Marijuana and Dogs

What You Need to Know About Dogs and Weed

marijuana and dogs
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Can dogs get high on marijuana? Is weed bad for dogs? What should you do if your dog gets into "someone else's" pot? 

As a dog owner, it's crucial to know the answers to these questions, regardless of your personal lifestyle. Be ready to act if your dog is somehow exposed to cannabis. This is especially important as more and more US states legalize marijuana use or medical and/or recreational purposes.

Marijuana (Cannabis sativa) is the most common and popular illegal drug used in the US. Enthusiasts consider the drug fun, harmless, and therapeutic. There is a large movement for legalization of marijuana and many believe more research should be put into its potential medicinal uses. All of this has led to an increase in the number of dogs exposed to marijuana, both accidental and intentional.

How Marijuana Affects Dogs

Signs of marijuana intoxication are similar to those seen in humans. Dogs can be exposed to marijuana by breathing secondhand smoke or by ingestion of the drug. They may find and eat the dried leaves, or "buds" of the plant if they are left within reach. However, the most common type of exposure is through ingestion of "edibles," typically baked goods laced with marijuana. Brownies, cookies, muffins, chocolate, and many other foods are increasingly common edibles. Many human foods alone pose a major threat of toxicity to dogs. Adding in cannabis only increases their toxic potential. In addition, edibles are made for human consumption in small amounts. A dog will eat a whole pan of "special" brownies in a minute. Next thing you know, you are dealing with a sick, stoned dog.

The degree of marijuana's effect on dogs depends on the size of the dog as well as the amount the dog ate. Like people, the post-ingestion signs generally appear around 30 to 60 later. However, signs can last much longer in dogs. It can take as much as 18 to 36 hours for a dog to recover from the effects of cannabis ingestion. Fortunately, marijuana toxicity is not likely to cause death, especially if proper medical treatment is administered.

Common signs of marijuana toxicity in dogs include the following:

  • Lethargy
  • Depression 
  • Stumbling/difficulty walking/drunkenness (ataxia)
  • Dilated pupils
  • Glass-eyed or dazed appearance
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Vomiting
  • Agitation and/or excitement

In severe cases, dogs may experience one or more of the following signs:

  • Seizures/tremors
  • Abnormal heart rate
  • Respiratory issues (often slowed breathing)
  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature)
  • Coma
  • Death (rare but more likely with medical-grade THC)

What to Do if Your Pet Is Exposed to Marijuana

Although marijuana toxicity is rarely fatal, it does require medical attention. ​Contact your veterinarian if you suspect your dog has been exposed to marijuana. Do not be afraid to tell your vet how much your dog got into and when. Don't be fooled by the safety margin of this drug and ignore the matter if your dog is exposed to pot.

Are you worried about getting in trouble with the law? Vets are not required to call the police for accidental exposure. In general, they are unlikely to contact authorities unless they suspect abuse or neglect (in which case they are obligated to report). Your veterinarian simply wants to help your dog and keep him safe. If you must, tell them that it belonged to "a friend" who left the drug within reach. Just be honest with your vet. Tell your vet how much and when so they can give proper medical attention.

Treatment for marijuana toxicity generally involves supportive care to control symptoms. Your vet may need to run lab tests to determine if there are systemic effects, especially if the dog ingested chocolate or another toxic food. In addition, dogs can develop secondary problems, such as pancreatitis, in response to a high-fat food.

Getting Dogs High for Fun

It's sad to say that there are people out there getting their pets high and posting videos for laughs. Please do not purposely give your pet weed. It's neither ethical not entertaining to get an animal high. An animal cannot understand the experience and obviously cannot consent to it. An animal experiencing a high can become very confused and anxious. These dogs may not be able to outwardly display these feelings, but it does not mean they are not suffering. Getting pets high is inhumane. It's just as wrong getting a small child high. 

Medical Marijuana for Dogs

If your pet has a physical issue (pain, anxiety, etc.) you may be tempted to give them marijuana to ease symptoms, especially if your dog has a chronic, debilitating, and/or terminal illness. Just because you think it will help, that doesn't mean it's a good idea. You may end up doing more harm than good.

There is much research still to be done into the therapeutic and medicinal use of marijuana in general, and research for veterinary use has even further to go. Human medical use of medical marijuana has been shown to be very therapeutic for certain health conditions, such as epilepsy, arthritis, anxiety, cancer, and more. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a product of cannabis without the tetrahydrocannabinol (the THC is what gets one "high"). CBD has shown effectiveness for many health issues and has even been medically administered to children in states where it is legal. But evidence of its effectiveness in pets is basically just anecdotal at this time.

It's also important to understand that veterinarians are not legally allowed to prescribe any form or derivation of marijuana because it is still a DEA schedule 1 drug (and therefore is illegal on a federal level regardless of the state). In addition, there is not enough evidence or available testing to determine safe and therapeutic levels of CBD and/or THC in dogs.

Fortunately, this is a quickly evolving area of research. As laws, perceptions, and science evolve, there's a good chance we will discover safe and effective ways to use medical marijuana in pets. In the meantime: don't risk it. Keep marijuana in any form away from your dog unless your veterinarian advises you otherwise.