Is Cannabis Helpful Or Harmful To Your Pets?

Is cannabis helpful or harmful to pets? Why some pets need veterinary care after eating the herb while others thrive with medical cannabis?

Aug 3, 2016

The funky, psychoactive effects of cannabis are quite enjoyable for us humans. But, animals don’t have the same response to the herb. THC is toxic to dogs and cats, causing a wide range of concerning symptoms. Non-psychoactive CBD, however, is a different story. CBD-infused treats are rising in popularity among progressive veterinarians and compassionate pet owners alike. To help you figure out when the herb is causing harm and when it’s helpful, here’s a handy guide on how cannabis affects your pets.

How does cannabis affect pets?

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Cannabis is fun for humans, but not fun for pets. Pets don’t experience the pleasurable psychoactive high that we do. Rather, the herb can make your pet profoundly disoriented and frightened. This is especially true if they ingest cannabis rather than experience smoke exposure.

Humans are able to understand that their psychoactive experience is only temporary, pets cannot. Rather, the psychoactive effects are a completely new, unnatural experience for them.

The herb can also cause some serious physical problems, like coma or seizure. In 2013, Jennifer Bolser of the Humane Society of Boulder explains the difference between pets and animals in an interview with The Daily Camera:

Marijuana exposure in pets causes neurologic toxicity, which is not the same as the ‘high’ that people experience. The symptoms (staggering, agitation, stupor, etc.) that develop in pets do not appear enjoyable for them. – Bolser

Signs of cannabis toxicity in pets

Though it may be funny to see your dog or cat a little high, your pet will be in a sorry state if they consume too much of the herb. The worst culprits are edibles like infused dark chocolate brownies, which are a double whammy in terms of health hazard. Not only are things like chocolate and almonds toxic to dogs, but edibles produce a more powerful, longer-lasting high than pure bud.

If you have cannabis around and you’re concerned that your pet got into it, here are some signs to look out for:

  • Stumbling, dragging paws while walking
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Startling
  • Glassy, dilated eyes
  • Increased appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Coma
  • Seizure
  • Disorientation
  • Incontinence
  • Low body temperature

Some studies suggest that 3g/kg of oral THC is the minimum lethal dose for dogs. If your pet eats cannabis, the effects of the herb begin 30 to 60 minutes after ingestion. Unfortunately, they can last anywhere from 18 to 36 hours. Not much fun for Pookie.

What do I do if my pet ingests cannabis?

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If your pet has not ingested much and is just sort of stumbling around and acting startled, then the best thing you can do is just wait it out. Put your pet in a quiet, warm, semi-dark place with a little water. As a precaution, make sure your pet cannot fall into the water if it is a bit stumbly.

Keep them on the floor to make sure they don’t fall off any furniture. Give your pet time to relax, calm down, and feel comfortable. Keep a close eye on your pet to make sure that it hasn’t slipped unconscious, began to seize, or started to have a more serious reaction. If your pet continues to get worse, take it to the vet.

Giving your pet activated charcoal is one way to help eliminate some of the toxicity. A veterinarian will be able to tell you whether or not charcoal is useful in your situation and how much to use.

If your pet has consumed an ungodly amount of cannabis, take it to your vet. As is probably obvious, cannabis hits small dogs and cats the hardest. Your vet may induce vomiting, give an IV drip, or take further measures if your dog has slipped into a coma. If your pet has consumed chocolate along with cannabis, you’ll want to take it to the vet as soon as possible.

Luckily, it takes a large amount of cannabis to kill an animal. Yet, if your pet has consumed a lot of cannabis or some herb mixed with chocolate or other toxic foods, you can quickly find yourself in a situation more dangerous than you might expect.

Toxicity is not fun for the animal. Seizures and comas can cause more serious health problems, and your pet risks aspirating on its own vomit. Back in 2012, a Colorado study confirmed that two dogs died from aspiration after consuming cannabis butter. The study evaluated toxicity in 125 dogs between 2005 and 2010.

Medical use of cannabis in pets

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Too much THC is bad news for your pets. But, when your furry friend is in sick, in pain, or in their last leg of life, a little cannabidiol (CBD) may ease their suffering. Progressive veterinarians are now recommending medical cannabis to pets with certain conditions.

Anecdotal evidence has found that CBD-infused treats or capsules seem to work well in dogs who experience epileptic seizures. The non-psychoactive cannabinoid also does wonders for pets with painful arthritis and stiff joints.

One anecdotal example can be found in Miles, a 12-year-old retriever. Miles developed a splenic tumor, which spread to his lungs and liver. He was given two months to live. In a moment of desperation and curiosity, his Hollywood-based owners decided to give him a little cannabis tincture designed for pets. An hour after medication, Miles’ appetite returned and he stopped vomiting.

The other great thing is that in the last couple of weeks, Miles has been going to the beach, he’s been running, he’s being himself. If Miles was on the tramadol [a pain medication], he’d be in bed, and he wouldn’t be enjoying anything or eating anything, and he’d probably be dead. I’m just really grateful we found this. – Miles’ owner

CBD’s medical value goes beyond just cats and dogs. Another California woman, Becky Flowers, came forward about using cannabis to treat her horse, Phoenix. The Passo Fino had been suffering from a degenerative ligament disease for several years. The condition was unresponsive to treatment. It eventually progressed to the point where Phoenix would lay on her side, unable to eat or drink.

With cannabis, I don’t worry about potential liver damage as with bute [an anti-inflammatory drug for horses]. I also don’t worry about her overdosing, as I only give her a small amount. She never appears panicky or disoriented. She’s just her normal, happy Phoenix. – Flowers

Infused pet medicine rising in popularity

Many companies are already making cannabis products for pets. Matthew J. Cote, a brand manager for San Francisco edibles company Auntie Dolores, has seen great results from their like of CBD treats for pets. He tells ABC news:

What we’ve seen is that some of these dogs respond very rapidly. One woman from Fort Bragg was ready to put down her dog due to how sick and in pain he was, but the day before he was scheduled to go under, she administered our treats and just like that the dog was up, walking around, and acting normally again. -Cotes

Cotes recommends a dose of 40mg of CBD per 20 pounds of pet. If you are able to purchase CBD-infused treats in your area, make sure you inquire about the suggested dosing for your specific product.

Conditions helped by medical cannabis

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Medical cannabis is still fairly controversial among people. Throw pets into the mix, and it’s pretty much a wildcard. So far, anecdotal evidence suggests that CBD-treats can help pets with the following:

  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Seizures
  • Anxiety
  • Inflammatory diseases
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pain
  • Chronic, debilitating conditions

It’s important to note that there have not been any significant scientific investigations into CBD treatment in veterinary care. Until that time, the American Veterinary Medicine Association cannot recommend CBD treatment for any condition.

There is a simple rule when it comes to cannabis and pets: keep pets away from THC, but CBD is okay for certain medical conditions. If you have cannabis products in the home, make sure you keep them well out of your pet’s reach. This is especially true for infused foods, which are often irresistible to animals. If your pet is the one that needs cannabis, the non-psychoactive kind is the kind you need.

Have your pets ever eaten cannabis? Share your story with us on social media or in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!

Aug 3, 2016