WSU veterinarians: Marijuana is not pet-friendly

Closeup of a hand holding a cannabis leaf in front of a dog's face.
On average, about one pet is seen at the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital every week for cannabis intoxication.

PULLMAN, Wash. — It’s April 20th — a day associated with cannabis-oriented celebrations in the U.S. — and Washington State University veterinarians are providing some tips to pet owners to keep their animals safe.

  • Keep pot, edibles, and everything else out of reach of your pets. 
  • Consider a secure container that can’t be opened if the box is dropped, chewed on, or played with.
  • Don’t store cannabis products near pet food or other treats.
  • If your pet is acting strangely, seek veterinary care immediately, including possible emergency treatment, whether any of your supplies are missing or not.
  • Do not intentionally share smoke or edibles with your pets, even in tiny amounts.
  • If you leave your pet at a friend’s house, ask about their safe storage of cannabis. 
  • Remember that pot will have a stronger effect on smaller dogs or cats than larger animals.
  • Symptoms to watch out for: difficulty walking, incontinence, abnormal urination, dilated pupils, not responding to their name or other owner commands, sensitivity to sound, motion, or touch. 

On average, about one pet is seen at the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital every week for cannabis intoxication.

Due to the drug’s legalization in the state and with the availability of cannabis and cannabis products like edibles, WSU veterinarians have seen a dramatic increase in cannabis-related veterinary visits in recent years.

“A lot of times the ingestion happens unbeknownst to the owner. Sometimes the pet has been left alone for the duration of several hours, they come home, they see their edibles are gone, and their pet may be acting abnormal. Then they bring them to us,” said veterinarian Dr. Laura Vega, a resident in emergency and critical care at WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Laura Vega is a resident in emergency and critical care at WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

In every case, what usually turns into an emergency veterinary appointment could have been avoided had animal owners made sure their cannabis products were concealed and out of the reach of their pet.

While dogs are generally more inquisitive and likely to consume cannabis, veterinarian Dr. Linda Martin, an associate professor in emergency and critical care at WSU, said she has seen her share of cats experience the drug’s debilitating effects as well. Whether the patient is a dog or cat, Martin said signs of cannabis intoxication are the same and include incoordination, difficulty walking, and hypersensitivity to sound, motion and touch. 

“They definitely can’t walk in a straight line. If it’s severe, they may not be able to walk at all. They usually seem disoriented and don’t respond to their owner’s commands as they usually do,” Martin said. “They also may have some urinary incontinence, where they are urinating a lot and leaking urine.”

Dilated pupils are another tell-tale sign a dog or cat is intoxicated.

While cannabis is rarely fatal to cats or dogs, Martin said it can be in extreme cases.

“If it’s fatal, it’s going to cause profound sedation, and then what happens is the heart rate gets slower and slower and they can also have low blood pressure,” Martin said. “If that goes on too long, the combination is almost like overdosing on a barbiturate. It just slows down all bodily functions.”

There are several things a veterinarian can do for pets that have ingested cannabis.

First, if caught early enough, vomiting can be induced. 

Veterinarians also use activated charcoal to absorb the drug and help it move quickly through the digestive tract. Neither of these options would be helpful in cases where a dog or cat is high from cannabis smoke though. 

If cannabis intoxication is not caught early enough to induce vomiting, veterinarians will provide fluids, monitor blood pressure, and keep the animal comfortable until the effects fade. Vega said pets that have consumed even a large amount of cannabis usually return to their normal selves somewhere within 24 to 48 hours.

“It’s not a long hospitalization,” she said.

Martin said it’s important pet owners who use cannabis seal their cannabis products and keep them away from their pet or anywhere their pet could access.

“If you’re not careful,” she said, “just as your children could get into those things, your pets can too.”

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