Sick cat

Marijuana exposure in pets, as reported to the ASPCA’s Poison Control Hotline, is becoming more frequent. Since 2009, calls reporting marijuana exposure have steadily risen by 50 percent. It is unknown if there truly is an increase in the number of animals who are exposed to the substance or if instead, with the recent legalization of marijuana for medical use in many states, people are just becoming more likely to admit that it has happened. Most reported cases in pets are due to the ingestion of marijuana plant materials or edibles, such as brownies and cookies, containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Sedation or Agitation

The most common side effects of marijuana intoxication are “drunkenness” (with pets appearing impaired and uncoordinated), sedation and urinary incontinence. THC and other cannabinoids affect the central nervous system, causing disruption of normal movement and behavior. However, about 25 percent of pets who ingest THC become stimulated instead — with agitation, vocalization and high heart rates as possible side effects. The most severely affected animals are typically the ones who have consumed marijuana edibles. These products can have very high levels of THC. There have even been some dog deaths reported after eating cookies or brownies made with marijuana butter because pets, unlike humans, think nothing of opportunistically wolfing down an entire pan of edibles.

While dogs are the most common pets to ingest marijuana, cats will eat the plant material. Because of their apparent lack of a sweet tooth, however, they are less likely to consume the more tempting edibles. After ingestion, pets can become affected in minutes to hours, and signs can last for hours.

If your pet is unable to walk or cannot be roused after being suspected of ingesting marijuana, contact your veterinarian immediately. Please be aware that veterinarians are not required to contact the police, even in states where marijuana is illegal. It is most important that your pet gets medical assistance. Affected animals should have their heart rate and blood pressure monitored. Treatment for marijuana intoxication can include confinement to prevent injury, intravenous fluids to keep the blood pressure normal and medications to lower the heart rate. Severely affected animals may benefit from intravenous lipid emulsions to help decrease the amount of circulating cannabinoids in the pet’s system.

A Pet Pain Reliever?

Given marijuana’s usage in humans for problems such as chronic pain, especially back pain, some people have logically asked, “What about using marijuana as a pain control option for my pets?” At this point, more research is needed in this area to provide an answer. There is no known appropriate dose for pets, and the raw plant material has variable amounts of cannabinoids in it. If you are concerned about your pet’s comfort level, speak with your veterinarian and use one of the many available medications, such as opioids, gabapentin or NSAIDs, that have been shown to be safe and effective for managing pain in animals.

Finally, as with any potentially toxic substance, always keep marijuana and marijuana-laced food items out of the reach of pets and children. While the trend toward legalization in many states may make marijuana more available in many homes, remember that it remains a highly toxic substance for pets.

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