How Cannabis (Previously Referred to as “Marijuana”) Can Affect Your Dog or Cat
Reviewed for accuracy on April 24th, 2020 by Zac Pilossoph, Fear-Free Certified DVM, CAVM
As medical and recreational-use cannabis has become legal and more societally accepted across the United States (with 11 states already approving recreational use so far), and with hemp-derived CBD (Cannabidiol) also being a part of this new wave as a potential solution for relieving pain, stress and other ailments, you may be wondering how cannabis and its various forms can affect your pet as well.
According to the Pew Research Center, about half of Americans have used cannabis at some point in their lifetime, and 16 percent have used it over the past year. Along with this, the Pet Poison Hotline has seen a 448% increase in reported cannabis cases over the past six years, with the majority of those cases involving dogs or cats ingesting food products that have some form of cannabis derivative added to it (i.e.”edibles”).
With so many different forms and methods of human cannabis consumption available these days, it is important for pet parents to become knowledgeable regarding the facts about cannabis. Although there is likely a bright future for safe cannabis application in the pet and veterinary community, at this point, much remains to be known about safety and efficacy. Therefore, being aware of the facts and knowing how to respond when concerns arise are the best ways to be prepared in current times.
First, and most importantly, there is an important difference between medical-grade cannabis, which contains high concentrations of THC (the “high”-producing molecule) and more benign parts of the plant such as hemp and CBD. Hemp and medical-grade cannabis are different cultivars of the same species, Cannabis sativa. Hemp is bred to have lower concentrations of THC and more cannabinoids.
Here are some of the most important questions we see with consumption of cannabis around a pet:
Can my pet get high if medical-grade cannabis is consumed?
Yes, they can, according to Leafly.com. However, in almost every case, this is not a desirable result. For reasons we do not completely understand as of yet, the effects of THC on our pet species does more to disturb and disorient them rather than calm them down like it does for many humans. Even a small amount can adversely affect your pet because dogs have far more cannabinoid receptors and metabolize cannabis differently than humans, so it can create a much more profound undesirable influence on a dog’s body.
Will secondhand cannabis smoke harm my pet?
In most cases, pet intoxication is a result of dogs or cats getting ingesting THC-containing edibles or smokable cannabis flower. Second-hand smoke from toking is LESS likely to get them high, Leafly says.
“That doesn’t mean smoke isn’t bad for them. Pets have very sensitive respiratory systems,” said Dr. Zac Pilossoph, a veterinarian and expert on pets and cannabis. Smoke can irritate your pet’s lungs, potentially causing a cough or exacerbating existing conditions like asthma. Your best bet is to smoke outside to reduce your pet’s exposure.
Most Common Symptoms of Cannabis Intoxication in Pets:
- Walking “drunk” or with a dazed expression (termed “static ataxia”)
- Lethargy or Hyperactivity
- Excessive vocalization
- Urine dribbling (i.e. inappropriate incontinence)
- Dilated pupils or glassy eyes
- Low heart and respiratory rates
In very extreme cases, other signs can include seizures and coma.
Clinical signs can be seen within minutes to hours depending on how the pet was exposed, Dr. Pilossoph states. Furthermore, as with humans, the signs associated with cannabis ingestion can vary widely depending on a number of factors. Age, breed, weight, activity level, and type of pet all affect the degree of cannabis influence and potential intoxication in a pet.
What should I do if my pet consumes medical-grade cannabis?
If you suspect your cat or dog has unintentionally ingested any form of cannabis, even a small amount, the first step is to contact the Pet Poison Helpline immediately and seek veterinary care. Consuming cannabis edibles can be life-threatening, depending on the ingredients in the edibles, such as if it has been cooked into brownies, cookies, or other edibles with components that are toxic to pets, like chocolate.
At this point, it is still not safe for pets to ingest cannabis intended for human consumption, in any form. Moreover, since veterinarians are currently not legally allowed to recommend, prescribe, administer, or endorse any medical-grade cannabis or hemp-derived products while in the clinical setting, the ability to acquire sound medical advice regarding responsible application is still quite limited. Therefore, if you believe that your pet needs treatment for cannabis intoxication, your Healthy Paws pet insurance plan can help cover much of the costs associated with treatment (exclusions may apply) including emergency veterinary care.
Do hemp-derived cannabidols work for pets?
Anecdotal evidence from a few published research papers have suggested that pet-specific products appear to produce positive results in some pets by alleviating symptoms of conditions like seizures and chronic arthritis pain. Like us, dogs have cannabinoid receptors, so there is a scientific basis for thinking that cannabis could help some of the same ailments for them as it does for humans. However, until more studies are performed and published, the safety and efficacy of cannabis and all its derivatives is still largely unknown and under debate. As with many other holistic and alternative veterinary treatments, medical marijuana has much less clinical oversight.
It is a rapidly changing industry, and while there are edible treats labeled as pet-safe, we still recommend not giving any substance for medical conditions.
Can I give hemp-derived products and CBD products to my pets?
Unlike medical-grade cannabis, hemp-derived products and CBD extracted from hemp do not contain much, if any THC. Thus, when it comes to the cannabis itself, there is no evidence proving that hemp can do any harm. However, hemp products have not been FDA approved for pets and there currently is no form of regulatory oversight for cannabis products for pets.
CBD-containing products, which is extracted from the flowers, leaves, stems, and stalks of matured hemp plants, is legal in all states as long as it contains a total THC percentage of 0.3% or below.
What is hemp oil?
Hemp oil is just a nutrient-rich oil that’s been extracted from the seeds of the industrial hemp variety of the cannabis plant. There is not much research into its uses for either people or pets, but some pet parents have claimed that it helps their pets as topical, nourishing oil.
What precautions should I take to keep medical-grade cannabis away from my pets?
Like any products, plants or medications dangerous to pets, you should store them in a place out of paws’ reach – a tall shelf or a cabinet or drawer with a child lock is always a safe choice. Using a glass jar can act as an additional safeguard; even if your pet discovers your stash, the glass container and twist-off lid are impenetrable.
Cannabis-infused edible products pose a special danger, as many contain additional substances poisonous to pets. Cookies, brownies and candies containing chocolate or the sweetener xylitol can lead to a double dose of dangerous. If you suspect your pet has consumed a cannabis-infused product, especially one containing chocolate, contact the Pet Poison Hotline and seek immediate veterinary care.