Marijuana Threat to Your Dog


December 17, 2012 posted by Sara B. Hansen

By Christie Long

Because Colorado voters passed Amendment 64 in the November election, effectively legalizing the possession of small quantities of marijuana for recreational use, it’s probably a good time to revisit the topic of marijuana toxicity in pets.

A soon-to-be published paper in the Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care looks for a correlation between the number of medical marijuana users in Colorado from 2005 to 2010 and the number of marijuana toxicity cases seen at the CSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital during the same period. Not surprisingly, as the amount of medical marijuana licenses increased, so did the number of pot toxicities. Case numbers quadrupled during those years.

So it’s a pretty safe assumption that with the essential legalization of pot here in Colorado, we’re going to see more pets being poisoned. Once again our canine friends are typically the most at-risk, because they are much more likely than cats to be indiscriminate eaters. And while dogs will occasionally eat the straight plant, most toxicities occur when pot is baked into cookies, brownies, and other snacks. Often butter made with marijuana or pure THC (the component of marijuana responsible for its effects) is used in baking, and it creates quite a potent product.

Like many other toxins the severity of the effects of a marijuana poisoning depends on the dose, and what might hardly affect an eighty-pound Labrador retriever could be deadly to a tiny Yorkshire terrier. Dogs that have ingested a toxic dose of marijuana often look a lot like stoned people — they have trouble walking (and might prefer to sit or lie down), appear disoriented, and can be hypersensitive to touch or sound. With overdoses of greater magnitude, patients can become comatose and unresponsive, needing hospitalization with supportive care until the effects of the drug wear off. At very high doses, dogs have been known to experience cardiac and/or respiratory arrest, and occasionally even die.

Clearly the most prudent practices involve keeping these substances away from dogs, and certainly never intentionally feeding them, but accidents happen. Dogs have even been known to ingest marijuana left behind in parks or other public places, so keep your dog on-leash when out and about. If a veterinarian asks if pot toxicity is a possibility in your dog, be honest, so that appropriate treatment can begin immediately. We typically make these dogs throw up, then give activated charcoal by mouth, to decontaminate the gastrointestinal tract as much as possible and hopefully arrest the absorption of the drug into the system. In the case of a mild poisoning this may be all that’s necessary. Some dogs need intravenous fluids to speed elimination of the drug, Valium to calm the dog and control anxiety associated with its effects, and rest in a quiet, darkened kennel.

One veterinarian tells the story of a dog that was comatose for three days after ingesting marijuana. Supportive care included a urinary catheter and collection system and turning him every four hours. Eventually, he stood up and was fine.

Christie Long is a veterinarian at the VCA Animal Hospital in Fort Collins, CO. Long left her job in software sales in 2000 to travel for 13 months. Along the way, she was touched by the plight of the animals she saw and somewhere in the Nepalese Himalayas she vowed to return to school to become a veterinarian. While she often finds end-of-life situations heart-wrenching, she considers herself blessed to be called upon as a trusted adviser to families during difficult times. Dr. Long’s family includes her husband and travel partner, Wiley, their son, Wiley IV, their dogs Pancake and Gizmo and cats Sneaky and Sidh.

This article is posted and shared with the permission of Sara Hansen of Dog’s Best Life