By Dr. Nicole Fulcher, Director, Animal Medical Center of Mid-America
You’ve probably seen the funny videos on social media. A dog, high off second-hand smoke, starring into space in their owner’s hazy living room. Maybe the pup is off-balance stumbling a bit when it walks. While this may appear to be harmless fun, comparable to giving a cat catnip, the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. As a responsible pet owner, it is crucial to understand the harmful effects of marijuana, THC specifically, on dogs and take necessary precautions to keep them safe.
With the recent legalization of recreational cannabis in Missouri and beyond, veterinarians across the country are seeing an increase in cases of marijuana poisoning, particularly in dogs and puppies.
It does not matter if cannabis is rolled into a joint, cooked into an edible, or processed in any other way; no part of the marijuana plant, be it oils, stems, seeds or sticks, is safe for an animal to eat. The main reason marijuana is so dangerous for dogs boils down to the primary psychoactive ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. When dogs ingest marijuana, much like humans, the THC compound binds to their brain’s cannabinoid receptors, causing the “high” that smokers are looking to achieve. Unlike humans, dogs are hypersensitive to THC and its intoxicating effects are amplified, leading to marijuana toxicity.
The severity of marijuana toxicity in dogs depends on several factors, such as the amount ingested, the dog’s size, and their overall health. Some dogs may be more sensitive to marijuana than others, and even a small amount of marijuana can be dangerous for them.
Obviously, prevention is key when it comes to avoiding marijuana poisoning. Make sure to store all marijuana products, including edibles, oils, and plants, in a secure location that your pets cannot access. Equally important is the safe disposal of marijuana products. When disposing of cannabis products, make sure to do so in a way that your pets cannot access them. This may involve sealing the products in a tight lidded container and disposing of them in a secure garbage bin.
Despite your best efforts at prevention, it is not uncommon for dogs to accidentally ingest marijuana outside, or in other areas you cannot control, like inhaling secondhand smoke, or eating butts from joints discarded improperly. The rising popularity of edibles is particularly dangerous for dogs, as it allows them to accidentally consume a large amount of THC very quickly in small gummies or baked goods left unattended.
This is why it is important to educate yourself on the signs of marijuana poisoning, so that you can act quickly if necessary. Some of the common symptoms of marijuana toxicity in dogs include lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of coordination, tremors, seizures and even comas. It is exceedingly rare for marijuana to be lethal, but cannabis poisoning is dangerous, very distressing, and can have serious effects on your dog. Complications from symptoms, like choking on vomit, can cause aspiration pneumonia, leading to death at worst and extreme distress at best.
If you suspect that your pet has ingested or inhaled marijuana, seek veterinary care immediately. Treatment may involve medically induced vomiting, administering activated charcoal, and providing supportive care to manage symptoms.
While some evidence has shown that marijuana may provide legitimate health benefits for humans under medical supervision or in modest quantities, as we’ve established above, it is very dangerous for pets. However, CBD, or cannabidiol, can be useful for reducing anxiety and chronic pain in pets. Unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive, and is safe and effective for dogs with joint pain or geriatric soreness. It is important, however, that any CBD product be administered with veterinary approval and guidance.