Marijuana Intoxication in Pets – FAQ

Here we answer some frequently asked questions regarding marijuana and pets from identifying the signs of intoxication to diagnosis and treatment.

What methods are pets able to become intoxicated?

The most common method of intoxication seen in clinic is ingestion. However pets can become “high” from inhalation of second hand smoke. Ingestion can be everything from a single joint to scarfing down laced food products or oils in your home.

How does marijuana affect pets?

First off the drug enters the body via inhalation or ingestion and it binds with a specific neuro receptor in the brain, this alters normal neurotransmitter function. THC interacts with neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine, dopamin, serotonin and acetylcholine. After absorption THC may be stored in fatty tissues as it is very lipid soluble. This means it can be stored in the liver, brain, and kidneys before finally being eliminated from the body. THC is mostly metabolized in the liver (65-90%) and excreted via feces and the kidneys acccount for 10-35% of elimination. In order for effects to no longer be seen they need to excrete the drug via these two organ systems.

How much is too much?

Though this drug is said to have a high safety margin in people, not all pets or even people follow a simple and predictable pattern of intoxication. A small amount may effect the largest dog, however his sibling a small breed dog with similar exposure may show no symptoms or signs. Luckily, Marijuana intoxication is seldom fatal. THC values range a great deal depending on the product you are indulging in. Medical grade high THC ingestion is considered the most serious, and until recent introductions of such products into the market THC fatalities were extremely rare. In closing there is no magic number where we can say a pet will require hospitalization, it is on a case by case basis dependent on your pets symptoms.

What are the signs of marijuana intoxication?

Most of the symptoms of intoxication are what we call neurological. Pets loose their balance and coordination. The list of symptoms is long and includes hyperactivity, disorientation, vocalization, lethargy, drop in heart rate and/or body temperature and respiratory depression. Thankfully these are often short lived but can make your pet quite uncomfortable and even put their lives at risk in the case or respiratory depression.

How is marijuana injestion diagnosed?

The first thing to know about a appropriate diagnosis is to be honest with your veterinary team. If you think your pet may have gotten into your “stash”, tell us. We are not here to judge or call any authorities. We can use urine drug screening tests but the results are quite unreliable making a physical examination and an accurate history the best tools in diagnosing THC intoxication.

How do you treat THC intoxication in pets?

The first thing we often do in the case of any toxin if ingested recently enough is to get it out of the system by inducing vomiting and giving a stomach protectant and something to prevent further absorption. This only works if you have caught the pet in the act of shortly thereafter. In the case of many pets the ingestion has happened and the symptoms have already begun to present themselves meaning we have missed our window of prophylactic treatment and we move to activated charcoal to prevent further absorption and supportive care. Supportive care includes a variety of medications and care to manage heart rate, control anxiety, prevent dehydration, and maintain organ function. Each and every pet is different and will have a different response to the drug and in turn require different levels of care.

How many cases of THC toxicity are there on average?

Personally here at AMCS we see an average of 1 every few months. These are often after hours calls making the visit more expensive unfortunately. The pet poison helpline has reported a 200% increase in marijuana toxicity cases and we can also appreciate a spike in them as well.