In July of 2018, Canada will be legalizing marijuana. While this bill may be a welcome initiative for some, veterinarians across the country have been working hard to educate the public about the dangers of marijuana to their pets.
As we know, dogs, and sometimes but not often, cats, can be indiscriminate eaters and this can cause a lot of issues. Through my years as a veterinarian, I have come across many cases of pets getting into a multitude of objects, ingesting garbage, chocolate, socks, and more. These can all have negative effects on the animal including vomiting and diarrhea. Foreign objects can get stuck in the intestine which often requires surgery to remove. In the case of chocolate, dogs can exhibit seizure activity. Baked goods containing chocolate and marijuana can have very toxic effects. There have been many cases over the years of animals ingesting marijuana and this can have devastating effects on pets.
Most cases of marijuana toxicity in the pet come through ingesting the flowers and leaves or usually, by eating baked goods that contain marijuana. Animals can also have symptoms when the smoke is inhaled in a second-hand fashion. The main concern is that marijuana contains THC, a toxic substance to dogs and cats that has major effects on the brain. Signs can be seen within 5 minutes to 12 hours, but most of the clinical signs occur within 1-3 hours after ingestion. The duration of these signs can last from 30 minutes to 3 days depending on the amount of THC consumed. These signs can include depression, staggering, disorientation and coma. In most cases, the dog will become hypothermic; however, a big temperature increase can sometimes be seen. The heart rate can also become very rapid or very slow and pets will possibly vomit after ingesting marijuana.
When a pet presents at the clinic, they are most commonly staggering with glassy eyes and big pupils. With the issues surrounding legal possession, the hardest part is dealing with the owner’s reluctance to admit that the dog has ingested the drugs or baked goods. Questions which usually ended with, “Well, maybe my son had some in his room” will no longer be a problem for veterinarians as it will no longer be a legal issue. This will save time for the veterinarian and result in life saving treatment starting sooner, which can be crucial for the pet.
If the animal has not already, we attempt to get them to vomit which can sometimes be difficult as marijuana has some anti-nausea properties. Emptying out the stomach is only effective if it is done within the first two hours after being ingested. Any longer and the marijuana may have already left the stomach. Some cases require the animal to be anesthetized and their stomach contents flushed out. It is important to get animals that have ingested marijuana to the veterinary clinic immediately so that we can try to stop the digestion of the marijuana.
Once the contents of the stomach have been removed, supportive treatment can be given to the pet based on how badly they have been affected. Activated charcoal is often given to help stop the further absorption of THC into the blood stream from the intestine. They are often put on supportive care which includes oxygen therapy, temperature regulation, fluid therapy, and medications to help with vomiting. If the patient is very jittery or agitated, a sedative can be used to help relax and calm them. In cases where the pet becomes comatose, supportive care is also given until the THC clears the system. Hospitalization and very close monitoring and treatment are always necessary for these cases.
There is some anecdotal evidence that THC can aid dogs suffering from seizures or pain due to arthritis. However, there have been no approved clinical studies done at this time on the positive effects of THC in pets. These will probably be starting to come out in the near future and provide veterinarians with the information and knowledge they need to prescribe this medication to animals that might benefit from it. At this time there are many websites that promote THC oils for pets. It is recommended that you only use these oils when they have been discussed with or prescribed by a veterinarian with knowledge of how they work and when they are appropriate to use.
Regardless of the drug, we should still always be very careful with anything in the home. The fact that animals react to drugs very differently from humans should always be taken very seriously. It is very important with any known ingestion of marijuana, the pet be taken to a veterinary clinic as soon as possible. The amount of suffering that goes along with consumption is hard on the pet and the owner. The best way to prevent exposure is to make sure any marijuana products are kept safely away from pets. More often than not, animals ingest things that they shouldn’t. It is our responsibility as pet owners to protect our furry friends from any and all dangers that they may encounter. Most of our pets are high on life. Let’s keep them away from marijuana.
By Dr. Lesley Sawa, DVM
Animal Clinic of Regina