As of October 17th 2018, cannabis became legal in Canada for recreational use. Due to the potential increased access and exposure of pets to cannabis products and baked goods, pets may also be at a higher risk for possible cannabis toxicity. As illustrated by studies on the effect of legalization of marijuana in Colorado, the legalization of cannabis led to an increase of four times the number of reported cannabis toxicity cases in pets. In the past 6 years, the Pet Poison Helpline reports a 448% increase in marijuana cases.
According to the ASPCA Poison Control Center the leading cause of toxicity, especially in dogs, is due to edibles that are infused with marijuana. Pets are proportionately more sensitive than humans t
o the chemical tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which is the agent that causes the “high” experienced by humans who intake cannabis products. Cats, who tend to be more selective with their eating habits, are less likely to raid the garbage and consume disposed cannabis products and also lack the “sweet tooth” that attracts dogs to baked goods containing marijuana.
Signs of Toxicity Include:
Signs of toxicity can present anywhere from 5 minutes to 12 hours after exposure, and can last from 30 minutes to several days depending on the level of exposure.
- Prolonged depression
- incoordination and drunkenness
- sound or light sensitivity
- pacing and agitation
- sleepiness or excitation
- dilated pupils or bloodshot eyes
- inappropriate urination, incontinence or dribbling urine
- fast or slow heart rate
- low body temperature
In some cases, marijuana toxicity can cause seizures or cause a comatose state. In rare cases, marijuana toxicity can cause death. Pets who are exposed to cannabis should be assessed by your veterinarian and given supportive care to help clear the toxin from their systems.
Source: ASPCA Animal Poison Control and Canadian Veterinary Medical Association
Please remember that we are not here to judge if you are feeling embarrassed about what your pet has eaten . . . we simply want to help your pets! By informing veterinary staff that your pet may have eaten cannabis, it helps us to narrow down what may be affecting your pet and helps us to provide an accurate treatment plan for your pet. Human urine drug-screening tests are not accurate for use in pets, so we rely on history and a physical exam to determine possible cannabis toxicity.
If your pet has consumed cannabis, treatment may involve the following steps:
- Physical exam and history to gauge level of risk
- If cannabis was ingested recently, we may induce vomiting and give activated charcoal to bind to any remaining toxin in the stomach
- IV fluids to help your pet’s body to clear the toxin from their system, especially the liver
- Possible bloodwork to assess organ function
- Supportive care and monitoring of temperature and other vital signs
I understand the risks cannabis toxicity poses to my pets. What about cannabis-based pet products? Are they safe?
While most cannabis-based products marketed to pet parents are produced from the hemp plant and hemp contains negligible levels of THC, very little research has been completed to validate the claims of many of these products, their therapeutic benefits and their potential toxicities. Moreover, Health Canada has not approved any cannabis-based products for animal use at this time. All products containing cannabidiol (CBD) require a prescription for use, and as such, any herbal product sold without a prescription is being sold outside of the bounds of current legislation. In summary, veterinarians do not currently have a legal pathway to prescribing cannabis products to pets, and the lack of research into their risks and benefits and absence of a regulatory framework for ensuring the quality of CBD pet products are issues affecting the ability of veterinarians to safely recommend these products for therapeutic use.