The Pet Poison Hotline reports that over the last five years, there has been a 200% increase in the amount of calls they have received regarding cannabis toxicity in pets. And now that 20 states and Washington, D.C., have laws legalizing some form of cannabis, you can bet that those numbers will rise even higher.

Dogs are notorious for their indiscriminate palates and their penchant for human food. Digging in the trash for discarded treats seems to be some dogs’ main motivation for living! Because of their counter surfing ways, dogs make up 96% of all cannabis toxicity cases. Though cats are known for their curiosity, cannabis seems to be one thing they couldn’t care less about—cats make up only 3% of cases, with other species rounding out the last 1% of cannabis toxicity cases.

How to protect your pet

Because dogs are apt to eat anything, dog owners in states where cannabis is legal should be particularly vigilant. While people typically don’t purposely throw large amounts of pot away, it can and does happen from time to time, and loose joints can be lost on the street easily. While walking your dog, make sure he doesn’t scarf up anything that could be potentially dangerous.

Discarded food products made with pot are especially tempting for pets. From cookies to brownies to butter made with cannabis, this food has the same potential to make your pet sick that loose pot does.

Sometimes it’s not even a pet’s fault that they have been exposed to cannabis. Well-meaning owners administer tinctures or edibles to pets thinking that it will help their pain. Not only is there insufficient research that cannabis works the same way for pain in our pets as it does for humans, our pets lack the liver enzymes to metabolize the active ingredient in cannabis (THC), making them especially prone to dangerous overdoses.

Signs and symptoms of cannabis poisoning

Though cannabis poisoning can make our pets very sick, luckily it is rarely lethal. Up to 99% of dogs will show neurologic signs much like those that you would expect for humans exposed to THC: incoordination, stupor, slow heart rate, and dilated pupils. We see gastrointestinal signs like vomiting in about 30% of patients, and the tell-tale bloodshot eyes can also occur.

Signs can be seen anywhere between five minutes to 96 hours after ingestion, but most pets will show signs within the one- to three-hour mark.

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Diagnosis and treatment

If you suspect that your pet has ingested cannabis, speak up. Your veterinarian is there to help your pet, not to judge you. Beating around the bush will only end up costing you time and money — and put your pet at greater risk — while your vet runs diagnostic tests to try to find a cause for your pet’s behavior.

Once diagnosed, your veterinarian may try to induce vomiting to reduce the effects of THC. However, the anti-nausea properties of THC will make that difficult, especially if the effects of the drug have already set in. Keeping a careful eye on your pet while he recovers from his “adventure” is important, and supportive care may be needed in pets who have ingested very high doses of the drug.

As more states consider legalizing cannabis, medical or otherwise, the chances for pet exposure will rise — just one more reason to watch what your pet eats!

Mar 5, 2014
Pet Health

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