.

Marijuana poisoning in pets is a health emergency. If you partake, or have friends or family who do, please take measures to ensure your pet cannot access marijuana. Prevention is always best. If ingestion occurs, seek immediate medical help for your pet, and please for the sake of your pet give your veterinarian complete and honest information about the incident.   

1Meola, S. D., Tearney, C. C., Haas, S. A., Hackett, T. B. and Mazzaferro, E. M. (2012), Evaluation of trends in marijuana toxicosis in dogs living in a state with legalized medical marijuana: 125 dogs (2005–2010). Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care, 22: 690-696. doi:10.1111/j.1476-4431.2012.00818.x

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