Marijuana Intoxication in Cats and Dogs: Risks, Effects, and Responsible Care

August 22, 2023

Cannabis (marijuana) is derived from the dried parts of the Cannabis plant. Its historical usage dates back to 500 BC, where it served various purposes such as herbal medicine, rope production, textiles, and paper. In contemporary times, cannabis is predominantly utilized for medicinal and recreational purposes. Consumption methods include smoking, inhalation through vaporizers, and ingestion via food and beverages.

The Components of Cannabis

Cannabis comprises over 100 cannabinoids, with Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) being the primary psychoactive compound. THC has both psychoactive and medicinal effects, such as alleviating nausea and boosting appetite in cancer patients. In contrast, cannabidiol (CBD) holds promise for medicinal application without psychoactive consequences. The gradual acceptance of cannabis for recreational use has heightened accessibility, inadvertently leading to increased unintentional exposure in pets.

Routes to Intoxication in Cats and Dogs

Cats and dogs can become intoxicated through various means, most commonly by consuming edibles containing cannabis or directly ingesting cannabis in any form. Second-hand smoke exposure is also possible. Often accidental, pets might encounter cannabis out of curiosity or share a space with individuals smoking it. Dogs, possessing more cannabinoid receptors in their brains than humans, experience more pronounced and potentially hazardous effects from cannabis. Even a small amount can lead to toxicity in these animals.

Accurate and complete information regarding the exposure method is vital for effective treatment. For instance, addressing ingestion of a cannabis-laden brownie requires distinct measures compared to inhaling cannabis, which might necessitate addressing respiratory irritation.

Effects of Cannabis on Cats and Dogs

Cannabis influences the body's chemistry upon inhalation or ingestion. It interacts with the brain's chemical messengers, such as norepinephrine, dopamine, serotonin, and acetylcholine. THC, being lipid-soluble, tends to accumulate in fatty tissues within the liver, brain, and kidneys before eventual elimination. The metabolization and excretion process is essential for the dissipation of the drug's effects.

Assessing Toxicity

Although cannabis holds a relatively wide safety margin for humans, this leniency doesn't extend universally to pets, owing to their distinct sensitivities, age, health status, and physical proportions. Notably, cannabis intoxication in animals seldom leads to fatality, primarily requiring significantly elevated levels of THC for lethal effects to emerge.

However, the emergence of medical-grade THC products has introduced a heightened risk factor due to their potential for concentrated THC content. This intensified potency amplifies the probability of more pronounced intoxication and associated risks in pets. As such, it is crucial for pet owners to exercise heightened vigilance and responsible storage practices, limiting access to all forms of cannabis products to prevent inadvertent exposure in their beloved companions.

Recognizing Intoxication Symptoms

Intoxication from THC primarily presents itself through a range of neurological symptoms in pets. These signs encompass unsteadiness in movements, heightened levels of activity, episodes of drowsiness, confusion, increased vocalization, enlarged pupils, excessive salivation, bouts of vomiting, and in more severe instances, urinary incontinence.

The effects can escalate to include severe tremors, epileptic seizures, and even a state of coma. Additionally, the impact of THC on pets is reflected in various physical indicators such as fluctuations in heart rate, blood pressure, respiration rate, and body temperature. These manifestations underscore the profound influence of THC on the central nervous system of cats and dogs, highlighting the importance of prompt and appropriate intervention when such symptoms arise.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Accurate history and clinical signs are foundational for diagnosis. Testing THC levels in urine takes time and is often impractical. While there are human urine drug screening tests, these are not consistently reliable for pets. Timely and accurate information from pet owners accelerates diagnosis and treatment initiation.

Intervention typically begins with efforts to remove the toxin from the body. Inducing vomiting may be attempted if the exposure is detected early, although this approach has limitations. Cannabis's anti-emetic properties can hinder this process. Supportive care involves managing symptoms until the drug's effects wane. This includes regulating heart rate, respiration, body temperature, and providing IV fluids to prevent dehydration. Confinement, anti-anxiety medications, and gastrointestinal treatments aid recovery.

A Responsible Approach

In summary, exercising caution with cannabis around pets is paramount. Keeping all forms of cannabis securely stored out of their reach is crucial. Storing cannabis products in locked drawers or high cabinets when not in use is advisable. It's important to provide pets a smoke-free environment and safeguard them from potential exposure to edibles. The acute sense of smell in animals may tempt them to ingest cannabis-laced items. If your cat or dog exhibits unusual behavior suggestive of cannabis exposure, promptly seek veterinary attention.

Get Your Weekly Dose of Green

Subscribe for Exclusive Cannabis News, Weekly Deals, and the Industry's Latest Tech and Innovations!