Ingesting cannabis can be a pleasant experience for people but for dogs and cats, it will almost certainly require a visit to the vet.
In the hype around marijuana legalization, and the variety of cannabis products that will soon abound, it may be easy to forget that THC is toxic for pets.
The short reminder for pet lovers who also use marijuana is that while humans get high, pets can get sick and die from overdose.
According to University of Alberta animal science teacher and veterinary nurse Connie Varnhagen, dogs and cats can get poisoned. Dogs, in particular, have plenty of cannabinoid receptors all over their body and brain so they are extra sensitive to THC. They are also adventurous eaters, making them more prone to accidentally eating your supply. Cats, while pickier with food compared to canines, are also susceptible.
Edmonton-based veterinarian Natasha Russell said that while when a pet is admitted due to weed toxicity, they are typically kept in an enclosed space that will keep them safe and are given plenty of hydration. The recovery time usually takes half a day to a full day. Induced vomiting is rarely done for pets, but if the substance was ingested, such as when an infused brownie or drink was taken, purging might be necessary.
How do you know if your pet has been exposed to marijuana? Animal Medical Center staff doctor Dr. Carly Fox says to observe for signs of ataxia or loss of coordination, hypersensitivity to touch (and sound), and incontinence. A physical exam will also reveal a lower temperature than usual and a slow heart rate.
The best way to find out is to seek medical attention. Never just assume that your pet is all right and was only exposed to weed minimally. Pet parents should also not try to induce vomiting themselves because it can result in accidental aspiration or choking. Overall, if you have a stash of marijuana at home, be sure to keep them properly stored where pets cannot accidentally have access to them. When you do smoke, the safest way to do it is to enjoy it outside so your furry buddies have limited to no exposure.
“The danger is more acute for smaller dogs,” she said. “Small dogs are especially sensitive to becoming hypothermic, so their body temperature can get too cold, and the body starts to change in ways we don’t want.”
When dogs are admitted to an animal hospital with THC toxicity, she said, “We keep them well hydrated in a safe, enclosed space where they can’t fall off anything, and then they just have to sleep it off.” Recovery usually takes between 12 and 24 hours.
Veterinarians will rarely induce vomiting, said Russell. However, if there are other accompanying toxins involved—such as chocolate in a brownie or the sugar substitute Xylitol—dogs may be made to purge, she said.
In advance of legalization last month, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) issued a warning to pet owners explaining what can happen when pets ingest THC. It pointed to a fourfold rise in reported toxicity in dogs following legalization in Colorado.
The increase may be due in part to a growing social acceptance of the drug, said Varnhagen, and a willingness among pet owners to come clean when their pets get into their cannabis.
She warned that even second-hand smoke can cause respiratory harm in pets, which have “smaller lungs and much faster metabolism. They’re much less able to cope with smoke of any kind.”
The CVMA recommends smoking cannabis outdoors or away from pets.
The promise of CBD medications
While the risk of THC pet poisoning is one obvious downside to marijuana legalization, there is huge therapeutic promise in the plant’s other major cannabinoid—CBD, or cannabidiol, said Varnhagen.
As is the case with humans, there is growing anecdotal evidence of CBD’s effectiveness for anxiety, various forms of pain and inflammation, epilepsy and even some forms of cancer. Last summer the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of CBD to treat human epilepsy, the first time it has approved any cannabis-related drug.
“We’re doing really poorly with epilepsy in dogs and cats right now, and owners can’t afford the new drugs available for people,” said Varnhagen.
So far Health Canada has not approved any veterinary medicine with CBD, which has prompted some to use either unregulated or human products, such as tinctures and oils, on their pets, said Varnhagen. Although the law may soon change, veterinarians are currently prohibited from recommending CBD.
“The big problem is there’s very little quantitative research on it, and veterinarians are not part of the conversation,” said Varnhagen.
“We can’t even legally talk about it with clients,” unless they choose to bring it up themselves, she said. “A lot of our clients will say, ‘I put some CBD oil on my cat.’ You can’t say much, but I do say you have to be very careful about the essential oil that it’s in, because it can be toxic.”
Russell agreed giving pets CBD oil unapproved for animals could be risky, even if the cannabinoid itself is unlikely to cause harm.
“I’m worried about people giving pets oils—that’s where we will likely see an increase in toxicity cases,” she said, noting that human CBD products may still contain low levels of THC. “It’s hard to find those CBD products that are truly THC-free.”
Until cannabis-based medication for animals is legalized, both Russell and Varnhagen urge pet owners to talk to their vets first about CBD therapy before reaching for the oil.
“I want my clients to talk to me about it,” said Russell. “Even if we’re not allowed to prescribe it, they should be getting information about it from us, and only us. Even though our hands are tied for now, that’s going to change quite soon.”
Pet owners need to QUIT playing doctor with the lives of your pets! Do NOT get your knowledge from Facebook groups, Google or other search engines. Too many people are declaring themselves authorities who are NOT. THC will have an effect on your pets’ health that will make them sicker and sicker. Realize that you are not a doctor and please don’t try to be one. If you want to be, go back to school and get a degree! ~NationalAddictionNews.com