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About Eric Barchas, D.V.M.

Eric Barchas, DVM is a veterinarian who lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area. His emphasis is on small animal medicine, emergency medicine, hospice and wellness. An avid traveler, he has studied lions in Botswana and salmon in southern Chile.

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Marijuana Intoxication in Cats and Dogs

Animals Affected

Primarily dogs; rarely cats

Overview

Marijuana intoxication may occur in pets that have access to marijuana plants, dried portions of the plants, or foodstuffs containing marijuana.

Serious long-term health consequences and fatality from marijuana intoxication are extremely rare, although newer highly concentrated strains of marijuana and synthetic drugs (such as "spice") that mimic marijuana pose a more significant threat.  Also, pets that are exposed to marijuana may display anxiety and disorientation, and are prone to "bad trips".  Intoxicated pets may lack the coordination necessary to consume food and water.

Intoxication with marijuana appears clinically similar to other, more serious forms of poisoning.  However, most animals recover from marijuana toxicity over a period of several hours.

Symptoms

  • Anxiety, panting, and agitation commonly occur following exposure to marijuana.
  • In some pets, marijuana toxicity results in profound lethargy that can border on unconsciousness.
  • Pets suffering from marijuana intoxication often show impaired balance.  They may stagger, stumble, and fall attempting to walk.
  • Drooling, vomiting, and diarrhea may occur.
  • After exposure to marijuana, pets may lose bowel and bladder control. This results in house soiling (cats, dogs).
  • Extreme responses to noises, movements, and other forms of sensory stimulation may occur in pets that are exposed to marijuana.  These responses can manifest as trembling or jerking of the head or extremities.  In severe cases, the responses may appear similar to seizures.

Risk Factors and Prevention

  • The main risk factor is the presence of whole marijuana plants, dried plant parts, or foods containing marijuana in the pet's environment.
  • Deliberate exposure of pets to marijuana is not unheard of.   People may intentionally feed marijuana to pets, or deliberately expose pets to marijuana smoke.

Complications

Long-term complications from exposure to marijuana are very rare.  However, pets suffering from marijuana intoxication may injure themselves due to lack of coordination.  Dehydration can result when pets are unable to consume water.

Fatality from marijuana exposure was almost unheard of until the development of medical grade marijuana products.  A journal article in December, 2012 reported on the deaths of two dogs that had consumed concentrated marijuana products.  However, in my personal experience dealing with many hundreds or perhaps even thousands of cases of marijuana intoxication none of my patients has ever suffered a significant long-term complication as a result of marijuana ingestion.  These include a number of patients who had consumed massive quantities of the product (I have treated patients who consumed several pounds of market-ready plant material, or dozens of doses of potent medical grade edible products).

Diagnosis

In many cases, diagnosis is based on clinical symptoms in combination with known or potential exposure to marijuana.

In some instances, extensive diagnostic testing is performed to ensure that other, more serious forms of intoxication are not occurring.

Test kits designed to detect marijuana in the urine of humans may be used to diagnose marijuana intoxication in dogs and cats.  This method of diagnosis has not been scientifically validated, but it appears to be accurate.

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to nurse the pet and prevent anxiety until the period of intoxication is complete.  Noise and other sensory stimuli should be minimized.  Some pets require sedatives or injections of fluids.

If a large quantity of marijuana is in a pet's stomach, the attending veterinarian may cause the pet to vomit.

Follow-up

Most cases of marijuana intoxication resolve over a period of 3 - 12 hours.

Miscellaneous

Because it is a controlled substance, people who know that their pet has consumed marijuana are often reluctant to reveal this fact to veterinarians.  The symptoms of marijuana intoxication are similar to those of several more serious syndromes.  If the veterinarian treating the pet is not aware of marijuana exposure, he or she is likely to recommend a number of expensive tests and treatments that may not be necessary.

Copyright © Eric Barchas, DVM. All rights reserved.
The contents of this page are provided for general informational purposes only. Under no circumstances should this page be substituted for professional consultation with a veterinarian.

 

 

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