Animal Chronicles: Pets and pot — what to know about cannabis toxicity

Bruce is currently up for adoption at APF. (photo provided)

Bruce is currently up for adoption at APF. (photo provided)

By Jackie Kucskar, DVM

A few months ago, a young pit bull mix presented to the APF spay/neuter clinic and the vet team noticed he was stumbling while walking, seemed very slow to respond, had dilated pupils and seemed a little dazed.

After gathering some information from the dog’s owner, it was determined that the dog had gotten into some garbage the night before that had contained the remnants of a marijuana cigarette, so he was experiencing the effects of that substance. The APF team sent him home for monitoring, and when he returned a few weeks later for his rescheduled surgery he was back to being a normal, happy, bouncy young dog.

Cannabis, or marijuana, is a common substance for recreational and medicinal use, and with recent changes to legal access, its use is becoming even more widespread, both with edible and smokable products. Unfortunately, this popularity is also leading to a significant rise in cannabis toxicity in pets, particularly dogs.

Cannabis toxicity typically results from accidental ingestion, especially given the popularity of food and candy-based edible products, though dogs have been known to eat discarded cannabis leaves (like marijuana cigarettes) as well. Clinical symptoms of toxicity typically appear 30 to 90 minutes after consuming cannabis and can last for several days, owing to the fact that THC, the active psychoactive chemical in cannabis, is stored in body fat and then slowly released.

Common symptoms of cannabis toxicity in pets include lethargy, balance problems, low temperature, incoordination, wide dilated pupils, vocalization and a low heart rate. Some dogs can become agitated and act more fearful than usual. Many dogs will appear drowsy and begin to lose balance, then quickly catch themselves, known as a startle reaction. At higher exposure levels, pets can become so sedate they can almost become comatose, which puts them at a higher risk of breathing problems. These more severe cases often require hospitalization at a veterinary clinic.

Treatment for cannabis toxicity is mostly supportive care. If there was a known exposure and it has been less than 30 minutes, the vet may induce vomiting, but because cannabis has anti-nausea properties, sometimes vomiting can be difficult to achieve. Temperature, blood pressure and fluid support are important treatments, as well as close monitoring and confinement to prevent injury until the effects of THC wear off.

Cannabis toxicity can look very similar to other types of intoxication with different drugs or medications, so it is important to tell your veterinarian if there could be a possible cannabis exposure so they can advise on the best treatment for your pet.

The prognosis for cannabis toxicity is usually very good, but with high enough doses serious effects are possible, so it is always recommended to seek the advice of a veterinarian if you think your pet may have been exposed. Keep in mind that the the amount of THC varies greatly among cannabis products, so even a small volume could lead to serious side effects.

Medical cannabis use in pets is worth mentioning, with ongoing studies to see if cannabis can be used to help treat conditions such as arthritis, anxiety, cancer and epilepsy, but more research is needed to determine if there is a true benefit. It is important to note that the pet products tend to be of the CBD (nonpsychoactive) instead of the THC variety. There is little regulation or oversight of these pet products, so it is always recommended to speak with your veterinarian before giving them to your pet.

It is important to keep any cannabis product away from your pet and other pets, being mindful of proper storage and disposal of the product, and avoiding exposure of pets to cannabis smoke to avoid accidental intoxication.

For information, email [email protected] or phone 518-374-3944.

Jackie Kucskar, DVM, is the veterinary medical director of the Animal Protective Foundation. APF contributes Animal Chronicles articles and welcomes animal-related questions and stories about the people and animals in our community. Visit, follow us on social media @AnimalProtectiveFoundation or email [email protected]

Categories: Life and Arts, Scotia Glenville

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