By Dr. Lindsay Piotrowski, DVM
Emergency Veterinary Intern
Given the recent increase in medical marijuana use as treatment for several human conditions, our pets are very vulnerable to marijuana/THC toxicity, as these products are more easily accessible to them. We have seen several cases of marijuana/THC toxicity come through the door of our ER at AMVS this summer. I hope that this article will help to shed some light on this somewhat controversial topic and give pet owners some information about what marijuana ingestion does to our furry friends.
The active chemical in marijuana is THC (tetrahydrocanna- bivarin). In humans and animals, this compound acts within the brain and causes a subjective change in perception and mood as well as containing psychedelic/hallucinogenic properties. There are currently several forms of marijuana used by humans, some of which can be made into candies, baked goods, tea, tinctures to name a few, or, most commonly, the flowering bud is used for smoking. Because of the explosion of edible marijuana products in recent years, there has been an influx of marijuana toxicity cases seen at veterinary hospitals throughout the U.S.
When it comes to marijuana exposure in pets, dogs account for up to 96% of the exposures; cats account for 3%. This is likely due to the fact that most dogs will eat just about anything they can find on the floor, counters and under furniture, which agrees with the statistic that most toxicity cases are the result of an animal ingesting any given form of the marijuana. Each of the different forms of marijuana has a different level of potency, so knowing which form your pet may have been exposed to will be helpful for your veterinarian when they are recommending treatment. THC can cause a wide range of serious symptoms in our pets. These symptoms include: wobbliness, urine dribbling, tremors/twitching, seizures, dilated pupils, inability to get up, slow heart rate or fast heart rate, hyperactivity, agitation, inability to regulate body temperature, depression and vomiting. The onset of effects occurs within 30 to 90 minutes after ingestion or exposure and symptoms can last up to 72 hours, given the long length of time that THC is active in the body.
When any animal is suffering from marijuana/THC toxicity or ingests any form of the substance, treatment by a veterinarian is almost always necessary, even if they are not showing any side effects of the drug. Although there is no specific antidote for marijuana toxicity, treatment is aimed at minimizing continued absorption of the drug and offering supportive care. If the ingestion occurs within 30 minutes of getting your pet to the vet and your pet is not showing signs, your vet will likely try to induce vomiting in an effort to expel the drug. Activated charcoal is usually given every 8 hours to hamper further absorption of the drug within the body. If your pet is already showing signs of exposure (as listed above), hospitalization may be necessary for intravenous fluid therapy and for symptomatic treatment of these side effects, especially if your pet is having seizures, twitching/tremors or other severe neurologic signs (inability to walk, hyperactivity) or gastrointestinal signs (vomiting). Anti-seizure medications are often used in the hospital to control seizures, and anti-emetics (anti-nausea medication) are frequently used to control vomiting in those symptomatic patients. If there is a question about what your dog may have been exposed to, THC can be detected in the urine of animals and urine drug screening tests are sometimes used to confirm a diagnosis of marijuana/THC toxicity to help guide treatment recommendations.
The length of treatment of your pet depends on several factors: how much marijuana your pet was exposed to, how symptomatic he/she is, their age and any concurrent health problems. However, keep in mind that each animal will react to THC differently and some may be more sensitive than others.
To keep this from happening to your pet, prevention is the key. If there is any form of marijuana in your home, make sure it is completely out of reach. If you suspect your pet has ingested marijuana, it is imperative you inform your veterinarian so that proper treatment can be administered. Your pet will thank you!
AMVS is a 24-hour veterinary facility providing specialty internal medicine, surgery, emergency and critical care, physical rehabilitation, pain management, and blood bank services for pets. They are located in Longmont at 104 S. Main St. For more information, go to www.AspenMeadowVet.com.