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Marijuana For Pets: Benefits and Risks
A dog pictured next to a marijuana leaf.

As medical marijuana receives more attention, pet owners are starting to consider if it can help their furry friends too.

Dr. Katherine Kramer, a veterinarian in British Columbia, says the topic is becoming more and more popular. Years ago, pet owners would rarely ask about marijuana. These days, she gets asked at least once a week.

Animals can benefit from marijuana, but they are also at risk for health problems from it. Here, we explore some of the most common issues surrounding marijuana for pets.

Can Pets Get High From Marijuana?

Cannabis Strains
(Photo: Shutterstock)

Dogs and cats can ingest marijuana and become high in a number of ways, including:

  • Secondhand smoke
  • Eating leaves or buds directly
  • Ingesting food that contains marijuana

You may be wondering if your dog would enjoy the feeling of being high. Research shows that dogs can experience unpleasant side effects from smoking marijuana. So getting your dog high probably won’t be as fun as it would be for you.

Dogs can experience a number of symptoms and side effects after ingesting marijuana, including:

  • Lethargy
  • Panting/difficulty breathing
  • Panic/anxiety
  • Loss of balance
  • Loss of bladder control/urination
  • Sensitivity to noise

Like humans, many animals also have an endocannabinoid system and can be affected by marijuana. The endocannabinoid system is responsible for the effects of marijuana.

Marijuana interacts with the endocannabinoid system and produces the feeling of being high. This also provides relief from a variety of disorders such as epilepsy and anxiety.

Benefits of Marijuana For Pets

A photo of a dog treat with a marijuana leaf.
(Photo: Shutterstock)

Marijuana is not legally approved as a medication for animals, but this has not stopped people from using it.

Some pet owners have used marijuana to treat pain, seizures, anxiety and digestive problems in their pets with success.

Medical marijuana may be particularly helpful for treating pain in cats. Cats are typically very sensitive to other pain medications, making conventional treatment a challenge.

But in Canada and the U.S., cannabis is not considered a veterinary medicine. This means that veterinarians can’t officially prescribe marijuana. Nevertheless, veterinarians like Dr. Kramer in B.C. will sometimes recommend it in their practice.

Marijuana is not legal in most regions, and is not recommended by any veterinary regulations as a medical treatment.

Some products for pets are made from industrial hemp, to avoid any legal issues. But regulations vary by region. So owners need to understand the laws where they live before using hemp on their pets.

Is Marijuana Safe For Pets?

Photo of a cat and dog .
(Photo: Shutterstock)

Veterinarians are still debating the overall safety of marijuana for animals. Both dogs and cats can safely consume small amounts of medical marijuana, but many risks remain.

The main risk of using marijuana for animals is the possibility of overdose. However most experts seem to agree that overdoses are more likely to be caused by a poorly-hidden stash than by intentional use.

Studies show that the lethal dose of THC for dogs is more than 3g/kg of body weight.

Dr. Kramer says she gets asked a lot about whether she thinks medical use of marijuana increases the risk of poisonings. She does not believe this is the case.

“We don’t have a lot of patients on it, but the people I find that are using it in their pets for medical reasons are very cautious about how they’re using it.”

Dr. Kramer states that certain compounds in marijuana can even offer medical benefits without the high.

“If we use part of the cannabinoids that are involved with the plant, we get great benefits. It’s the THC … that makes them stoned.”

Most medical products used for pets contain little to no THC, but do contain CBD. CBD is non-psychoactive, meaning it doesn’t cause a high. It has become increasingly popular for people, as well.

Risks of Marijuana For Pets

Marijuana oil for pets
(Photo: Shutterstock)

There is very little research about marijuana use in animals. So the reaction each animal has to marijuana can be unpredictable. We do know, however, a few factors that can influence how marijuana will affect pets, and some of the risks it poses.

Species

Many animals have an endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system has been found in mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish. These animals will feel effects that we typically associate with marijuana.

Dogs are far more likely to ingest marijuana than cats — dogs make up 95% of marijuana poisonings. This is because dogs tend to be more curious and more likely to eat new things than cats.

There is almost no research looking at marijuana use in birds. But any kind of smoke (whether tobacco, marijuana or otherwise) is highly toxic to birds and can even be fatal.

Dosing

Due to their size, animals tend to experience the effects of marijuana differently than humans. At the same dose, marijuana will have a far greater impact on a 50lb dog than a 150lb human, for example.

Medical-grade marijuana prescribed to humans also tends to be very strong and potent. This puts animals at a greater risk of overdose. Although these cases are uncommon, THC butter has resulted in the death of at least 2 dogs.

Method of Ingestion

Chocolate is toxic to dogs, and can be fatal. So marijuana edibles containing chocolate such as cookies or brownies should be off-limits to dogs. If your dog has consumed chocolate of any kind, contact your vet immediately.

Other Considerations

Some effects of marijuana may lead to other health concerns, such as dehydration and loss of coordination.

After ingesting marijuana, dogs can become lethargic to the point that they do not consume water. Paired with the risk of marijuana-induced incontinence, this could leave your dog dehydrated.

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Due to the loss of balance and coordination, some animals may also injure themselves while under the influence of marijuana.

Rise in Pet Overdoses

A sick dog who has overdosed on marijuana.
(Photo: Shutterstock)

With the loosening of marijuana laws, incidences of animals getting into their owner’s stash are on the rise.

From 2010 to 2015, one medical center in New York state saw a 144% increase in calls for marijuana overdose in pets.

Although rates of marijuana poisoning are on the rise, they still make up only a small fraction of pet poisonings.

Out of 180,000 animal poisoning cases handled by The Animal Poison Control Center in 2013, only 320 calls were about marijuana. Still, that’s a 50% increase over 2009, reports TIME.

What Do I Do If My Pet Has Accidentally Ingested Marijuana?

A dog being examined by a veterinarian for accidental marijuana ingestion.
(Photo: Shutterstock)

Keep your pet comfortable

Your pet will probably feel frightened, so try to create a calming environment. Avoid any loud or sudden noises that may startle your pet.

Monitor your pet closely

Some symptoms can suggest marijuana poisoning. If you see any of these symptoms in your pet after ingesting marijuana, it is important to seek medical care immediately:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Vocalization
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Severe depression
  • Walking like they’re drunk

Seek professional medical help

If a large quantity of marijuana has been consumed, it is important to see a veterinarian immediately. Your vet may induce vomiting in your pet to clear out the marijuana from their stomach. They may also give your pet activated charcoal to help inactivate any remaining marijuana.

It may take a couple of days before your pet is feeling back to normal.

Be honest with your vet

The symptoms of marijuana intoxication can resemble those of other health problems. Pet owners may be inclined to hide the truth, especially in places where the drug is illegal.

If you know that your pet has ingested marijuana, it is best to reveal this information to your vet. This will help your pet get fast, effective treatment.

Summary

Marijuana’s recent popularity has led some people to consider it for their pets. But there is a serious lack of research on its safety and possible uses.

There is some evidence that animals may benefit from medical marijuana. But marijuana use is not regulated or supported by any veterinarian association.

Marijuana definitely has the potential to cause harmful effects in animals and can be fatal in rare cases.

It is important to always talk with your vet before giving your pet any drugs or medication. And always make sure to store your marijuana safely out of your pets’ reach.

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