Marijuana Toxicity in Pets: What you Should Know (and What’s the Deal with CBD?)

December 16, 2019

With January 1, 2020 just around the corner, the veterinarians at Family Pet Animal Hospital want to share important information with you and offer tips on how to protect your pets from marijuana toxicity (and address your curiosity about CBD).

With an increasing number of states legalizing both medical and recreational marijuana, the veterinary community has seen a notable rise in toxicity cases.  Pet Poison Helpline reports a 448% increase in marijuana cases over the past six years. Even if you do not use marijuana yourself, dogs and cats may find remnants of this drug outside as human use increases.  We want you to know how to protect your pets along with what to look for and what to do if marijuana toxicity is suspected.

What’s the difference between THC and CBD?

Although there are over 100 different cannabinoids that have been identified by scientists in cannabis, the plant genus that includes hemp and marijuana, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the two most commonly recognized, utilized and studied. 

THC is responsible for the euphoric high associated with smoking or ingesting marijuana.  Regular marijuana is typically 1-8% THC while hashish, which is made from the flowering tops of the plant and their resin, can contain up to 10%.

CBD, another topic frequently in the news and typically used for medicinal purposes, is also derived from marijuana or hemp plants and cannot contain more than 0.3% dry-matter of THC. CBD is non-intoxicating and has been used to mitigate anxiety, improve appetite, relieve nausea and control seizures in human medicine.

Can I use CBD to treat my pets?

CBD in veterinary medicine is a hot topic and assorted pet CBD products are widely available online and in pet stores.  Some differences between human versus pet use of CBD can be broken down to three main points:

  • Although use of CBD for humans is currently legal and recreational marijuana will soon be legal in Illinois, this is not the case for pets. The Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association (ISVMA) strongly recommends against veterinarians selling/prescribing CBD.
  • There are no current regulations for the products being manufactured for use in pets, meaning there is no mandated quality control or chemical analysis for these products.
  • Research is ongoing on what illnesses in pets are responsive to CBD.  At this time, we do not know what type of CBD works well in pets. 

Each CBD product contains a different cannabinoid and every individual has different cannabinoid receptors.  There is no test to determine which receptor(s) any individual has.  Therefore, you could end up having to purchase a wide range of products, which, as stated above, are not well regulated or consistently chemically analyzed.

While the veterinarians at Family Pet Animal Hospital are excited about the potential of CBD for our patients and pets everywhere, we want to be safe, accurate, and legal with our recommendations.  We anticipate that CBD will eventually be incorporated into veterinary medicine.  However, at this time, due to the limited research and lack of regulations regarding the production of products, we simply do not have enough reliable information to allow us to responsibly make recommendations regarding what conditions can be treated effectively, what dosing is appropriate, what products can be trusted, or what effects it may have when combined with other medications.  We look forward to continuing to follow research in this area.

Marijuana toxicity in pets

Recreational marijuana is typically used in two ways – inhaled and eaten. Pets can be affected by consuming either the edible form or the materials used for inhaling marijuana. Marijuana edibles – which are commonly dessert-type foods, such as cookies, brownies or gummies – are made with marijuana or laced with THC. These products are obviously enticing to dogs and are a common culprit of marijuana toxicity.  Both cats and dogs are attracted to marijuana in its bud form, which can be found both inside and outside the home in the form of discarded joints.

While marijuana ingestion is frequently not life-threatening for pets, it can make animals significantly ill and uncomfortable.

A recent case of marijuana toxicity at Family Pet Animal Hospital.

Common symptoms of marijuana toxicity include:

  • Unsteadiness
  • Depression
  • Dilated pupils
  • Urine dribbling/incontinence
  • Sensitivity to sound and touch
  • Decreased heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature
  • Some cats experience episodes of quiet disorientation with episodes of agitation and aggression.

At higher concentrations or larger quantities, more serious effects are possible. Your pet may show signs of seizures or aspiration pneumonia. In extremely rare cases deaths have occurred after ingestion of foods containing highly concentrated cannabis, such as medical-grade THC. 

What to do if you suspect marijuana toxicity

If your pet is displaying symptoms similar to marijuana toxicity, but there was no known exposure, there are over-the-counter urine screening tests that could be used as a diagnostic tool for your veterinarian. This test does have drawbacks, however, since dogs produce different metabolites in the urine than humans. Thus, false negatives are common. Although animal specific tests do exist that can determine the level of THC in the urine, the time required to obtain results makes them impractical.

If you know or suspect that your pet has ingested marijuana, alert your veterinarian.  Due to the limitations and impracticality of testing, diagnosis is typically based on an accurate history and clinical signs. Providing accurate information about marijuana exposure to your veterinarian is crucial to quickly determining proper care for your beloved furry family members.

In dogs, clinical signs typically begin 30 to 90 minutes after the marijuana has been eaten. Because THC is stored in the body’s fat deposits, the effects of marijuana ingestion can last for several days. If less than 30 minutes have passed since the marijuana has been eaten, it may be possible to induce vomiting. However, after symptoms have started, the nausea control properties of the cannabinol make it difficult to induce vomiting. Furthermore, if the patient is extremely sedated, vomiting can be dangerous as vomit can be inhaled and cause a serious form of pneumonia called aspiration pneumonia.

While there is no true antidote for marijuana, veterinarians can provide supportive care to help pets through the clinical symptoms of toxicity.  Your veterinarian could induce vomiting or, if symptoms are already visible, s/he can start fluid therapy support, control hypothermia, and keep your pet safe and comfortable. Your veterinarian will also be able to monitor for and treat low blood pressure or seizures if they occur. Depending on the severity of intoxication, more aggressive and extensive treatment may be warranted.

Keep your pets safe by storing marijuana edibles and any smoking paraphernalia well out of reach.  If your pet is exposed and becomes ill, provide an accurate and honest history to your pet’s veterinarian so that proper treatment can be provided without delay.