With the legalization of marijuana, it is becoming more common in households. It may not be in your household, but it could be in your neighbour’s, your friend’s or family’s household. People may not be concealing it in the same way, so it could become more accessible to curious pets. Dogs and cats are crafty and are more capable of accessing seemingly inaccessible areas that we might think.
It is important for everyone to understand the dangers of THC when it comes to pets and how to recognize when they have been exposed.
Exposure to the toxin is most commonly through ingestion but second-hand smoke can also expose your pet to harmful levels of THC.
THC is a very fat-soluble substance, so it is metabolized by the liver and can be stored in the fatty tissue there or in the brain and kidneys before being eliminated. The majority of THC is eliminated in the feces (up to 90%) and the rest is excreted through the kidneys. The effects of the drug will wear off only after it has been metabolized and eliminated.
Symptoms of THC toxicity may be present very shortly after ingestion or many hours after and can last anywhere from approximately 30 minutes to several days. These factors are dependent on the dose ingested as well as the individual animal.
Dogs in particular have more cannabinoid receptors in their brain than people do, so THC can affect them significantly. Most symptoms appear neurological, such as wobbly, uncoordinated movements, dilated pupils, disorientation and vocalization. They may drool excessively or vomit as well as dribble urine. Tremors, seizures or coma are potential in severe cases.
There are tests available that can be done by your veterinarian to confirm the pet has ingested marijuana. Not all clinics have the test available, and it is important to always be honest with clinic staff about the potential for THC exposure. Your veterinarian’s priority is helping your pet, and no one in the clinic is there to judge, so there is no reason to hide anything.
Treatment options will vary depending on the situation. In cases where ingestion is witnessed or confirmed shortly after, your veterinarian may induce vomiting to prevent absorption of the toxin. This is not possible in cases where the symptoms are not present until after the drug has been absorbed. Your vet may choose to administer IV fluids to prevent dehydration and maintain blood pressure and organ function. In some cases, the pet may be sent home to be monitored by the owner until the drug is metabolized and symptoms subside. When the pet is home, it is important to keep stimuli to a minimum. Keep your pet in a dark, quiet place where they feel comfortable but are confined enough to prevent them from injuring themselves.
After your pet has come out of the toxicity, they will likely be very hungry and thirsty. Allow them to eat and drink, but in small amounts at a time so they do not over-do it and make themselves feel sick or bloat. Most pets will be visibly back to normal once the drug has been metabolized and eliminated. It is possible that there will be lingering digestive affects from the ingestion of a toxin, especially if it was a large dose. Monitor your pet’s body condition in the following weeks and if they experience weight loss, consider digestive support supplements for a short time until they are back to ideal body condition.
Prevention is key; keep all potentially toxic substances inaccessible to pets and remove pets from the area while smoking. If you suspect your pet has ingested or been exposed to a toxin, call your veterinarian or local emergency vet clinic.