With the growing number of states legalizing the use of cannabis, access to products is becoming easier and more widespread. Unfortunately, with increased accessibility, there’s also been an increased incidence of accidental exposure to cannabis products in children, as well as pets. In fact, the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center noted that in the first few months of 2019 there was a 765 percent increase in calls about marijuana ingestion by animals, compared to the same period the year before.
While this trend is alarming, it’s important to know what this could mean for your pet. That is why so many pet parents are asking, “What happens if my pet eats my cannabis?”
Pet owners should realize that there are multiple ways in which pets can be inadvertently exposed to cannabis:
Some risks can be seasonal, too: if Santa leaves cannabis gifts under the tree or in a stocking, your pet may find it first!
Overall, most reported exposures are via accidental ingestion, when curious pets use their incredible sense of smell to discover products or when careless owners forget to secure their stash.
According to the Pet Poison Helpline, the toxicity level for marijuana is rated as ‘mild.’ The signs can vary greatly, however, depending on the size and species of pet as well as the type and amount of cannabis the pet consumed.
If the pet consumed an edible product, especially in large amounts, the additional fatty ingredients can wreak havoc on its gastrointestinal system. Another factor to consider is whether the pet ate a packaged, licensed product versus a “home-made” goodie. Home-made edibles tend not to come with detailed info on their contents or amount of active ingredients, and often they can be extremely potent.
In addition, pets can suffer serious consequences from eating packaging materials such as plastic bags, glass, or plastic cartridges.
Therefore, the clinical signs you may witness can either be from the cannabis itself, other ingredients in the product (such as chocolate), and/or ingestion of potentially dangerous packaging material. While all these situations can pose dangers for your pet, for the purpose of this article we’ll stick to the concerns of cannabis itself.
In the case of accidental cannabis exposure, THC or tetrahydrocannabinol, the main intoxicating component, is the most likely culprit if your pet is showing any abnormal behavior or acting “high.”
First, intentionally getting your pet “high” or “stoned” is not fun for them! They will likely be scared, stressed, and feeling sick. From all accounts, it is not an enjoyable experience for our four-legged friends, and in fact they will probably feel quite miserable.
If your pet has only consumed a small amount of cannabis, the initial signs can be rather vague or inconspicuous. Pets may be slightly anxious or disoriented, lethargic, or overly sensitive to light and sound.
However, if they’ve consumed a larger amount, more intense symptoms can include:
The above signs can progress to more severe changes and neurological symptoms, such as:
To learn more, check out this article about THC toxicity in pets.
If you are lucky enough to witness your pet in the act of being naughty, you should act fast. The goal is to get the cannabis out of their system. Remove any material from their mouth and induce vomiting as soon as possible. Call your vet for specific instructions on how to do this at home or bring them in immediately. It is important to know that this step should only be performed before the onset of signs or symptoms.
If you see evidence of accidental consumption — but you don’t know when the exposure occurred — try to determine how much your pet may have eaten, since the effects of cannabis are dose-dependent. For instance, a 10 mg THC-infused gummy would have a much greater effect on a 10-pound chihuahua than a 60-pound Labrador. The effects of cannabis can be different for every individual, and many factors come into play, so there is no known standard “toxic” dose.
If your dog is acting strange, displaying any of the signs in the section above, and/or you suspect he got into cannabis, try to find the evidence and determine what (if anything) is missing.
When should you rush your pet to the vet? Again, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. It’ll depend on your pet’s clinical signs, the product it was exposed to, and your comfort level. Mild cases can be managed at home if there is a quiet place for the pet to rest with supervision. Remember that it can take several hours before the full effects are seen. When in doubt, err on the safe side and go to the clinic.
If possible, grab the consumed item’s packaging before you go. The information on it will not only help your vet estimate the amount of THC, but also to determine if there are any other potentially toxic ingredients, such as chocolate, in the item.
I would urge anyone whose pet consumed a cannabis product that contains ingredients known to be dangerous to animals (such as chocolate or xylitol) to see their veterinarian. In these cases, the combined effects of THC and other known toxicants can exponentially increase the risks.
Fortunately, according to the ASPCA, most marijuana exposures are not serious, and treatment is generally symptomatic and supportive.
Remember, pets don’t always learn from their mistakes, as anyone with a “chow-hound” or Labrador can attest. Luckily, these situations are completely preventable! For the most part, avoiding them just requires common sense.
At the very least, simply keep your products out of reach. Locking them up, storing them in secure containers (a biometric safe may be overkill, but you get the idea), or keeping them in a closed cabinet or high shelf will prevent even the most agile of pets from gaining access. Also, clearly label any items that are open or have missing packaging.
Remember that while cannabis can provide a pleasurable, recreational experience for humans, there is no appropriate similar use in the animal world. As far as your pet is concerned, the best things in life are your love and affection, and a yummy food treat.
Taking these few simple steps can help keep your pet safe and ensure that everyone has a happy, healthy holiday season!
Author’s note: * The term ‘marijuana’ is largely regarded by those in the cannabis industry as a controversial word that was created to mislead the general public in the early 1900’s. Its derogatory connotation was used to fuel the racially charged, negative stigma surrounding cannabis use. When used by this author, it is done reluctantly and to 1) highlight the general negative perception shown by some towards cannabis, 2) as a direct reflection of use by another source, or 3) to avoid confusion by using common nomenclature.
“All information provided on cannabisMD is intended to be educational only and does not represent veterinary medical advice. Please see your pet’s regular medical provider with whom you have a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship for discussion and treatment. Any discussion of dosing or how to use medical cannabis products is not a legal prescription, recommendation or endorsement. Use of medical cannabis products in an animal species should only be done after a full examination and discussion with a licensed veterinarian in compliance with all applicable laws.”