Marijuana is now legal for you to use. For years, people have been lighting up and living in constant fear their stash would be discovered or worse, eaten by their pets. Behind all the new legalization is the potential medical benefits for people, but what about pets? No, I’m not suggesting you grab a spot on the couch and light up a joint to share with your dog or cat.
Trying to get the medical benefits of marijuana for your pet is not as simple as feeding it to them or lighting up and blowing smoke in their face. On the contrary, either of these methods would be harmful or toxic to your pet. When a pet eats marijuana, it has a very typical presentation (so don’t lie to your veterinarian). Incoordination when trying to walk, dilated pupils, slower heart rate, and dribbling of urine are the main signs. For small intoxications, monitoring may be sufficient, but more severe cases may need more supportive care. Blowing smoke in their face isn’t going to get them high, but it sure can cause some irritation to the airway, similar to asthma, or the eyes.
The prevalence of edible marijuana in the marketplace can lead to additional toxicities depending on the other ingredients (example: pot brownies can also cause chocolate toxicity). A quick search and I found cereal bars, gummy bears, cookies, butter, honey, and mock Pop Tarts. I even found candies containing xylitol (yes, the same ingredient in sugar free gums that causes low blood sugar and liver failure in pets). Any of these objects might be easily enjoyed by your pet. While the cannabinoid or THC component of marijuana isn’t likely to cause any permanent or lasting problems, the other components of the edibles could be quite sickening or potentially fatal. Like with all potential toxins, make sure to keep anything your pets might ingest out of reach.
While research has been done to some extent, it’s been mostly for human benefit, though a large portion of existing research was done on animals. Some extrapolated doses are anecdotal and have not been established for uses in animals or for specific cannabinoids. And that’s where we need to focus future research on – the actual cannabinoids that may benefit animals with consistent, proven, and reliable effects. There’s no doubt in my mind that at some point in my career I may end up prescribing cannabinoids for the benefit of a patient. Currently, our licensing body in Ontario (the College of Veterinarians of Ontario) does not allow us to prescribe these treatments.
There has been much speculation and even advertised use of CBD oils in pets and some of them may actually be hemp oils. Hemp itself does not have the psychotropic effects that marijuana does, but it also has higher concentrations of the cannabinoids. The active ingredient in marijuana is THC and there are actually different forms of it that have varying effects. Again, the research for actual appropriate doses may be getting done in some areas, but the use of these is still anecdotal and there have been questions if the effects being seen are like a placebo effect. My concern with a pet owner just starting to use CBD oils is that they may be masking signs of a more serious problem needing veterinary attention. The oils are not meant to be a first line treatment.
The future of medical marijuana and pets could be interesting. Benefits could include appetite stimulation, pain control, anti-cancer properties, and relieving of anxiety to name a few. As of this point though, it’s not legal, and we also don’t quite know enough to use it safely or effectively on a routine basis. So if you ask your veterinarian about using it in your pets, we aren’t allowed to prescribe or suggest it – not because we aren’t willing to try, but because we could lose our licenses. Keep your stash safe and if your pet finds some, be sure contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Dr. Ryan Llera is a small animal veterinarian at the Kingston Veterinary Clinic. Though originally from Florida, he married a Canadian (who is also a vet!) and they share their home with two cats, two dogs, two horses, and a rabbit. Dr. Llera also contributes writing to various other animal and veterinary related blogs. You can find more of his writing at www.DRRYANLLERA.com, or see what else he is up to on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
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*Please note that specific medical questions about your pet cannot be addressed and you should speak with your personal veterinarian.
Disclaimer: All columns are personally written and my opinion and may not necessarily reflect those of current or former employers.