Many pet owners are familiar with the recreational drug marijuana which is also referred to as weed, pot, or reefer. Marijuana has become more widely legal across the United States over the past several years, and marijuana toxicity has become a more common problem in pets because of the drug’s increased availability and popularity. In fact, in 2019, the Pet Poison Helpline reported a 765% increase in calls related to pet marijuana ingestion from the previous year. Our Animal Emergency Care team wants you to recognize marijuana toxicity signs in your pet and to be prepared if your pet accidentally becomes poisoned. 

What is marijuana toxicity in pets?

Marijuana is a mix of cut, dried, and ground flowers and leaves from the Cannabis sativa plant. The psychoactive agent delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the most potent cannabinoid chemical and is responsible for the euphoric or high feeling that humans seek from this recreational drug. THC is also the culprit behind many pet emergencies. Other cannabinoid compounds, including CBD and hemp, are non-psychoactive derivative compounds from the cannabis plant and rarely lead to veterinary emergencies. Pets most commonly become intoxicated from eating marijuana in edible, plant, or oil forms. THC is the portion of marijuana that affects pets and is metabolized by the liver, and then distributed to the brain and other fatty tissues in the body. Many marijuana edibles contain other chemicals toxic to pets including chocolate or xylitol which can be deadly without treatment. 

Marijuana toxicity signs in pets

Pets can show toxicity signs only 30 to 90 minutes following ingestion. Marijuana toxicity signs vary and depend on the amount and type of marijuana ingested. Signs include:

  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Slow heart rate
  • Incoordination
  • Listlessness
  • Difficulty balancing
  • Easily startled
  • Vocalization
  • Excess salivation or drooling
  • Seizures 
  • Coma
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Low body temperature

Marijuana toxicity diagnosis and treatment in pets

Many pet owners may be reluctant or embarrassed to admit that their pets have ingested marijuana in their home. However, you must tell your veterinarian if you think your pet has eaten any type of marijuana-derived substance or plant. Treatment is determined by the type and amount of toxic agent that your pet ingests, and early marijuana signs can mimic other toxicities such as antifreeze. Therefore your veterinarian needs to know the toxin in order to formulate the appropriate treatment. Marijuana toxicity may be diagnosed on the pet’s ingestion history, clinical signs, or a positive urine test. Fortunately marijuana toxicity is rarely fatal but can be deadly in pets who ingest large amounts or concentrated oil products. Immediately bring your pet for emergency care if you suspect marijuana toxicity. Treatment may include:

  • Inducing vomiting if the pet ingested marijuana less than 30 minutes ago and has not developed clinical symptoms.
  • Anti-nausea medication
  • Activated charcoal for toxin absorption
  • Intravenous fluids
  • Specialized warming pads
  • Sedation to decrease stress
  • Seizure treatment
  • Heart rate monitoring

Pets should remain hospitalized until all marijuana signs have subsided which can take up to 72 hours. 

Payment options for marijuana toxicity treatment in pets

Emergency care and hospitalization for marijuana toxicity can lead to a large veterinary bill. Fortunately, multiple payment options are available to ensure you can cover the cost of your pet’s emergency care for an accidental poisoning. Consider purchasing a pet insurance plan like Trupanion which has policies that will pay your veterinary clinic directly and eliminate the need to submit paperwork and wait for reimbursements. Other payment options include:

  • Care Credit
  • Scratch Pay
  • Pet health savings account
  • Short-term loans

Marijuana toxicity prevention for pets

A pet’s curious nature can lead to accidental ingestion of a variety of toxic ingredients. Follow these tips to reduce the chance of your pet experiencing marijuana toxicity:

  • Keep all recreational and prescribed medications out of paws’ reach.
  • Store marijuana in a locked box or medicine container.
  • Don’t leave marijuana edibles on the table or in a room with unsupervised pets.
  • Keep pets out of rooms when smoking and don’t allow them back until the air is clear of any residual smoke. 
  • Consider keeping marijuana plants in a separate room that is off-limits to all pets, especially cats. 

Call your family veterinarian right away or bring your pet to our hospital at Animal Emergency Care if you suspect they have ingested marijuana. #AECprevents

Sources:

https://veterinarypartner.vin.com/default.aspx?pid=19239&id=4951863

https://www.merckvetmanual.com/toxicology/toxicities-from-human-drugs/toxicities-from-illicit-and-abused-drugs?query=marijuana%20toxicosis#v3353183

https://www.aspcapro.org/resource/marijuana-toxicosis-animals