Image via Roxana Gonzalez/Shutterstock
By Teresa K. Traverse
As marijuana is starting to be legalized throughout the country, it means that veterinarians will probably see an increase in pets accidentally ingesting the drug. So what should pet owners do if their dog eats marijuana? Can dogs get high? Does marijuana have harmful effects on dogs?
Find out what to do, why you shouldn’t treat your pet at home, and why you should never be afraid to bring your dog to the vet if you suspect they’ve eaten marijuana.
CBD Oil and Dogs
First, it is important to make the distinction between CBD oil and marijuana. You may have heard about CBD oil being used to treat certain ailments in dogs. Cannabidiol (CBD) oil is culled from marijuana or hemp plants, but it has very little to no amounts of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol)—the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that makes you high. So if a dog ingests CBD oil, they will not suffer from the same side effects that they would if they ingest marijuana.
Will Dogs Eat Weed?
Yes. Both vets we spoke to said they’ve seen dogs eat both raw leaf marijuana and “edibles,” or foods infused with marijuana. Can dogs get high from eating marijuana? The answer is yes, as well. However, while dogs can get high, it does not mean that it’s okay or that they find the effects of marijuana enjoyable.
Dr. Carly Fox, DVM, staff doctor at Animal Medical Center's Emergency and Critical Care Service in New York City, explains that, “It’s rarely fatal.” But to reiterate, when a human ingests marijuana, they know what they signed up for. That is not the case with dogs, and they can end up becoming very sick.
What Does Marijuana Exposure Look Like in Dogs?
Dr. Fox says that some of the marijuana effects that a dog may exhibit include ataxia (loss of coordination that can show up as an uncoordinated or “drunken” walk), incontinence and hypersensitivity to touch. They can also be especially hypersensitive to sounds. During a physical exam, a vet may also notice a slower heart rate and lower temperature than normal, Dr. Fox tells says.
Normally, your dog will recover within 12-24 hours. If your dog’s symptoms persist longer than that, it’s probably not marijuana, says Dr. Fox.
“If your dog does ingest pot, there's no way for you to know how affected they'll be unless you seek medical attention,” explains Dr. Fox. She also says that pet parents should not try to administer medications or induce vomiting at home. “Vomiting could be dangerous to them because it could result in aspiration [when food or other foreign bodies become lodged in the throat],” says Dr. Fox.
With edibles, you’ll also have to be careful of the other ingredients like chocolate or sugar, which can be harmful to dogs.
“If they get into a huge container of brownies, they're going to get a pretty massive dose of marijuana, but they're also going to get a ton of butter and grease and fat and a ton of other stuff that's bad for them,” says Dr. Tim Hackett, board-certified emergency and critical veterinarian and interim director of the Colorado State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital. He says that edibles tend to take a lot longer to leave an animal’s system since the THC in edibles is highly concentrated and dosed for an adult human, not an animal.
Don’t Be Afraid To Take Your Dog to the Vet
Since marijuana is still illegal in many places and others may judge you for having the drug, it’s understandable that many pet owners may feel ashamed or even afraid that there will be legal consequences. But both vets we spoke to assured us that this wasn’t the case.
“I've seen hundreds and hundreds of cases and not one has ever gone in a legal direction, ever,” says Dr. Fox. “Our biggest concern as veterinarians is treating the dog.”
The more honest an owner is about possible ingestion of marijuana, the less diagnostic testing will need to be run to rule out a neurologic or metabolic cause, and treatment can start more quickly.
How Vets May Treat Your Dog
If you bring your dog in to the vet within one to two hours of them eating marijuana, the vet may induce vomiting, but only if the marijuana hasn’t been absorbed yet. If the dog is exhibiting the symptoms mentioned above, the THC has already been digested, and it’s too late to induce vomiting, says Dr. Hackett.
The vet will probably offer supportive care and give intravenous fluids to help dilute the toxins and decrease the rate of absorption, explains Dr. Hackett. Your vet may also run a blood test or other diagnostic tests to rule out other toxins or even underlying metabolic or neurologic diseases, says Dr. Fox.
If your dog is unable to stand up, he or she will probably have to be admitted to the hospital, says Dr. Fox. If the dog is in severe shape, the vet may choose to give an IV lipid or fat. Marijuana is very fat soluble, and the theory is that a lipid injection will help trap or absorb the marijuana in the fat, explains Dr. Fox.
Since THC is a depressant that can suppress the gag reflex, the dog can’t vomit and expel the vomit, leading to respiratory failure, says Dr. Hackett. If the lungs are physically damaged due to aspirating or inhaling vomit, it can take days to weeks for them to heal, and can also be fatal. This can occur secondary to just about any poisoning and is a complication of surgery in any species, including people. In severe cases, a dog may be put into an oxygen case to support respiration, says Dr. Hackett.
Both vets suggested letting your pet stay overnight so they can be observed. If you bring them home, just pay close attention to your dog and follow your vet’s instructions.