Pets and Marijuana Poisoning

by Krystina Murray |

The Dark Side of Legalization: Pets and Marijuana Poisoning

New statistics inform the American public of increasing rates of marijuana poisoning in pets. Pet Poison Hotline (PPH) has witnessed a 448% increase in animal-related marijuana poisoning within the 6 years. In 2010 alone, the PPH witnessed a 200% increase of marijuana ingestions in domestic animals. Additionally, the ASPCA reports witnessing a 765% increase in calls related to pets and marijuana intoxication.

Much of this is due to the legalization of cannabis throughout the United States, shaping pet owners’ relaxed attitudes on marijuana use. Because of marijuana’s reputation as being a natural substance to encourage relaxation, some pet owners may not find the harm in exposing their dogs and cats to it. While marijuana exposure is milder to pets that some others drugs such as opioids, stimulants, or diet pills, many remain concerned.

Marijuana, Edibles, and Pet Deaths

Legalization Is Compounding The Problem Of Pets And Marijuana PoisoningDespite marijuana being considered toxic to dogs, cats, and horses according to ASPCA, the rate of animal deaths from marijuana are rare. Some of these cases included animals who accidentally ate edibles or plant material while on walks. Other cases of marijuana exposure and toxicity by owners to pets have occurred through animals ingesting edibles found in the home. For example, there were 2 recent incidents of dogs dying from marijuana intoxication. Both of these cases included dogs eating edibles, with a very high content of butter-infused marijuana.

Edibles are baked goods, breads, butters, and candies containing marijuana. Because of this, a large amount of marijuana intoxication has occurred from dogs eating their owner’s edibles. If the edibles contain chocolate, this can be very harmful to both dogs and cats as well. In general, dogs are more susceptible to marijuana poisoning than cats, as dogs are more likely to ingest the herb. Reports of marijuana poisoning and dogs confirm a dog’s natural curiosity in trying out a wider variety of foods and more omnivorous diet, as opposed to a cat’s discriminating and carnivorous nature.

Is Pet Marijuana Poisoning Accidental or Intentional?

Accidental and intentional reports of pet intoxication via marijuana both exist. Stories of pet owners giving their dog or cat “a contact high” –a direct exposure to marijuana from the owner’s mouth to the pet can cause reckless exposure to marijuana. In such cases, the owner is not measuring the amount of marijuana smoke that can affect the pet.

Some pet owners report giving their pets small amounts of marijuana to combat health conditions. One woman speaks of the time she gave her cat medical marijuana to combat arthritis. The cat owner was able to get it in a liquid form to make it easier for her cat to ease into comfort. The end was the cat having less pain and eating more. Although the pets seemed to show symptoms of improvement, there is little evidence supporting marijuana’s effects on pets. The FDA has not approved marijuana for animals, and veterinarians are unable to distribute medical marijuana to pets.

Signs of Pet Marijuana Intoxication

Giving your pet marijuana can definitely cause them discomfort and adverse symptoms. Because pet owners are not certified in understanding the differences in animal biology versus human biology, they could give their pet too much marijuana (and there is likely no safe amount). As a result, the pet may endure uncomfortable symptoms like:

  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Extreme sleepiness
  • Dilated pupils
  • Vocalization of discomfort (whining, crying)
  • Aggression
  • Increased heart rate
  • Dry eyes/bloodshot eyes
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Poor coordination
  • “Spacing out”

These symptoms occur from 5 minutes if inhaled through “a contact” (from the owner’s mouth to the pet’s mouth/face) or 1 hour of exposure if they eat it. Symptoms can last as little as 30 minutes to 1 hour to as long as a few days.

Since pets don’t actively use marijuana with the intention of humans, there is little risk of marijuana dependence. It is up to the owner to be responsible, use common sense and keep marijuana and other harmful drugs away from pets, as the risks can cause harm. If your pet is experiencing dangerous symptoms, call your veterinarian.

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