Marijuana and Pet Safety
In April 2017, the Ontario federal government introduced legislation to legalize cannabis (marijuana/pot). The legalization of marijuana is expected to go in to effect as early as July 2018. There will be many rules, laws and regulations pertaining to the sales, purchasing, and where the recreational use of cannabis will be permitted. There are and will be many questions with regards to the legalization of marijuana, it’s use, and the effects it can/does have on people, but what about our pets? As pet parents, do we need to be concerned for our pets health and safety when it comes to marijuana and possible exposure? What happens if our dog or cat is exposed to marijuana smoke and/or edible marijuana products?
On this episode of Vet Chat, I have asked Dr. Ryan Llera to weigh in on the topic of marijuana and the safety of our pets. What is it pet parents need to know, how concerned should we be, what if our pets are exposed to marijuana smoke, and what to do we do if our pets ingest edible marijuana products?
Marijuana and Pet Safety
It’s the modern day and more governments are legalizing marijuana. For years, people have been lighting up and living in constant fear their stash would be discovered or worse, eaten by their pets. Behind all the new legalization is the potential medical benefits for people, but what about pets? No, I’m not suggesting you grab a spot on the couch and light up a joint with your dog or cat.
Trying to get the medical benefits of marijuana for your pet is not as simple as feeding it to them or lighting up and blowing smoke in their face. On the contrary, either of these methods would be harmful or toxic to your pet. When a pet eats marijuana, it has a very typical presentation (so don’t lie to your veterinarian). Incoordination when trying to walk, dilated pupils, slower heart rate, and dribbling of urine are the main signs being seen. For small intoxications, monitoring may be sufficient but more severe cases may need more supportive care. Blowing smoke in their face isn’t going to get them high but it sure can cause some irritation to the airway, similar to asthma, or the eyes.
The prevalence of edible marijuana in the marketplace can lead to additional toxicities depending on the other ingredients (example = pot brownies can also cause chocolate toxicity). A quick search and I found cereal bars, gummy bears, cookies, butter, honey, and mock Pop Tarts. I even found candies containing xylitol (yes the same ingredient in sugar free gums that causes low blood sugar and liver failure). Any of these objects might be easily enjoyed by your pet. While the cannabinoid or THC component of marijuana isn’t likely to cause any permanent or lasting problems, the other components of the edibles could be quite sickening or potentially fatal. Like with all potential toxins, make sure to keep anything they might ingest out of reach.
So while research has been done to some extent, it’s been mostly for human benefit though a large portion of existing research was done on animals. There’s no doubt in my mind that at some point in my career I may end up prescribing cannabinoids for the benefit of a patient. And that’s where we need to focus….the actual cannabinoids that may benefit animals. Some doses are anecdotal and have not been established for all uses or specific cannabinoids. Hemp in itself does not have the psychotropic effects that marijuana does but it also has higher concentrations of the cannabinoids. The active ingredient in marijuana is THC and there are actually different forms of it that have varying effects.
The future of medical marijuana and pets could be interesting. Benefits could include appetite stimulation, anti-cancer properties, and relieving of anxiety to name a few. As of this point though, it’s not legal but also we don’t quite know enough to use it safely or effectively on a routine basis. So if you ask your veterinarian about using it in your pets, we aren’t allowed to prescribe or suggest it – not because we aren’t willing to try something that has been shown to have some benefits but because we could lose our licenses. Keep your stash safe and if your pet finds some be sure to contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Thank you to Dr. Llera for continuing to share and inform pet parents on the topic of pet health and wellness.
Dr. Ryan Llera is a small animal veterinarian at the Kingston Veterinary Clinic in Kingston, Ontario. Though originally from Florida, he married a Canadian (who is also a vet!) and they share their home with 2 cats, 2 dogs, 2 horses, and a rabbit. Ryan is also a regular guest writer for the Ontario SPCA blog. You can find more of his writing at drryanllera.com or see what else he is up to on Facebook & Instagram