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Over the past few decades, marijuana—a slang term for cannabis—has undergone a change of reputation. It was first criminalized in the US in the 1970s, despite serving as a textile product and herbal medicine dating back to 500 BC. In the 1990s, some states began legalizing cannabis for medicinal use. Today, many states—including California—have fully legalized marijuana use for medicinal and recreational purposes.

Increased accessibility to this drug has increased the risk of accidental pet exposure. It doesn’t help that some dogs are attracted to the scent of marijuana and will go looking for it. Learn how marijuana intoxication can affect cats and dogs and how the condition is treated.

How Marijuana Affects Pets

Cats and dogs may be exposed to cannabis by breathing second-hand smoke, eating baked goods or candy containing marijuana (known as edibles), or ingesting cannabis in any form. Because pets are smaller than humans and have more cannabinoid receptors in the brain, marijuana is more toxic to cats and dogs than people.

Luckily, marijuana intoxication is seldom fatal to pets. Still, deaths have occurred following ingestion of foods containing highly concentrated medical-grade tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Watch for these symptoms of marijuana exposure:

  • Wobbly, uncoordinated movements
  • Disorientation
  • Hyperactive behavior or lethargy
  • Fast or slow heart rate
  • Low or elevated blood pressure
  • Increase or decrease in body temperature
  • Loud vocalizations
  • Dilated pupils
  • Excessive drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Urine leakage
  • Slowed breathing
  • Tremors, seizures, and coma (in severe cases)

How Marijuana Intoxication is Treated

When cats and dogs are exposed to toxins of any kind, the first step is to get the toxin out. Here’s how veterinarians treat marijuana intoxication in pets:

  • Induce vomiting to prevent further absorption (if cannabis intoxication is discovered quickly and ingestion was the method of exposure)
  • Administer activated charcoal every six to eight hours to help neutralize the toxin
  • Inject fluid into the large intestine, a process known as an enema, to reduce toxin absorption from the gastrointestinal tract
  • Pump the stomach (only necessary in life-threatening situations)

Once the vet has delivered the preferred treatment method, supportive care is provided until the uncomfortable effects of the drug wear off. This may include the following:

  • Medications to regulate the animal’s heart rate, respiration, and body temperature
  • IV fluids to prevent dehydration, support healthy blood pressure, and maintain organ function
  • Anti-anxiety medication to minimize agitation
  • Confinement in a safe, quiet, comfortable space

If you think your dog or cat has ingested marijuana, don’t be afraid to discuss the issue with your vet. Accurate and complete information is imperative to diagnose your pet’s condition quickly and provide effective treatment. Remember, Dr. Reed and his staff are here to treat your pet for possible marijuana toxicity while maintaining your privacy. To request emergency vet care, please call us in Campbell, CA at 408-369-1788 or in Saratoga, CA at 408-647-2906. You can also reach us online.