We won’t get into the nitty gritty on the arguments for and against marijuana, but there are a few things concerned veterinarians do want you to know about pot and your dog.
DOGS CAN (AND DO) GET HIGH
Yes, your dog can get high by inhaling marijuana smoke and/or ingesting pot edibles. The difference is, dogs feel “high” much, much more intensely than humans do. Dogs are likely to find any state of altered reality extremely distressing.
HOW CAN YOU TELL IF YOUR DOG IS “HIGH?”
If your dog is in the room while you’re smoking marijuana, it’s entirely possible for him to get a “contact high.” Dogs have also been known to eat marijuana buds, and of course, edibles are tempting to them, too. If you’re unsure whether or not your dog may have inadvertently gotten into your weed, look for the following signs:
- Dilated pupils
- Low blood pressure/heart rate
- Easily startled
CAN POT HURT MY DOG?
In a nutshell, yes. There are too few vet-sponsored studies on the effects of marijuana on dogs to know for sure whether or not it’s safe. Never give your dog weed, particularly without first talking to your vet. (Caveat: Some veterinarians believe in prescribing medical marijuana products that do not contain THC for dogs that require pain relief.) Although pot probably won’t kill your dog, it could make him very sick. Small animals are particularly susceptible to effects of pot. Vets working in states that legalized marijuana such as Colorado have reported an uptick in dogs coming in with symptoms of marijuana ingestion. Especially if you’re unsure just how much marijuana your pet has in his system, be sure to get him to an emergency vet right away if you suspect he’s been in your stash. Vet treatment for pot ingestion can include IV fluids, careful monitoring, and even by applying oxygen. Remember that even if pot isn’t necessarily “toxic” to your dog, the ingredients in some edibles might be.
KEEPING YOUR DOG SAFE FROM POT
Treat your marijuana the same way you would a prescription medication or alcohol. Keep it out of reach of pets (and children!) and monitor the amount you have on hand closely so you know when any is missing. Never smoke pot in an enclosed space while your pet is nearby. If your dog does get a hold of the green stuff, try to induce vomiting immediately. And if you need to call in a vet, be honest with her about what’s affecting your dog. Your vet won’t judge you; they’re only interested in helping your pet stay healthy.
How do cats and dogs become intoxicated?
Cats and dogs can become intoxicated by cannabis in various ways; by inhaling second-hand smoke, eating edibles (baked goods, candies, chocolate bars, and chips containing cannabis), or ingesting cannabis directly (in any form). Most exposures are accidental when curious pets discover access to the drug or when they are present in the same room with a person smoking cannabis. Dogs have more cannabinoid receptors in their brains, which means the effects of cannabis are more dramatic and potentially more toxic when compared to humans. A small amount of cannabis is all it takes to cause toxicity in cats and dogs.
“Accurate and complete information is imperative to treating the patient successfully.”
Regardless of the method of exposure, accurate and complete information is imperative to treating the patient successfully. For example, ingestion of a ‘pot brownie’ needs different treatment than inhalation, because eating the brownie requires treatment for cannabis and chocolate toxicity, whereas inhalation may require additional treatment for respiratory irritation.
How does cannabis affect cats and dogs?
Like most drugs, the effects of cannabis are based on chemistry. The drug enters the body via inhalation or ingestion and binds with specific neuroreceptors in the brain, altering normal neurotransmitter function. THC interacts with neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine, dopamine, serotonin, and acetylcholine. Humans and pets have two types of receptors in their bodies. One type, CB1, affects the central nervous system, and the other, CB2, affects the peripheral tissues. Although not all the pharmacologic mechanisms triggered by cannabinoids have been identified, it is thought that CB1 is responsible for most of the effects of cannabis.
Everything that enters the body has to exit the body. THC is very lipid-soluble, which means that it is easily stored in the fatty tissue in the liver, brain, and kidneys before being eliminated from the body. THC is metabolized in the liver and the majority (65-90%) is excreted in the feces, while a small percentage (10-35%) is eliminated through the kidneys. The drug has to be metabolized and excreted for the effects to wear off.
How toxic is cannabis?
Cannabis is considered to have a high margin of safety for people; however, not all people, and certainly not all pets follow a single pattern of intoxication. A small amount may affect one pet more than another, so there is no official safe level of exposure. Differences in age, health status, and body size are some of the factors that can lead to toxicity differences.
“Deaths have been noted after ingestion of foods containing highly concentrated cannabis such as medical-grade THC.”
Luckily, cannabis intoxication is seldom fatal. The average marijuana cigarette contains about 150 mg of THC. The minimum lethal oral dose of THC in pets is fairly high; however, deaths have been noted after ingestion of foods containing highly concentrated cannabis, such as medical-grade THC. In fact, fatalities were very rare until the development of medical-grade products.
What are the signs of cannabis intoxication?
Many of the signs of intoxication are neurological. Pets may become wobbly and uncoordinated. They may be hyperactive, disoriented, and very vocal. Their pupils may dilate, giving them a wild-eyed appearance, and they may drool excessively or vomit. They may also develop urinary incontinence (i.e., urine leakage). In severe cases, tremors, seizures, and coma can result.
“Side effects are usually short-lived, but they can still be dangerous.”
Physical signs include low or elevated heart rate and blood pressure and slowed respiration rate (breathing rate). Lethargy, and increases or decreases in body temperature may also be observed. Fortunately, these side effects are usually short-lived, but they can still be dangerous and make the pet quite miserable.
How is intoxication diagnosed?
Diagnosis is based on an accurate history and clinical signs. Although there are tests to determine the level of THC in the urine, the results take time, making them impractical. Human urine drug-screening tests are quicker but are not dependable in pets. The diagnosis is made much more quickly, and treatment initiated, when responsible pet owners provide accurate information regarding the pet’s exposure.