The legalization of medical marijuana in Massachusetts has pet parents wondering about its potential harm for cats and dogs. Recently, I have had to treat several patients with symptoms similar to different types of poisoning. The truth is pot poisoning is real and is extremely anxiety provoking when it occurs.
Marijuana toxicity is a serious medical problem that has been on the rise since medical and recreational use of the drug has become legal across the U.S. In fact, a recent study published by the Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care reported that the number of dogs treated for marijuana poisoning quadrupled in Colorado, following the legalization of medical marijuana there. Pet Poison Helpline also reported a 200 percent increase in the number of marijuana cases seen in recent years.
Marijuana poisoning most commonly occurs as a result of oral ingestion. Dogs especially enjoy the taste of marijuana and will often eat any form they can get their paws on, including buds, plants, joints and even baggies. Of course, this list also includes baked goods containing marijuana, such as cookies or brownies.
Symptoms of marijuana toxicity include:
Stumbling or staggering
Disorientation or incoordination
Sleepiness or lethargy
Agitation or excitement
Incontinence or urine dribbling
Dilated pupils or glassy eyes
Low blood pressure
Low body temperature
While pets suffering from marijuana poisoning may look and act like inebriated humans, it is important to remember that they are not having fun. They are extremely anxious and neurologically impaired.
Treatment for marijuana poisoning may include induced vomiting, administration of activated charcoal, hospitalization and supportive care, such as IV fluids. It can take 24 to 72 hours for a pet to recover.
Despite widespread claims that medical marijuana and other related products, such as hemp oil, are beneficial for pets, the truth is that much more clinical research is needed. Most of these claims are based upon anecdotal “evidence,” trial and error and little else. In reality, there is very little scientific evidence that supports the efficacy—and more importantly, safety—of these products. The bottom line: until we know more, giving marijuana as medicine puts our pets at risk.
If you suspect your dog has ingested marijuana, get to a veterinarian immediately. While most owners are embarrassed to admit that their dog is stoned, it is very important to be upfront about marijuana poisoning as the signs of toxicity so closely resemble many other neurologic conditions. Keep in mind that we cannot effectively help your pet if we do not know what we are treating.
Remember that our priority is your pet's well-being. Veterinarians are not obligated to report cases of marijuana toxicity to the police and have no interest in pursuing any legal action against you. In recent years, pot has become legal in many states and is commonly used recreationally and as a medical treatment for people.
Dr. Lamb is the Veterinarian at the Manchester Animal Hospital.