Marijuana Toxicity in Pets
Recreational marijuana use has increased an average of over 75 percent in the past ten years. This steep rise not only means that marijuana is becoming more socially available, but also that our pets are becoming increasingly exposed to a potential toxin. Marijuana effects pets differently than humans, and in dogs can be significantly more toxic. Because of this, it is important to understand the ways your pet may become exposed and steps you can take to understand what that exposure means.
A pet may become exposed to marijuana in several ways. The first is investigating and ingesting leaves and buds of the plant as well as ingestion of plant extracts such as wax or oils. While people typically do not ingest the plant in this manner, we all know that it is not uncommon for dogs to eat foreign objects and plants. If ingested directly, your pet is susceptible to both the toxic effects of the plant as well as several gastrointestinal side effects, such as vomiting and diarrhea. Vape pens, oils, butters and waxes also pose a serious health risk to your pets because they contain extreme concentrations of THC. While meant to be metered and dosed in humans, ingestion of even moderate amounts of these substances can prove extremely toxic to our pets.
Pets are also susceptible to toxic effects of cannabis-laced edible items as well. These items pose not only a significant risk due to their THC content, but fats, flavoring agents, sugar-free alternatives and other substances in these items can lead to pancreatitis and GI upset, as well as carring their own toxicities.
Secondhand smoke also poses a significant risk to pets. Pets who are exposed to secondhand smoke experience the same toxic effects as ingestion, but carry additional concerns for smoke inhalation, bronchitis, asthma and other airway diseases. Dogs exposed to secondhand smoke have been shown to have more eye infections, allergies, and respiratory issues including lung cancer. A study at Colorado State University demonstrated that dogs living in smoking environments also had an increased incidence of nasal cancer as well.
If your pet does become exposed, the most important thing you can do is consult with your veterinarian as quickly as possible after ingestion. The majority of marijuana toxicities are not fatal, but they do require supportive care and treatment. Symptoms of marijuana toxicity include a staggering or stumbling gait, also known as ataxia, muscle tremors, paranoia, leaking urine, low blood pressure and low heart rate, as well as low body temperature. If you notice theses signs in your pet, or if you witness your pet ingesting a toxin of any kind, it is important that a veterinarian examines your pet as quickly as possible. Treatments typically include induction of vomiting if ingestion was recent and activated charcoal to absorb toxins, as well as fluids and other supportive measures to ensure your pet recovers well. Marijuana toxicity, if treated appropriately, often carries a good prognosis.