As the legal marijuana market continues to expand, our four-legged companions have unwittingly gotten caught up in the cannabis craze. While there are plenty of CBD products for dogs and cats on the market, an unintended — and negative — consequence of the expanding business has been animal ingestion of psychoactive THC products.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (known for its Sarah McLachlan-assisted ugly-cry commercial) reports that its 24-hour Animal Poison Control Hotline saw a 765 percent increase in marijuana-related calls between 2008 and 2018. THC products are usually dosed for much larger humans; when they're accidentally ingested by pets, they can cause problems, sometimes major ones. A study of 125 cannabis-related veterinary hospital admissions in Colorado found that two small dogs died after getting into medical-grade THC edibles.
According to Amanda Howard, a veterinary technician at VRCC Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Hospital in Englewood, seeing pets that have consumed cannabis flower and edibles is a common occurrence; the animal hospital typically gets one or two cases a day. Most accidents involve dogs, says Howard, who's only seen one cat brought in for marijuana toxicity.
Most pets will recover from marijuana toxicity within 24 hours of ingestion, but the severity of symptoms depends on the animal's size and what product it has gotten into. Usually edibles cause the worst symptoms, but bud can also impact pets. Notes Howard: “If they get into flower, they might be out of it for a little while.”
Pets suffering from marijuana toxicity display slow responses and delayed reaction times; they will also have trouble walking or standing up (what veterinarians call ataxia), and they may lose control of their bladder and dribble urine. Vomiting and unresponsiveness are more urgent symptoms.
Since marijuana toxicity affects pets differently, Amy Rupp Fuller, veterinarian and owner of Urban Vet Care in Denver, recommends seeking professional advice if you know that your animal got into marijuana, and suggests giving the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Hotline a call.
She, too, emphasizes that the size of the pet and the amount of THC are important considerations. “There’s a range of how symptomatic they become,” Rupp Fuller explains. “There’s not a definitive treatment for it; we just have to wait for them to metabolize it. But there are a few things we can do to help treat their symptoms and to get it out of their systems more quickly so they don’t have to endure it as long.”
In severe cases, pets may need to be monitored or given fluids in a veterinary office as they come down. Howard says she once cared for a dog that ate two sticks of cannabutter, rendering him unresponsive for 24 hours and putting the pooch in the hospital overnight for monitoring. For pets that can sober up at home, Howard recommends placing them in a dark, quiet room and watching for any troubling symptoms, like vomiting and unresponsiveness.
Howard urges owners who suspect that their pet has ingested marijuana to be honest with veterinary staff. “We aren’t interested in reporting you; we just need to know what your pet got into to give the best care,” she says.
While Rupp Fuller has seen an increased number of pets that have gotten into marijuana since Colorado legalized cannabis, she says that clients now tend to be more honest when a pet gets into weed. She recommends that owners not only come clean about what the animal might have ingested, but bring the marijuana packaging to the veterinarian, as well. “If you do have an emergency, it can be very helpful to bring the packaging so the vet knows exactly what it was and the concentration,” she says.
Particularly worrisome are edibles made with ingredients that can be toxic to pets, like chocolate, raisins and xylitol. “Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that is a common sugar substitute, and it can be neurologically toxic," Rupp Fuller notes. "I have seen animals die from that; it's much more toxic than pot as far as being lethal.”
Even if an animal doesn't suffer from lingering effects, "Pets don’t learn from their mistakes, unfortunately,” says Howard. That's why it's important to always keep marijuana out of reach. Although all dispensary weed products come with child-proof packaging, placing THC products in a sturdy stash jar can help prevent animals from getting into weed.
And those who don't own pets should be careful in public places, too. Rupp Fuller’s dog landed in the animal hospital after he ate a marijuana product left on a hiking trail. Careless consumers left an edible in Washington Park last year that was eaten by Sadie, a pug who soon arrived at the vet's office.
Owners need to be careful with CBD, too. While they may use CBD oil to treat anxiety or pain in pets, animals can overindulge. Mackenzie Urban says that when Stella, her Australian shepherd, lapped up an entire bottle of CBD oil intended for humans, the dog spent an entire afternoon lying on the floor, calm but zoned out.
According to the ASPCA, pets that have consumed too much CBD usually become lethargic and lose their appetite. In most cases, medical attention will not be required, but if a pet shows any signs of marijuana toxicity — such as bladder problems, difficulty walking or vomiting — owners should consult their veterinarians, the ASPCA advises.
So for the well-being of Sadie, Stella and all four-legged friends, keep your stash safe.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.