What To Do in Case of Marijuana Intoxication
By: Christine New, DVM
Published December 2015
Marijuana in all forms is toxic to dogs and cats. Marijuana ingestion occurs much more commonly in dogs than in cats because dogs tend to be less scrupulous in the things they eat. After consuming marijuana, dogs typically show clinical signs within 30 to 90 minutes. Signs include wobbliness and incoordination, drowsiness, jitteriness, restlessness and hypersensitivity to touch, sound and lights, meaning they startle easily. Dogs may urinate on themselves, have low heart rates and dilated pupils.
Veterinarians are not required to report pet marijuana ingestion to law enforcement. If there is a possibility that marijuana was in the pet’s environment, it is best to be honest and forthcoming so prompt and appropriate treatment can begin. Similarly, you should disclose any other possible drug ingestion (illicit or prescription) to your veterinarian. If there is marijuana in your pet’s environment and your pet is not acting normally, you should assume your pet has access to it. Remember, dogs can be adept in gaining access to things they would like to eat.
If marijuana ingestion is suspected, a urine sample can be tested to confirm exposure and likely intoxication. Human urine drug tests can be purchased without a prescription from any drug store as well as the pharmacy section of many grocery stores. Human urine drug tests are highly accurate at detecting marijuana and other drugs in your pet’s urine. If there is a suspicion that your pet may have ingested a drug, your veterinarian may ask you to provide a urine drug test while clinic staff members obtain a urine sample for testing. Urine drug tests provide accurate results within five to 10 minutes.
Treatment for marijuana intoxication is focused on removing the marijuana from your pet’s body. If ingestion occurred within 30 minutes of the time of presentation and your pet is alert and appears to be acting normal, your veterinarian may induce vomiting to remove as much of the material as possible prior to absorption. This greatly reduces the potential for toxicity. Owners should not attempt to make dogs vomit since serious and potentially life-threatening complications such as choking and aspiration can occur.
Your veterinarian may recommend hospitalization of your pet for 12 to 24 hours for close monitoring. Additional treatments that may be administered include intravenous (IV) fluids and oral activated charcoal, which can further help absorb the marijuana in your pet’s system. IV fluids hasten the excretion of the drug in your pet’s urine while activated charcoal binds to the drug within the gastrointestinal tract to further reduce absorption and aid in excretion in subsequent stools.
Close monitoring of your pet’s body temperature, heart rate and breathing are also needed until the marijuana has been cleared from your pet’s body and your pet returns to normal. Marijuana is a powerful sedative, and at high doses, it can induce a life-threatening coma. With appropriate, interventional care by a veterinarian, marijuana toxicity is almost never fatal. Long-term side effects are extremely rare.
Dr. Christine New practices veterinary medicine at the Hillside Veterinary Clinic in Dallas.
You may not know what to do if your dog eats weed, but pet marijuana intoxication can be serious and demands attention; here's what you'll need to do.
What To Do If Your Dog Eats Weed
It was supposed to be a fun, carefree weekend. Sarah was hosting friends from out of town at her home in Nashville, and one of them had surprised the group with gummy edibles purchased in California.
The visit took a turn, however, when Sarah’s 3-pound Pomeranian-Chihuahua mix, Beans, got into the gummies and ingested about 50 milligrams of THC, the component in weed that gets you high. He quickly started showing signs that something was off ― drooling, impaired motor skills, inability to close his mouth, heavy eyelids.
“I felt so guilty! And just panicked!” Sarah, who wished to withhold her last name to talk about the incident, told HuffPost. “It was horrible because he looked so pathetic and out of it. In the moment, it was nothing short of harrowing.”
This kind of experience is becoming increasingly common as more states legalize recreational marijuana and the cannabis industry grows. In 2019, the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center observed a 765% rise in calls about marijuana ingestion by animals over the same period last year, and Pet Poison Helpline has reported a 448% increase in marijuana cases over the past six years.
“Anecdotally, I’d say I’ve seen it becoming more common over the last two to three years,” Kenneth Drobatz, a p rofessor of critical care at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, told HuffPost. “We probably see a few of these cases a month.”
So what should you do if you find yourself in this situation with your dog? HuffPost asked Drobatz and other experts to share their recommended course of action.
Be Aware Of The Signs
Though pet owners may witness their dogs in the act of consuming cannabis edibles, there are many cases in which they aren’t aware of what has happened. It’s important to be aware of the signs of marijuana exposure.
“The effects of THC in pets can vary based on how much they consume and the level of concentration,” said Gary Weitzman, president and CEO of the San Diego Humane Society . He noted that signs include loss of balance, sensitivity to movement and sound, disorientation, hyperactivity, unusual or increased vocalization, drooling, uncontrolled urination, muscle tremors and, in rare cases, seizures or even a coma.
“They’re often wobbly and blinking. They can look very abnormal,” Drobatz said. “They clearly have this look like they’re looking around and not aware of what’s going on around them.”
If you know or suspect that your dog has consumed cannabis, it’s important to respond quickly.
“Marijuana on its own can be highly toxic for dogs, but some of the ingredients in edibles, like chocolate or the sugar substitute Xylitol, can be deadly,” said Michael San Filippo, a spokesperson for the American Veterinary Medical Association.
“Even without a concern about these added edible ingredients, marijuana on its own is a threat to our pets’ health,” he added. “Marijuana affects dogs differently than it does people. Some people think their dogs are experiencing the same high that people do. They’re not; they’re scared and sick and potentially in danger.”
Although these cases are very rare, there have been reports of pets dying after ingesting large amounts of THC, so medical interventions can be critical.
If you’re able to act within 15 minutes of ingestion, you should try to induce vomiting to get the marijuana out of the dog’s system.
Weitzman noted that hydrogen peroxide can help. “Give one teaspoon of 3% hydrogen peroxide orally per 10 pounds of dog. Your dog should throw up within about 15 minutes,” he said.
Seek Professional Treatment
If you’re unable to make your dog vomit, veterinary hospitals have drugs that can induce emesis quickly. Even if your dog vomits at home, Weitzman advised taking the animal to a professional for further treatment.
“When your pet ingests any toxic substance, it’s crucial to get to your vet or an emergency vet hospital right away for treatment. It could save your pet’s life,” he said, adding that the ASPCA’s Poison Control Center hotline is a helpful resource as well.
San Filippo emphasized that dog owners should not be afraid to tell a veterinarian what happened ― even if they were unlawfully in possession of the marijuana. “We don’t have any interest in turning you in; we just want to save your dog’s life and help them recover.”
Let The Vet Determine A Plan
Drobatz explained that veterinarians may induce vomiting, but if too much time has passed, they’re hesitant because the dog could potentially aspirate.
Other courses of action include IV fluids and multiple doses of activated charcoal, which can bind to toxins and prevent them from being reabsorbed.
“There is no ‘antidote’ to marijuana, but veterinarians can limit the effects by decreasing further absorption of ingested marijuana through the use of activated charcoal and other methods of supportive care to keep them safe, comfortable and confined until they metabolize the drug,” San Filippo said.
“In some severely affected dogs, we may do intralipid therapy, but that’s rare,” Drobatz noted. “Most dogs just get IV fluids and monitoring.”
Make Sure It Won’t Happen Again
The process doesn’t end once your dog is happy and healthy again. Some pets will try to eat pretty much anything within their reach, even after a bad experience, so be mindful of where you keep things that could harm them.
“Just as you would with your medications, you want to keep marijuana and marijuana edibles safely out of reach,” San Filippo said. “Don’t get careless or lazy and leave loose joints or edibles out on a table or counter where curious dogs can easily reach them. They should be safely stored where dogs can’t reach and clearly labeled so other people know what these products are so they don’t leave them out for dogs to reach.”
Drobatz noted that household changes can lead to this situation as well. “We see this a lot during the holiday season when kids come home from college and bring home brownies or something like that,” he said.
Sarah’s dog vomited after ingesting her friend’s gummies, and after 24 hours of monitoring, he leaped out of bed and ran into the yard like any other day. Though she is grateful her dog didn’t suffer any long-term effects, Sarah told HuffPost that the experience taught her a valuable lesson.
“If I ever had anything like that again, I would definitely keep it secured in a high place in my kitchen where no animals can reach,” she said. “I’ve learned that if it’s in the house, the dogs are vulnerable.”
Veterinary experts share their advice for handling this increasingly common situation.