Cannabis Toxicity in Pets

Cannabis Toxicity in Pets
By Dr. Janette Relyea

The Cannabis sativa plant has two famous varieties – hemp and marijuana. They are, technically speaking, the same plant (Cannabis sativa) but hemp varieties contain less than 0.3% THC and marijuana varieties contain more than 0.3% THC. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the psychoactive chemical lends marijuana all of its recreational effects and some of its medicinal effects. The other important compound is cannabidiol or CBD. While marijuana is grown for its THC and CBD, hemp is grown for its fibers (for textiles and other industrial uses) and its CBD.

CBD appears to be a relatively safe compound in pets and humans. We encounter problems when CBD is in very high concentrations or is incorporated into edible products, most notably chocolate (which is toxic for dogs). There are now many CBD products marketed for pets. It is important to remember that the FDA does not recognize these products as legal medicinal products. Therefore they are not regulated, companies are not required to show evidence that they are effective and there is no regulation of how much CBD they contain. Veterinarians cannot legally prescribe these products and most have not been formally investigated for safety and efficacy. This is changing and we expect to see this market expanding.

THC, on the other hand, is responsible for many cases of pet intoxication. This has become an alarming problem in states with legalized recreational marijuana and the culprit is usually edible products. Many edibles are meant to be ingested in small amounts but since dogs cannot read labels, they tend to eat way too much. This is a problem particularly in small dogs, as deaths related to toxicity have been reported.

Clinical signs of marijuana intoxication occur within 30-90 minutes after ingestion. Symptoms can linger for several days because THC is stored in the body’s fat deposits. Intoxicated dogs are uncoordinated and sleepy. They often have dilated pupils, a slow heart rate, low body temperature and in some cases urinary incontinence. The classic symptom is the “startle reflex” – the dog will look like it is about to fall asleep on its feet, then startle abruptly as it is about to fall over. Cats may have alternating episodes of sedation and agitation and even aggression. Dogs and cats may also have seizures.

Your veterinarian will likely check your pet for signs of other toxins that can look similar in the early stages. It is very important to let your vet know if there is a chance of exposure to marijuana or other recreational drugs. Your vet will also watch for signs of chocolate toxicity or pancreatitis, depending on what the edible base was.

Treatment involves sedation, maintaining a normal body temperature and heart rate, and controlling seizures. Pets are usually hospitalized on intravenous fluids and injectable medication until the toxin wears off.

As edible marijuana products become more available, it is important to keep them stored safely away from your pets.

Should you have any questions, comments or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact us by phone at 845-876-6008, or by e-mail at

Thank you for choosing us to be part of your pet’s healthcare team!

With warmest regards,

Your friends at Rhinebeck Animal Hospital

Rhinebeck Animal Hospital

6450 Montgomery Street

Rhinebeck, NY 12572

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