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December 11, 2017
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Marijuana toxicity in dogs and cats

By Joseph A. D’Abbraccio, D.V.M.

Marijuana is not new, but it’s still the most popular illicit drug in the United States. With the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana in some states, plus the availability of synthetic versions, marijuana toxicity in pets is on the rise.

How do pets become intoxicated?

Dogs and cats are poisoned by marijuana by inhaling second-hand smoke, eating marijuana-laced food, or scarfing down marijuana directly. While most pet owners are very cautious about their marijuana products, many pets are quite curious, and it does not take but a second for them to consume the product. Regardless of how your pet comes into contact with the marijuana or a marijuana-like product, it is the owner’s responsibility to get that patient adequate care.

How does marijuana affect pets?

The drug enters the body via inhalation or ingestion and binds with specific neuro-receptors in the brain. THC interacts with neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine, dopamine, serotonin and acetylcholine. The receptor that marijuana binds to is a central nervous system receptor. THC is very lipid-soluble, which means that it is easily stored in fatty tissue such as the liver, brain, and kidneys before being eliminated from the body. The drug is metabolized in the liver and is eliminated in the kidneys. In order for the symptoms to wear off the drug must be completely metabolized and have left the kidneys.

How is marijuana toxic?

Marijuana has a high margin of safety for people and animals. However, there are no specific safety dosing recommendations available for pets. The average marijuana cigarette contains 150 mg of THC. The maximum legal dose of oral THC in pets is fairly high. With highly potent medical marijuana now available, those statistics have changed.

How is the toxicity diagnosed?

Usually, an accurate history and physical exam is used to diagnose a toxicity. There are some commercially available urine tests available, but their accuracy is less than desirable. This is why it is extremely important to share all history with your family veterinarian so that he/she can treat your pet in an appropriate and timely manner.

How is the toxicity treated?

If the toxin is ingested, the veterinarian may induce vomiting to rapidly decontaminate the intestinal tract. In life-threatening situations the patient’s stomach may be pumped (gastric lavage) and activated charcoal administered every six to eight hours to neutralize the toxin. The patient is hospitalized and placed on intravenous fluid therapy to prevent dehydration and increase the excretion of the toxin. Many patients may become quite agitated and therefore are placed on anti-anxiety medications while in the hospital and kept in a quiet environment, given they are very sensitive to sound. Most patients are discharged after 24 to 48 hours in the hospital.

If you choose to use marijuana for medical or recreational purposes it is very important that you keep it away from your pets. If your pet has been exposed to or ingested marijuana it is very important to be upfront and honest with the veterinarian caring for your pet. He or she is not going to be calling the police or other authorities. Their main focus is the health and well-being of your pet.

[Contact Dr. D’Abbraccio at www.facebook.com/CatskillVeterinaryServices, www.catskillvetservices.com, or jd abbracciodvm@icloud.com.]