As legalized marijuana becomes more prevalent, so do stories of pets ingesting cannabis. At first glance, the idea of a stoned Bichon Frise, hamster, or Norwegian Forest Cat may seem hilarious, but in actuality, it can be dangerous and frightening.
Like humans, dogs and cats have an endocannabinoid system which means they can experience similar effects from THC. But dogs have more brain cannabinoid receptors than humans and are likely to have an unpleasant experience eating cannabis because of their increased THC sensitivity.
Research suggests that dogs can experience symptoms of cannabis intoxication for 1-3 days, with an average duration of 24 hours. Recovery can take up to five days, depending on the amount ingested.
Symptoms of marijuana intoxication typically appear within an hour of ingestion. Symptoms usually include:
- Vomiting (especially if they ate cannabis flower)
- Vocalization (whining, barking, etc.)
- Dilated pupils
- Urine leakage
- Increased salivation and drooling
- Lack of coordination
- Reduced heartbeat
- Stupor (disoriented, confused, lack of response to normal stimuli)
- Increased sensitivity to light, sound, and movement
In severe cases, with higher dosages, symptoms could include:
- Rapid breathing
- Elevated heartbeat
- Low blood pressure
- Seizures (especially if chocolate was also an ingredient)
While THC can be toxic to dogs, it is usually relatively safe. The minimum lethal oral dose of THC for dogs is rather high – over 3 grams per kilogram of body weight. The average joint contains about 0.32 grams of cannabis, and the actual THC content is even lower. Most popular strains of marijuana contain 10-30% THC or approximately 32-96 milligrams. The most common weight sold at dispensaries, an eighth (3.5 grams), has only 0.35-1.05 grams of THC.
Canine deaths from THC are infrequent. Some of the only reported dog fatalities involved edibles made with potent cannabutter. A dog is usually at greater risk from the other ingredients in an edible.
Cannabis-infused brownies and pastries often contain chocolate, which is toxic to dogs. Effects of a dog consuming chocolate are similar to ingesting marijuana – vomiting, tremors, elevated heart rate, and seizures. Artificial sweeteners, particularly xylitol, can also be far more toxic than THC.
It’s essential to be prepared if your dog ingests cannabis in one form or another.
One of the most challenging things to do is to stay calm. Dogs are very sensitive to their owner’s moods. Panic can easily exacerbate the situation.
Reduce external stimuli – noises, lights, strong smells, etc. – as much as possible to help keep your dog calm and feeling relaxed and secure.
Unless you’re sure your dog ate a minimal amount, bring your pet to the vet. Try to determine what your dog ate, how much, and when. This information will provide the vet with crucial insight to determine the best course of action. If you catch your dog immediately after eating a marijuana edible, your vet may likely administer medicine to induce vomiting, which will prevent a majority of the adverse effects.
Don’t be too embarrassed to tell your vet exactly what happened. Dr. Kyra Mars from CBD Pet Products says honesty can prevent a host of problems and potential delays in getting the correct treatment.
“Veterinarians are not police, and even in states where cannabis is illegal, pet owners should not fear being reported if they tell the vet the truth,” says Mars. “Diagnostic testing to rule out other causes of the clinical signs from THC toxicity can be very costly and likely unnecessary if the vet is given the proper history.”
Cats are traditionally (and notoriously) picky eaters and, therefore, much less likely to ingest marijuana. But like dogs, they can also get high and experience unpleasant effects. A 2018 report showed that a Persian cat exposed to cannabis smoke experienced similar symptoms as dogs – aggression, agitation, disorientation, changes in appetite, drooling, dilated pupils, thirst, loud meowing, hissing, lack of reaction to being called, and strange behavior like walking around aimlessly, hiding, and attacking people.
In the way that you’d carefully and conscientiously store THC products away from the curious hands of a child, you should do the same for your pets. It’s best to keep flower, medication, edibles, etc., in a tightly sealed container. Smell-proof bags are a practical option.
Interestingly, great strides are being made in research about the use of CBD for various pet ailments. But this doesn’t mean CBD products meant for people should be given to animals.
While all parents and pet owners should be diligent about proper cannabis storage, puppy owners need to be especially on guard. Research shows that dogs less than a year old are more curious and more likely to eat cannabis accidentally.