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Marijuana Poisoning in Dogs

Just one of the articles from Pet Care Pro Quarterly, IBPSA's digital magazine for pet care services professionals. Read the current issue online here.

by Justine A. Lee, DVM, DACVECC, DABT
Board-certified veterinary emergency critical care specialist and toxicologist
Consultant, ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center

With the legalization of marijuana in several states, there has been an increased prevalence of accidental exposure to dogs, cats, and children within the past few years.1-3 This can occur with the accidental ingestion of pot butter, baked goods (e.g., pot brownies), plant material, buds, etc. Often, pet owners are unwilling to admit to this illicit drug toxicosis in their pets; however, the sooner they confess to their veterinarian, the sooner medical attention can be directed appropriately to save the dog. Thankfully, with appropriate decontamination and treatment, the prognosis for marijuana poisoning is fair to good with treatment by a veterinarian.

Marijuana, found in the Cannabis sativa plant, contains the toxic ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Marijuana is also commonly known under the nicknames Mary Jane, pot, hemp, hashish, pot, grass, weed, etc.4 Signs of marijuana poisoning in dogs can be seen within 30 minutes, and typically occur within 1-3 hours of exposure. Signs can last up to 3 days (with an average duration of clinical signs of 18-24 hours).4

Clinical signs of marijuana poisoning in dogs include:

  • Drooling
  • Walking drunk
  • Disorientation
  • Agitation
  • Hyperactivity
  • Behavioral changes
  • Vomiting
  • An abnormal heart rate (either very slow or fast)
  • Slowed respirations
  • Tremors
  • Seizures (rare)
  • Coma
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Temperature changes (e.g., low or elevated temperature)
  • Death (rare)

Treatment for marijuana poisoning includes appropriate decontamination – this should never be done by the pet owner at home as it may cause more harm, especially in a dog that already has symptoms of poisoning. This can result in a life-threatening aspiration pneumonia in sedate or comatosed dogs. Often times, “pumping the stomach” (e.g., gastric lavage) by a veterinarian may be done instead. This requires heavy sedation and/or anesthesia to be performed. Additional treatment includes IV fluids (to help maintain hydration), anti-vomiting medication (to prevent vomiting and secondary aspiration pneumonia), symptomatic supportive care, including regulating the temperature, nursing care, anti-anxiety medications (e.g., sedatives), and heart rate and blood pressure monitoring. While there is no “cure” for marijuana poisoning in veterinary medicine, the prognosis is generally excellent with supportive care. Most dogs need to be hospitalized for 12-24 hours, depending on the severity of signs. In severe cases, a temporary respiratory may be necessary. Thankfully, there is a potential “antidote” for severe cases of marijuana poisoning in dogs: intravenous lipid emulsion (ILE). This is sterile, intravenous fat, and can help trap the marijuana in the blood stream when administered to the poisoned marijuana patient. While not all cases may respond to this “antidote,” it is generally considered safe.

When in doubt, pet owners should make sure to keep all marijuana – in any source – out of reach of their dogs. Being honest with the veterinarian or emergency veterinarian immediately is important, as it will allow a rapid diagnosis and treatment protocol to begin. Prompt treatment by a veterinarian is imperative. When in doubt, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center should be contacted at (888) 426-4435 immediately for life-saving care.

REFERENCES

  1. Wang GS, Roosevelt G, Le Lait MC, et al. Association of unintentional pediatric exposures with decriminalization of marijuana in the United States. Ann Emerg Med 2014;63(6):684-689.
  2. Wang GS, Roosevelt G, Heard K. Pediatric marijuana exposures in a medical marijuana state. J Am Med Assoc Pediatr 2013;167(7):630-633.
  3. Meola SD, Tearney CC, Haas SA, et al. Evaluation of trends in marijuana toxicosis in dogs living in a state with legalized medical marijuana: 125 dogs (2005-2010). J Vet Emerg Crit Care 2012;22(6):690-696.
  4. Klatt C. In Blackwell’s Five-Minute Veterinary Consulting Clinical Companion: Small Animal Toxicology. Wiley-Blackwell, Ames. 2011:pp.224-229.