Pets who have ingested marijuana require care, attention

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Marijuana is a common intoxication that we see in veterinary practice. The psychoactive component of cannabis is THC. When THC is consumed by a pet (usually a dog), the clinical manifestations can be quite scary for an owner.

The most common clinical sign I see with THC intoxication is ataxia (the pet is stumbling around and looks drunk). Often a pet cannot walk in a straight line. When sitting still, their head will often slowly lower and then abruptly jerk back up as if they were nodding off. The second most common sign I see is face shyness. This means that if you bring your hand close to the animal’s face, they will jerk their head backward as if startled. The third most common clinical sign I see is urinary incontinence. Often these animals will be dribbling urine on the ground as they are walking.

THC intoxication is not life-threatening by itself. Marijuana intoxication is most serious when the THC is consumed with another toxin (like pot brownies). In these cases, the chocolate intoxication is actually more serious than the THC.

The most serious potential complication of a pet eating marijuana by itself is getting too cold. If a pet is overly sedated, they may have difficulty maintaining their own body temperature. If you see your pet eat marijuana and can get to a veterinarian quickly (within 20 minutes), your vet will induce your dog to vomit. They will then be given oral activated charcoal to absorb the remaining THC in the gastrointestinal tract as well as subcutaneous fluids.

If it has been more than 20 minutes since your pet ingested THC and they appear clinical (stumbling, sedate, etc.), it is too late to make them vomit. You do not want a sedate animal to vomit as they may aspirate their vomit and get pneumonia. In a case like this, the treatment for intoxication is supportive care. THC is excreted by the kidneys in the urine. Therefore, the most important treatment is giving the pet fluids. The veterinarian can give your pet fluids under the skin (subcutaneous) and send them home for overnight care. You should ideally check your pet’s temperature every one to two hours (get a pet ear thermometer) to make sure they are maintaining a normal body temperature (98.5-102.5 F). Apply warm blankets if the body temperature is falling.

When a pet owner is not comfortable caring for and monitoring their pet overnight, the best option is to have the pet hospitalized at an emergency clinic. In that case, the pet will be put on IV fluids overnight and observed. In most cases of THC intoxication, the pet will be back to normal by the following morning.

In cases of extreme intoxication (a pet eats an entire bag of marijuana and is essentially comatose), an overnight clinic can put your pet on an infusion of intravenous lipid emulsion. THC is lipid soluble and is stored in fat. When this lipid emulsion is injected into the bloodstream, it can help bind up the THC to more quickly reverse the clinical signs of intoxication.

Watching your pet stumble around from THC ingestion can be unnerving. If you have marijuana in your household, be sure it is somewhere that your pet cannot reach it. If you see your pet consume THC at home or nab some at the park, get them to your veterinarian to either induce vomiting (if early enough), or treat them for the intoxication. Luckily this is not generally a dangerous toxin and can be “slept off” with proper treatment.

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