Marijuana Toxicity in Pets

Estimated Reading Time 3 minutes
Marijuana Toxicity in Pets

THC toxicity is becoming more common in pets as marijuana is being medically and recreationally legalized. Marijuana is now available in various forms other than the natural plant flower and leaves, such as drinks, edibles like brownies and gummies, cannabutter, and oils. As a result, our pets can be more tempted to ingest it. Dogs and cats are also being exposed to secondhand smoke or even having marijuana smoke blown directly into their nose or face. Like with any drug or medication, it should be kept in a secure location where pets and kids cannot access it.

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Why is marijuana toxic to dogs and cats?

Marijuana contains nearly 70 types of cannabinoids, which are terpene phenolic substances. The primary one causing psychoactive effects is delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol, THC. THC binds to cannabinoid receptors in the body. In pets, these are primarily located in the central nervous system, peripheral nervous system, spleen, salivary glands, skin, and immune cells.

When the TCH binds to the cannabinoid receptors, the nervous system becomes depressed, resulting in symptoms. The amount of THC ingested plays a big role in how severe/strong the symptoms are. Marijuana plants can contain 1-10% THC where oils can contain 30-50%! These levels are rising as crops are being raised and selected for higher levels of TCH.

Symptoms of Marijuana Intoxication in Dogs

Symptoms can range from mild to severe and can last for hours to days in dogs. Symptoms typically develop within 30 to 90 minutes post-ingestion.

  • Ataxia (uncoordinated movements)
  • Low body temperature (hypothermia)
  • Dribbling urine
  • Low blood pressure
  • Low heart rate
  • Vomiting (THC can also suppress the vomiting center in the brain making it difficult to vomit in some cases)
  • Disorientation
  • Tremors or seizures
  • Dilated pupils
  • Drooling (hypersalivation)
  • Vocalization
  • Hyperesthesia (overreacting to stimuli, such as loud noises or light changes)
  • Lethargy or depression
  • Coma
  • Agitation

Symptoms of Marijuana Intoxication in Cats

  • Aggression, even to humans
  • Ataxia (walking/moving abnormally)
  • Staring into space
  • Drooling (hypersalivation)
  • Head bobbing or weaving
  • Increased movements (running and jumping sporadically)
  • Lethargy
  • Vocalization
  • Increased water intake and urination
  • Low heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Seizures
  • Coma

What tests are available to confirm marijuana ingestion?

Over-the-counter home urine tests for humans are often used to test dog’s and cat’s urine to see if they are excreting metabolites from marijuana. A positive test confirms ingestion, but a negative test does not rule out ingestion.

Clinical symptoms, smelling marijuana on their breath, and an honest history of possible or known exposure are very helpful to obtain a diagnosis and begin appropriate treatment. Remember, your vet is there to help your pet, not to get anyone in trouble.

How can my pet be treated for marijuana toxicity?

Your vet will perform a complete physical exam, listen to the heart rate, take blood pressure measurement and begin treatment.

If your pet is having seizures or tremors, anticonvulsants and possibly anesthetics will be administered to get things under control.

If low blood pressure is noted, IV fluids will be given to maintain pressure and hydration.

If your dog has been vomiting, an anti-nausea medication will be given to reduce the risk of aspiration pneumonia.

If your dog has not vomited, your vet may try to induce vomiting to remove as much material from the stomach as possible, and then follow it with an anti-nausea medication. Vomiting is ideally induced within 30 minutes of ingestion when the material is still in the stomach.

Activated charcoal may be given to help absorb the remaining cannabinoids. This may need to be repeated a few times as the plant material in the intestines slowly releases THC, the THC gets absorbed by fat cells, and is then slowly released back into the system.

Intravenous lipid therapy may be needed in severe cases, along with oxygen support.

Additional Information

  • If your dog ingested an edible form of marijuana, they may be at risk for additional toxicity, such as chocolate toxicity. Be sure to be honest with your vet so your dog can receive the best treatment.

Everything You Need to Know About Chocolate Toxicity in Pets

  • Dogs that ingest cannabutter may also develop pancreatitis from the high-fat content in the butter.

Read more:

7 Lesser-Known Foods That Are Toxic to Dogs

What plants are toxic to dogs?

What foods are toxic to dogs?

Need to speak with a veterinarian regarding marijuana toxicity in your pet or another condition?

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Published: 3/20/2021
Last updated: 11/19/2021

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