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Marijuana Toxicity

We are seeing something new when it comes to pet poisoning. Well, actually,

marijuana toxicity isn’t new, but we are seeing it more commonly as it becomes

increasingly legal and its use becomes more widespread. In Colorado, where

recreational marijuana is legal, Veterinarians report seeing anywhere from a

couple of cases per month to a case every other day in some areas. The good

news is that, although it can be fatal in severe cases, most animals will

survive marijuana poisoning.

There are lots of videos on youtube showing people laughing at their

intoxicated pets, but if you look closely, the pet’s aren’t laughing. Symptoms

of marijuana toxicity are anxiety, panting, dilated pupils (or small pupils in

some cases) vocalizing, drooling, vomiting and diarrhea, dribbling urine or

losing bowel and bladder control, hypothermia (low body temperature), low

blood pressure, dangerously low heart rate, seizures and sometimes coma and

death. Symptoms can last anywhere from a few hours to several days. Since

chocolate is also toxic to pets, edible marijuana in chocolate is doubly


Many other substances can cause symptoms similar to marijuana poisoning,

including stimulants such as ephedrine, amphetamines, nicotine and chocolate,

opioids, valium, antidepressants, certain insecticides, some rat poisons,

alcohol and antifreeze. It is very important to let your veterinarian know any

possible poison that may have been involved, legal or not. Veterinarians are

not the police, we are not legally obligated to report marijuana exposure and

we are not here to judge you. We just need the right information in order to

give your pet the proper treatment.

If you bring your pet in with suspected poisoning, we will do a physical exam,

induce vomiting if the marijuana was eaten and might still be in the stomach,

and run blood tests to check for any damage or problems with internal organs

such as the liver or kidneys. If marijuana ingestion is not certain, but

suspected, the urine tests used to detect marijuana in humans can also be used

to confirm a diagnosis of marijuana toxicity in dogs and cats (although in

some cases false negative tests can occur).

If you see your pet ingesting an edible form of marijuana bring it to your

veterinarian as quickly as possible. We can induce vomiting and hopefully

prevent the toxicity before it starts. There is no antidote for marijuana, but

we can give activated charcoal to help prevent additional absorption of the

substance into the body. After that, it is a matter of supporting your pet

until the toxin is out of its system. We do this by giving intravenous fluids,

carefully monitoring and regulating body temperature and giving medication to

normalize the heart rate if it falls too low. In some cases, control of

seizures and assistance in breathing is also required.

Few things in life are completely bad. At the same time it is a toxin,

marijuana is also used to treat medical conditions such as chronic pain,

seizures, the symptoms of cancer and the side effects of cancer treatment in

people. At this writing, it is illegal for veterinarians to prescribe or

recommend marijuana treatment for pets, but people with a medical marijuana

prescription are taking the initiative with some anecdotal success. If you

choose to do this, be very careful. Therapeutic doses in dogs and cats are

empirical only, meaning they have not been studied or determined with any

certainty. Be aware at all times that marijuana can cause serious toxicity.