Reports of cannabis-induced toxicosis in pets have increased “significantly” in North America since 2018, after marijuana was legalized for recreational use in Canada and several US states, according to a 2022 study conducted by researchers at the University of Guelph and data from the Pet Poison Helpline.
University of Guelph researchers surveyed 251 veterinarians in Canada and the United States—191 of whom practiced in Canada—between January and April 2021. According to the survey data, published in PLOS ONE on April 20, 2022, cannabis poisoning were most commonly reported in dogs and most likely to be caused by edibles that pets eat while unattended.
“The legalization of cannabis use in Canada and the US is likely an important factor associated with the increased cannabis toxicosis cases in pets; however, the legal status may also increase reporting,” researchers noted in the study abstract.
The study also found most pets recovered completely after cannabis poisoning, however, there were several deaths.
Additionally, a representative from the Pet Poison Helpline—which takes calls from Canada, the US and the Caribbean—told CTV News it experienced a 735 per cent increase in calls about marijuana poisoning in pets from 2018 to 2022.
WHAT TO DO IF YOUR PET EATS CANNABIS PRODUCTS
Whether your dog or cat (or in some cases, bird) eats an edible, marijuana flower or inhales excessive amounts of cannabis smoke, it can be dangerous and in some cases, deadly.
VCA Canada Animal Hospitals, which is made up of a network of veterinary hospitals in six provinces across the country, says it’s important to determine which kind of marijuana product your pet ingested, because it affects which treatment your pet will need. For example, a dog that eats a brownie made with cannabis will need treatment for both chocolate toxicity as well as cannabis toxicity, while a dog that inhales marijuana smoke may need respiratory treatment.
While cannabis products are generally “considered to have a high margin of safety for [most] people” according to VCA Canada, even a small amount of marijuana can negatively affect your pet.
As noted by the University of Guelph’s study, it’s likely your pet will recover from poisoning if they eat cannabis products, however, it is possible for marijuana to kill your pet. VCA Canada says it depends on several factors, such as the age, health and body size of your pet. Additionally, edibles with high concentrations of THC have been reported to kill pets after they eat them. VCA Canada says reports of pets dying from marijuana poisoning were rare until the development of medical-grade cannabis products.
If you want to know how to tell if your pet has eaten cannabis products, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association says to watch for these signs:
- Wobbling, pacing and agitation
- Sound or light sensitivity
- Inappropriate urination
- Dilated pupils
- Bloodshot eyes
- Fast or slow heart rates
- Low body temperature
It’s also important for pet owners to tell their veterinarian exactly what their pet ingested in order to get a proper diagnosis. There are tests to find out how much THC is in your pet’s system, however they take time and are impractical, according to VCA Canada.
Your veterinarian may make your pet vomit to get the cannabis out of their system, assuming it was discovered soon enough after your pet ate it, however, this may not work. VCA Canada says in some cases the toxin may already be in your pet’s system, and cannabis has “an anti-emetic effect that inhibits vomiting.” Vets may also decide to pump your pet’s stomach or give them activated charcoal to treat the poisoning.
If vomiting doesn’t work or is not a viable option, VCA Canada says veterinarians will provide supportive care until the effects of the cannabis wear off. This may include medication or intravenous fluids to help prevent dehydration, support blood pressure, and maintain organ function. Vets may also use anti-anxiety medication or gastrointestinal treatments to minimize your pet’s discomfort.
“To prevent self-trauma while your pet is disoriented and uncoordinated, confinement in a safe, comfortable space is helpful. Noise should be kept to a minimum to decrease sensory stimulation,” VCA Canada said in a post on its website. “If cannabis is ingested with toxic or problematic substances, such as xylitol, chocolate, raisins, or foods containing a lot of fat, supportive care or additional treatments may be required to treat the conditions associated with the ingestion of those substances.”
VCA Canada adds you can prevent pet poisonings by keeping marijuana products in places your pet cannot reach them. If you smoke marijuana, keep your pets in a separate, well-ventilated room away from smoke. VCA Canada says pets will be tempted to eat cannabis or other things that are toxic to them if they can get to it.
If you think your pet may have eaten cannabis products, take them to a veterinarian or an emergency veterinary hospital right away.