Cannabis has been gaining widespread acceptance and usage over the years, but it is not just humans that are partaking in the trend. Many pet owners are administering cannabis-based products to their furry friends. While the potential benefits of cannabis for treating specific pet ailments are being studied, it is essential to note that cannabis intoxication in dogs is a serious concern.
As dogs have a more significant and complicated reaction to the plant's psychoactive component, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), it can lead to various symptoms that can be dangerous and even life-threatening.
A new study out of Canada has revealed a staggering increase in cannabis poisoning cases involving pets, especially dogs, since 2018. Although most of the cases reported were considered mild, the research published in PLoS One on April 20 highlighted a few fatalities resulting from marijuana consumption.
The primary culprit behind the euphoric or "high" feeling that people experience when using cannabis is the psychoactive component THC. However, this same ingredient also causes toxicosis, poisoning pets who ingest the drug in any form.
The surge in reported cases of cannabis poisoning seems to correspond with Canada's legalization of marijuana. Still, it's uncertain whether the rise in numbers is due to heightened prevalence or better reporting, says Jibran Khokhar, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Guelph's Ontario Veterinary College, and one of the authors of the research.
As per the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), about 37 states and four U.S. territories have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes. In comparison, 18 states and two territories have allowed the drug's recreational use.
In a recent study, researchers surveyed 251 veterinarians in Canada and the United States and analyzed the 2021 data to gauge the incidence and effects of marijuana toxicosis. Of the 283 reported cases, 226 (80%) were of dogs suffering from poisoning.
The report's authors noted that most poisonings happened when pets ingested cannabis edibles in their owners' absence. Dr. Khokhar added that pets consumed cannabis through other oral means, such as discarded joints, human feces, cannabis-infused butter or oil, and even compost.
The American Kennel Club has cautioned that all parts of the marijuana plant, including the seeds, leaves, stems, and flowers, are toxic to dogs.
As per Dr. Khokhar, most of the recorded cases of poisoning were mild and necessitated only outpatient observation and primary care. While a handful of pets died from cannabis intoxication, the authors admitted that underlying conditions could have contributed. These conclusions align with similar findings from previous research and entities. For instance, the Animal Poisoning Control Center reported a 765% increase in calls concerning pets consuming marijuana in 2019 versus the prior year's corresponding period.
As the popularity of cannabis-based products continues to soar, the study's authors emphasize the necessity for further research into the drug's impact on pets. The aim is to aid veterinary operations, institute regulations, and protocols, and safeguard pets' health.
Dr. Khokhar suggests that "pet-proof packaging and heightened precautions to limit access" would be beneficial. Furthermore, the general public must be educated on pets' probable symptoms after marijuana ingestion.
If you suspect your furry friend has unintentionally consumed marijuana in any form, the American Kennel Club has listed some signs and symptoms. These include stumbling, uncoordinated movement, slow reflexes, crossing over feet, enlarged pupils, vomiting, urinary incontinence, shaking or trembling, and agitation.
The symptoms usually surface within half an hour of ingestion, although the onset can be quicker if the cannabis is consumed via smoke inhalation. While severe cases are uncommon, it is recommended that you contact your veterinarian if you suspect that your pet has ingested marijuana.
Dr. Stacy Meola, a criticalist at Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital in Colorado, sheds light on the common symptoms of cannabis poisoning in dogs. "The most frequent sign is stumbling and walking like they are intoxicated (ataxic)," she states. The study revealed that around 88% of the dogs presented this symptom. Additionally, roughly 50% of the canines appeared listless and dull with enlarged pupils and responded by recoiling to rapid movements directed at their faces.
Dr. Meola also notes that the most intriguing symptom in dogs is urinary incontinence. The study showed that nearly half of the canines studied uncontrollably dribbled urine when under the influence of marijuana. If 50% of people experienced urine leakage after using marijuana, my guess is the drug would not be as popular, she adds.
The treatment plan for dogs suffering from marijuana poisoning varies depending on the severity of the symptoms. While some pets can be treated at home as outpatients, others may need hospitalization for IV fluids and supportive care. In severe cases, intralipid therapy is recommended to bind the marijuana and hasten its elimination from the body.
However, Dr. Meola explains that with proper care, most dogs will fully recover within one to two days.
While marijuana toxicosis is usually not fatal, the combination of the drug with chocolate or artificial sweeteners like Xylitol can be dangerous for dogs, according to Dr. Meola. This is often seen in brownies or cookies containing marijuana and these toxic ingredients. Additionally, medical-grade marijuana butter products often used in baking can increase dogs' risk of more severe symptoms. Pet owners must be aware of the potential risks and take appropriate precautions to keep their pets safe.
No matter how your dog comes in contact with marijuana, seeking veterinary advice is always recommended, says Dr. Meola. The potency of marijuana varies, and the amount of edibles is not regulated, making it difficult to determine how much your dog has ingested. Furthermore, there is no known toxic or fatal dose for inhaled or ingested marijuana, so a professional must evaluate your pet.
Cannabis intoxication in dogs is a severe concern that pet owners should learn about. With the increasing legalization of marijuana in various states, it is essential to be vigilant and prevent dogs from accessing these products. The symptoms of cannabis toxicosis can vary from mild to severe, and prompt veterinary care is crucial in all cases.
Pet-proof packaging, greater care to reduce access, and public awareness campaigns are needed to prevent accidental ingestion of cannabis by pets. With proper treatment, most dogs will fully recover. Still, it is always best to err on the side of caution and seek veterinary advice if there is any suspicion of marijuana ingestion.