Marijuana and Pets

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Marijuana for Pets – Useful or Dangerous, or Both?

by Lorie Huston, DVM on May 24, 2014

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Whether you call it Mary Jane, hashish, hemp, THC, cannibis, or marijuana, there’s no doubt that this substance is commonly found and used for a variety of purposes, both medical and recreational. Not only is it used by people, it is increasingly becoming a treatment option for dogs and cats as well, though it remains highly controversial. Marijuana is increasingly being used medicinally in both people and pets. However, with easier access to marijuana comes an increase in the number of pets poisoned with an overdose of marijuana as well. Photo credit: DepositPhotos.com/sarra22

Marijuana is increasingly being used medicinally in both people and pets. However, with easier access to marijuana comes an increase in the number of pets poisoned with an overdose of marijuana as well.
Photo credit: DepositPhotos.com/sarra22

We’re not here to judge whether marijuana should be used on a recreational basis or whether it should be legalized. But the simple fact of the matter is that it has been legalized in many states (at least for medicinal purposes) and is readily available even in areas where it is not legal. Like any other drug, while the correct dose may be an effective treatment, larger doses can be toxic.

Uses of Marijuana in Pets

The use of marijuana as a medicinal drug in pets in controversial. Currently, to the best of my knowledge, it is not considered legal for us, as veterinarians, to prescribe marijuana for our four-legged patients. That being said, the substance is being used nevertheless. Part of the controversy is the fact that there is no standardized dosing. We do not know with certainty what the best dosage or dosage range is for pets being administered marijuana.

Still, there are various cannaboid products that are being researched and developed by the pharmaceutical industry. There is a patch that delivers marijuana transcutaneously (across the skin). There is also potential for a spot-on product, similar in many respects (in terms of mode of delivery) to the spot-on flea and tick preparations commonly available. When we’re talking about medical marijuana, we’re not necessarily talking about its use through smoke inhalation, which is not a practical solution for pets.

Potential uses for marijuana in pets are similar to those in humans. Pain relief, appetite stimulation, and fighting nausea are the most common uses.

Marijuana Overdosage in Pets

With the legalization of medical marijuana for people, poisonings in pets has increased as well. For instance, an article out of San Francisco by a local CBS affiliate reports that California is leading the nation in marijuana poisonings in pet dogs.

Marijuana poisoning is most likely to be caused by accidental ingestion of a pet owner’s marijuana (whether obtained legally or illegally) or through the purposeful administration of a toxic dose to a pet by a well-meaning but misinformed pet owner.

Signs of toxicosis usually occur within one to nine hours of ingesting marijuana, although symptoms can appear as quickly as 5 minutes after ingestion in some animals. Dogs are most often involved with marijuana poisoning but cats have been known to become intoxicated as well. Signs can last for several days.

Typical symptoms of marijuana poisoning include incoordination, listlessness, dilated pupils, slow heart rate and sometimes urinary incontinence. Vomiting may occur in some animals but marijuana actually has a protective effect against vomiting in most cases. While depression is most common in poisoned pets, some animals may become agitated rather than depressed. In extreme cases, coma and death can occur. Marijuana toxicity can look similar to intoxication with numerous other sedatives.

Treatment of Marijuana Poisoning in Pets

If your pet has consumed marijuana unintentionally, or has consumed more than the recommended amount if being used as a treatment, you should seek veterinary care for your pet. Even in areas where marijuana is not legalized, your veterinarian is not required to report marijuana ingestion or poisoning in pets. So there’s no reason to be afraid of getting into trouble with the law.

Treatment for marijuana toxicity depends on how much marijuana was ingested, how long ago the ingestion occurred, and the physical condition of your pet when presented to your veterinarian.

If a toxic exposure has occurred within the past 30 minutes, your veterinarian may induce vomiting to rid your pet of anything left in the stomach. If the exposure was more than 30 minutes ago, activated charcoal may be used to bind the toxic substance.

In extreme cases, hospitalization, fluid therapy, symptomatic treatment, and close monitoring may be required. Some pets may require sedation.

If treated early and aggressively, the prognosis is good. However, if left untreated, the result may be fatal.

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About Lorie Huston, DVM
Lorie Huston is an accomplished veterinarian, an award winning blogger, a talented author and a certified veterinary journalist. She is available for writing assignments, blogging and social media consultation, and SEO strategy.

This article is posted and shared through the courtesy of the Pet Health Care Gazette