The use of marijuana as a legal recreational and medicinal drug in humans is on the rise in America and, occasionally, pets find themselves stuck in the crosshairs. Marijuana can have an enticing smell to pets and may be ingested in large quantities, causing dangerous side effects and life-threatening health situations. Here is what pet parents need to know about marijuana toxicity in pets:
How Dangerous is Marijuana Poisoning?
The answer to this question depends greatly upon the dose of marijuana ingested. Small amounts may result in sickness lasting two or three days while larger doses can easily result in death. However, It is extremely rare for pets to ingest sufficient marijuana to cause death due to the wide margin of safety of the drug (see baked goods note below). More often than not, the consumption of marijuana causes side effects like dilated pupils, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and disorientation.
How Do Pets Ingest Marijuana?
Typically, a pet ingests marijuana by accidentally eating marijuana-baked goods, such as cookies or candies, which are often made with super-concentrated doses of medical grade marijuana butters or oils. These edibles can be incredibly potent and cause extreme intoxication in small doses. Eating dried marijuana plants may also expose pets to marijuana poisoning. In rare cases, pet poison centers see and treat animals that have had marijuana smoke blown into their faces by owners or who have inhaled it second-hand.
What Does Marijuana Poisoning Look Like?
The symptoms of marijuana poisoning are often gradual and can be severe. Exposure may manifest in the form of dilated pupils, stumbling, hanging of the head, vomiting, agitation, incontinence or even seizures. Pet parents that notice any of these signs should take their animal to the vet immediately. Animals who have inhaled smoke will generally become ill much quicker than those who have ingested the plant or its extracts. The signs of toxicity usually begin 30 to 60 minutes after ingesting marijuana, or much sooner if inhaled.
How is Marijuana Toxicity Treated?
If a pet is exposed to marijuana and becomes ill as a result, a vet will usually provide supportive treatment in the form of IV fluids, oxygen and anti-vomiting medication as well as blood pressure monitoring. In some cases of ingestion of marijuana, a vet may opt to induce vomiting and/or administer charcoal to bind the toxins in the animal’s system. You should never try to induce vomiting in your pet without checking with your veterinarian first. Pets usually make a full recovery in 18 - 36 hours after exposure.
How do Vets Test for Marijuana Toxicity?
To see if an animal has ingested marijuana, a vet may use an OTC human drug test to test the dog’s urine. There are some issues with this approach, however, as OTC tests can be inconclusive or misleading. More commonly, a vet will order a blood test to conclusively determine whether or not the dog has ingested marijuana. If you have marijuana in the house and suspect your pet may have ingested some it is better to be honest and tell your vet to ensure the right care is received.
With rates of legal marijuana use on the rise across the country, it is increasingly important for pet parents to know the signs of marijuana toxicity. Although pets do often recover after ingesting marijuana, the side effects can be severe, painful and uncomfortable, and have the best outcomes when treated immediately. Fortunately, when pet parents keep the above information in mind, they are better able to ensure that their pets stay healthy and safe in the face of marijuana’s increasing presence.
Content reviewed by a veterinarian