Updated on December 4, 2020.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
If you check the pet forums, there are plenty of threads about people who have a pet who has accidentally ingested cannabis. Usually, it is a story about camping, where the dog swallowed a roach it found on the ground. Or the pet got into some edibles that were left on a table, and next thing you know, the faithful four-legger isn’t acting right.
If you own a dog or a cat, and you have medical cannabis in your home, you’ve probably wondered if your pet can actually get high. They can. But the experience both psychologically and symptom wise for your pet can be uncomfortable. And for smaller pets, ingesting cannabis (in any form) can be life-threatening.
The symptoms for dogs and cats (and even pet birds) are similar and cannabis can be toxic for them. Here are some facts you may not have known about protecting your pet from harm. While cannabinoids can have positive health effects for humans, it can cause serious problems for your pets.
Cases of Pet Toxicosis Have Increased with Legalization of Medical Cannabis
We’ve all seen movies where someone thinks it is hilarious to blow smoke in the face of their dog. After all, if you are going to feel relaxed, your furry friend should too, right? The truth is that your dog will definitely become intoxicated by cannabis. In fact, your dog has more cannabinoid receptors than you do, which is why cannabis can do them serious harm.
There is a correlation between incidents of marijuana toxicosis in dogs in homes where there are one or more registered medical marijuana patients. For instance, one study conducted in Colorado reported incidents of cannabis toxicosis in dogs at two veterinary hospitals.
From 2005 to 2010, the number of accidental overdose incidents for dogs increased by four times the normal annual average. In the Colorado study, two dogs that consumed butter infused with concentrated medical-grade THC died.
What Kind of Cannabis Poses the Most Risk for Your Pet?
Medical cannabis that is in whole flower or raw (bud) form, poses little risk to pets. It can cause stomach upset. But since the cannabis is not decarboxylated, the THC and full potency of the cannabinoids are not present. Your dog is not going to be feeling great after consuming raw cannabis, but within 24 hours on average, he should clear the chemical compounds and start to recover.
Other forms of medical marijuana like tinctures, or edibles are manufactured with decarboxylated cannabis. That means heat was used to activate the THC and full potency of the cannabinoids. When you administer tincture drops or consume a THC infused edible, you generally feel the full effects in 15-30 minutes.
While eating a ‘roach’ may not cause much harm, getting into a bag of gummies or a full bag of weed can be a life-threatening emergency for your dog. Your dog can’t tell the difference between butter and budder or badder, but it smells great! A high concentration of THC increases the risk of death from toxic shock and organ failure.
What Happens When a Dog Consumes Cannabis?
You walk into your bedroom or living room and see that your dog found your medical marijuana. It is hard not to panic because you can’t really tell how it will impact your pet. Because dogs have more cannabinoid receptors than humans, he isn’t just going to get high from consuming cannabis. He is going to have a stressful, uncomfortable, and panic-inducing high.
Have you ever taken ‘too much’ cannabis? Yes, there is such a thing. When you smoke or eat too many edibles you can pass the threshold of relaxation and comfort, into a place of nausea and dizziness. You can get extreme dry mouth; a horrible headache and you won’t want to move. Unless it’s from the couch to your bed because you feel awful.
Every exposure to cannabis (even small amounts) is like that for your dog. The.Worst.High.Ever. If you have a senior dog, or one that has anxiety or epilepsy, the intoxication from cannabis can lead to a seizure or stroke.
How can a plant that has so many properties that are beneficial for wellness, be so toxic? The Sativa L would have never evolved in the wild if it didn’t have some kind of defense mechanism. Toxicology is the defense that allowed it to survive being eaten by every herbivore and omnivore that passed by. Clever right? Some plants are poisonous.
For mammals with large numbers of cannabinoid receptors, cannabis is toxic. The effects are multiplied in dogs, and even small doses of cannabis can create symptoms that are unpleasant and possibly hazardous for your dog.
What About CBD Products for Pets? Why Aren’t They Toxic Too?
There are many CBD products marketed to pet owners, that can improve the wellness of your dog or cat. CBD oil is one of the most effective ways to deliver healthy cannabinoids that can help your pet in a variety of ways.
The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is present in all mammals. This biological system is responsible for a variety of functions including sleep, immune system response, memory and cognition, and more. Every mammal on the plant has both CB1 and CB2 receptors.
The CB1 and CB2 receptors also interact with plant-derived cannabinoids. It’s not only marijuana that has naturally occurring cannabinoids. Other foods like dark chocolate can mimic cannabinoids too. And create a toxic reaction is one reason why high cocoa content chocolate is toxic (and sometimes fatal) for dogs.
If cannabinoids can be toxic to dogs and cats, why are CBD products for pets safe? When you purchase legal CBD products, they must have a concentration of less than 0.30% THC. CBD oil for pets delivers all the benefits of cannabinoids without the toxicity that pets experience with higher doses of THC.
CBD oil for pets can promote wellness by:
Reducing inflammation and pain
Calming muscle tremors (like epilepsy)
Reducing anxiety and stress (separation or storm anxieties)
Reducing nausea and stimulating appetite (senior dogs on hospice care)
Improving immune system functioning
CBD pet products are not only safe, but they can be beneficial for dogs in their senior years. And pet owners can choose to provide a daily supplement to address health concerns and improve the quality of life for their dog or cat.
What Should You Do If Your Dog or Cat Has Consumed Cannabis?
Don’t leave your pet alone. Larger dogs can sometimes tolerate cannabis better, but they will show side effects. Dogs can appear lethargic and have nausea, vomit, and diarrhea. Encourage your pet to drink water and try to eat something bland (eggs or rice are a good choice). This can help the body purge the excess cannabinoids from the digestive tract and get your pet through the emergency.
Remember that your dog has a vomit reflex that is meant to regurgitate anything that is harmful. So, grab the mop! Chances are your dog is going to be trying to throw up the cannabis, and things could get pretty messy.
If your pet loses consciousness or begins to express panic or severe symptoms of anxiety and distress, take them immediately to your veterinarian. Dogs that overdose on cannabis can have a heart attack, a stroke, or slip into a coma.
Treatments for toxicity at a veterinary office include using activated charcoal, and IV hydration. Cannabis is very dehydrating to dogs, so your veterinarian will want to keep him overnight for observation.
Always keep your medical cannabis stored safely to protect pets and children from consuming it accidentally. Consider investing in a container that is childproof. If a child cannot get into it, chances are it will safeguard your stash against four-legged invaders too.