Dr. Corinna Jensen: Marijuana toxicity in pets


With the increasing availability and legalization of marijuana comes increasing risk of our pets being exposed to various goods containing marijuana. Although rarely deadly, medicinal marijuana or those products with high concentrations have the potential to be fatal. 

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Marijuana toxicity is most commonly seen in dogs. Rarely, cats will also be exposed. The most common products pets will get themselves into are baked goods and baking butters, although some will inhale marijuana smoke, or consume the marijuana itself.  Keeping all marijuana-containing products out of reach of your dog or cat is the best prevention.

Signs of toxicity seen in your pet will depend on when exposure was, and how much exposure they had. Each pet can respond differently to similar amounts of exposure. Typically, however, marijuana has a high margin of safety.

It’s very important that if your pet has been exposed to marijuana, that you seek veterinary attention and let your veterinarian know that exposure has occurred. Although marijuana toxicity is relatively straightforward to treat, other more life-threatening medical conditions can show similar clinical signs that require much more extensive testing and treatment. 

If your pet has been exposed to marijuana, it will likely be uncoordinated and having a hard time walking. Usually pets become disorientated, are either hyperactive or very inactive, have dilated pupils, and may be vocal. Drooling and vomiting are also possible. In severe cases, tremors, seizures, and coma can occur.

Diagnosis is most often based of clinical signs and known exposure. There are some urine-based tests sometimes available, but the best confirmation is from accurate information and honesty from the pet’s owner.

If treatment is sought before clinical signs are seen, your veterinarian will usually induce your pet to vomit to minimize the amount of marijuana available to be absorbed through the intestines. If clinical signs are present, treatment often involves giving activated charcoal, intravenous fluids, monitoring body temperature, heart rate and breathing rate, keeping in a quiet, low-stimulation area, and giving medications if your pet is agitated.

Depending on the amount of exposure to marijuana, recovery is fairly quick. Usually within 12 to 24 hours most of the signs of toxicity have worn off, although it may take a little longer for some pets to completely recover. Marijuana is mostly metabolized by the liver and leaves the body when it is urinated out, however, a small amount is also present in the feces.

Prognosis for recovery is usually excellent following exposure to marijuana or marijuana products. Working with your veterinarian to confirm exposure is important, and minimizes a lot of other testing to search for a more dangerous cause that can show similar clinical signs.  Your veterinarian is looking out for your pet’s best interest, and in cases of marijuana exposure, will often rely on you to help diagnose the cause.

Dr. Corinna Jensen was born and raised in the Fort St. John Community and discovered her passion for veterinary medicine at an early age. In June 2015 she completed her dream of becoming a veterinarian and graduated from The Western College of Veterinary Medicine. She is excited and enthusiastic about joining the veterinary team as a mixed animal practitioner with special interests in beef cattle and small animal medicine and surgery.

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