As 4/20 a approaches, the unofficial holiday in which people celebrate marijuana, don’t forget to consider your dogs — and we don’t mean passing them the vape.
Indeed, as more states make pot legal, the number of cannabis dog poisoning has risen
“We are definitely seeing more suspected marijuana toxicity,” says Dr. Carly Fox, senior veterinarian in emergency medicine at the Schwarzman Animal Medical Center in New York City. “Since 2021, we have seen a 25% increase in cases through our emergency room.”
Some reports have seen the increase much higher. One study found that over the past six years, throughout the U.S. and Canada, there was a 448% increase, while the Animal Poison Control Center reported a 765% increase in calls pertaining to pets ingesting cannabis in 2019, compared to the year prior.
While pot has relatively low adverse effects in humans compared to other drugs (including alcohol and tobacco), for dogs, ingesting marijuana is a different story.
“Dogs metabolize THC [the chemical responsible for most of the intoxicating effects of marijuana] differently than people, and have more cannabinoid receptors on their brain, which mean the effects of the cannabis are more dramatic when compared to humans,” says Dr. Fox. “So even a small amount can cause toxicity in dogs.”
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And because a wide variety of edible cannabis products, including gummies, candy, baked goods, and chocolate, are readily available, dogs may get into a smorgasbord of goodies – and trouble. “Many THC edibles contain concurrent toxins to pets, like chocolate or xylitol. It’s not uncommon that dogs present with exposure to several toxins at once,” says Dr. Fox.
The Signs of Marijuana Poisoning in Dogs
Cannabis poisoning can manifest in different ways. Dogs may appear uncoordinated and wobbly when walking (or trying to walk). They may be hyperactive or exceedingly drowsy. They may whine, bark, moan, or cry.
“Dogs who ingest marijuana typically present to the veterinary ER showing similar acute, or sudden, clinical signs,” notes Dr. Fox. She adds that dogs are often uncoordinated in all four limbs, there is an excessive reaction to normal touch, and can experience urine leakage. They may also vomit or hypersalivate.
Other signs may include a fast or slow heart rate, tremors, seizures, altered blood pressure, a slow breathing rate, dilated pupils, lethargy, and a change in body temperature. Some dogs may even fall into a coma. However, these symptoms will often pass relatively quickly, though your dog will feel miserable. But each dog reacts differently; for some, the effects are extremely dangerous – and can be deadly.
What to Do If Your Think Your Dog Has Eaten Cannabis
“If you believe your dog has ingested marijuana, the best thing to do is to seek emergency veterinary care,” says Dr. Fox. “Do not try to induce vomiting at home. Since most of these dogs present with neurologic signs, inducing vomiting can lead to aspiration pneumonia, which can be life threatening.”
If you think your dog has been exposed, bring him or her to your veterinarian or an emergency animal hospital immediately. And don’t be afraid to tell the doctor your suspicion. “This allows us to direct treatment and avoid unnecessary testing,” says Dr. Fox. Holding back may prove deadly for your pooch. “Most dogs make a full recovery with treatment, however, in rare cases severe respiratory depression, seizures, and death can occur.”
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Treatment involves mostly supportive therapies including administering fluids to flush the system of the toxin, anti-nausea medication, and monitoring. Most dogs recover in 12 to 24 hours, Dr. Fox explains. “However, in some moderate to severe cases, we use intravenous lipid emulsion to help improve outcomes.” THC is readily dissolved in lipids, which are fatty compounds. “Giving the patient a concentrated lipid solution intravenously helps partition the toxin and prevents it from accumulating in target organs.” Dogs will typically stay in the hospital from 24 to 48 hours.
The best treatment is, of course, preventing your dog from getting into your stash. Keep all edibles locked away in a cabinet or drawer that you know your dog can’t access. “Never leave them on accessible surfaces,” Dr. Fox advises. “Dogs have an incredible sense of smell, so any edibles will be particularly temping to them.”
While many people celebrate 4/20 and consume marijuana during that day (and throughout the year), it is important to protect your dog from cannabis, because while you may like it, your bestie won’t.