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Pets and Marijuana – How Cannabis Can Affect Our Creature Companions

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Published: March 3, 2022
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Pets and Marijuana don’t mix. To avoid potential poisoning and a costly visit to the vet, protect your pets from exposure to marijuana. Although rarely fatal, there has been a steep increase in the number of cases of pets ingesting the psychoactive drug. (Image: Ilmicrophono Oggiono via Flickr h a CC BY 2.0)

Cannabis is already a dodgy subject among humans. While recently recognized for its medicinal value in many areas of the world, the fact remains that it is a psychoactive drug, whether it is legal or not. Cannabis has been legal in Canada since 2018, and many of the United States have relaxed their regulations to varying degrees, as have several European countries. In Asia and the Middle East, the substance is still strictly controlled. The drug’s growing acceptance has brought up serious concerns about the increasingly common combination: pets and marijuana.

Pets and Marijuana

Marijuana is a mind-altering drug made from the dried flowers and leaves of the Cannabis sativa plant, which includes the compounds tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) – the former of which is the primary cause of the “high” that comes with its usage. 

Traditionally smoked in cigarette form as a rolled “joint,” it can now be found concentrated in vaping apparatuses. Marijuana is also easily added to baked goods, a common cause of accidental ingestion by pets and children who stumble upon the “treats.”

With cannabis products being legalized in many states for medical, and even recreational use, a spike in the number of cases involving pets consuming THC laced treats and other accidental exposure has been observed. 

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), their Poison Control Center received around 765 calls in the first two months of 2019, reporting that the cases all involved pets exposed to THC.

Not all cases of accidental ingestion occur in cannabis-friendly homes. Dogs are prone to picking used vaping debris on their walks, which can be extremely harmful.

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Cannabis consumption can cause a wide variety of symptoms in pets. Pay close attention to physical and behavioral changes. (Image: Feverblue via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

What happens when pets consume cannabis? 

A number of symptoms may occur when pets consume marijuana, including depression, confusion, dizziness, hypothermia and more. You may notice that they move about clumsily, or have teary eyes and dilated pupils. 

Both hyperactivity and lethargy are possible reactions among pets that consume THC. Their heart rates may fluctuate between slow or fast and their body temperature could drop. Vomit and drooling are also known side effects. At worst, your pet may experience high levels of aggression, seizures and even comas.

Veterinarian Kelly Diehl, senior director of science and communication for the Morris Animal Foundation, told The Epoch Times that pets with THC in their bodies may also have a loss of bladder control – something not linked to other, more fatal toxins.

Veterinarians have found that cats are more likely than dogs to nibble on the buds of marijuana plants. Although this is less harmful than the processed drug, it is best to keep pets away from living cannabis plants. 

Toxicity and treatment

Despite the many side effects, Diehl also added that THC is “rarely fatal.” Despite the low risk of death, she still recommends “supportive care” for pets who consume marijuana, like keeping them hydrated, so their heart rates and body temperatures are regulated. 

In a study published in the Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation, it is also “inadvisable” to feed marijuana to donkeys, as they too will suffer from these conditions.

Smaller animals, according to Diehl, may be more vulnerable to “big problems,” adding that going through the treatments in clinics can be very costly, regardless of the pet’s size. 

According to veterinary specialist Dr. Caroline Tonozzi, medical tests used to detect marijuana in humans are not suitable for pets. “The human urine test tends to deliver false negatives when used for dogs, and the human blood test takes so long to get results that it is not feasible to use in a treatment situation,” she said.

CBD, though not as potent, will also affect animals, and synthetic cannabinoids (SCB) can be more severe than THC.

Pet safety tips

Should your pets be exposed to THC, it is recommended to seek medical assistance from a professional as soon as possible, especially if you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above. Better yet, protect your pets from the harmful effects of marijuana by preventing exposure.

Always pay attention to what your dog picks up in his mouth when taking a walk or visiting the park. Vaping litter is becoming an environmental hazard, as these pods contain harmful chemicals that can be very dangerous to animals.

If you use cannabis for medical or recreational purposes, keep all products with THC safely out of reach from both pets and children. Place them in a high location like a cabinet or cupboard, where your pet is unable to access.

Just like second-hand cigarette smoke, marijuana smoke can also be harmful to all those within reach. Protect your pets by preventing this exposure as well.