By Dr. Beth Guerra
At the emergency clinic, we commonly treat pets that have gotten into household medications, even those considered to be hidden or out of reach. For example, we often see a range of medication ingestions, from vitamin supplements to heart medications.
However, in the last few months, we are seeing a greater number of pets who have gotten into owners medicinal or recreational marijuana. The active compound, THC, interacts with neurotransmitters in the brain and can cause a variety of symptoms. The amount of THC varies greatly (i.e., dried product vs. oil), as does a pet’s individual response to the drug. According to the ASPCA Poison Control Database, research has shown that ingestion of 3-9g/kg of body weight can cause symptoms. Death from ingestion can occur, but is rare. A majority of cases (97%) are dogs.
Pets that have ingested marijuana can exhibit a variety of symptoms. The most common are walking off balance (ataxia), not reacting normally, acting depressed, hypersalivating, and dribbling urine. Pets may also have dilated pupils, can seizure, and may have a fast heart rate. Occasionally, agitation may occur. If the product has been baked into goods containing chocolate, the pet must be monitored and treated for those symptoms as well. Treatment of marijuana toxicity is focused on decontamination and supportive care. Often, vomiting is induced, especially within several hours of suspected ingestion. Several doses of activated charcoal may be given to prevent further absorption from the GI tract. In severely affected animals (i.e., overly sedate), IV fluid support and hospitalization for monitoring may be recommended until the pet is more responsive. Symptoms usually resolve within 24 hours with no lasting effects.
Pet owners are often reluctant to admit that exposure to marijuana is a possibility. However, it is crucial to inform your veterinarian of any possible exposure to this or other drugs. We are not required to contact the authorities about drug ingestions and only use the information to best treat your pet. Signs of marijuana toxicity can be similar to other types of issues. If we don’t know about the exposure, we may need to run tests to rule out other diseases. If we know of the exposure, we can often provide supportive care and be fairly sure of a good outcome.