Marijuana Toxicity in Pets

January 16th, 2014

As of this article, two states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized marijuana for recreational use, and a proposal to do so is under consideration in the state of Alaska.  While it is unrealistic to think people are not using marijuana in states where it is illegal, this growing legalization movement is certain to bring marijuana into homes where it was not previously present.  Therefore, it is an ideal time to remind pet owners that marijuana can be toxic to pets.

Marijuana contains an active chemical know as THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).  THC is absorbed into the bloodstream extremely quickly, and while it is generally eliminated quickly, it can also be stored in body fat.  Pets are usually exposed to THC when they ingest the stub of a marijuana cigarette or eat human food items which were baked with marijuana.  Signs of marijuana toxicity can be observed in animals within minutes, and up to 3 hours after exposure.  If the THC absorbs into their fat, you may see signs for up to 4 additional days.

Major signs of marijuana toxicity are neurological in nature, including depression, alternating depression and excitement, hallucinations with barking and/or agitation, loss of coordination, seizures, and coma.  Approximately one third of animals develop gastrointestinal distress in the forms of drooling, dry mouth, diarrhea, and vomiting.  You may also see a spike or dip in body temperature, rapid breathing, a change in heart rate, and dilated pupils.  There is a possibility your pet will begin to drip urine.

If you suspect your pet has been exposed to marijuana, please call your vet immediately and be truthful about what has occurred.  A veterinarian’s job is to treat your pet, and they are under no obligation to report your vet visit to the police if you are in a state where marijuana is illegal.  Within a certain time frame, your vet may be able to administer activated charcoal to your pet, which will reduce the amount of toxin absorbed in their body.  Understand there is a chance your pet will need to be hospitalized and monitored until the THC is out of their system.