4/20 Day Shouldn't Include Pets...Learn Why & How to Protect Them

4/20 Day Shouldn't Include Pets...Learn Why & How to Protect Them


As more states legalize pot, there's been a rise in weed-related illnesses from ingesting cannabis products. Cannabis toxicity is rarely fatal, but if enough of it is ingested, it can have adverse effects on our pets. The best thing you can do is be vigilant and keep it someplace where they can't get to it.

Dr. Grant Little, DVM and veterinarian expert on JustAnswer offered to share tips on the signs to watch for and steps to take if you suspect your fur kid has eaten a gummy.

Q. Is cannabis bad for dogs?

A. Yes, cannabis ingestion for dogs can reach a toxic stage very fast in pets. They can get symptoms quickly from rapid absorption over several hours, especially if it is cooked, baked, or packaged in edibles (the most common form for dogs to get into). The most concerning is when it is ingested with products containing high amounts of butter, as the butter can act as a fat-soluble product that absorbs it much easier and leads to the effects quicker for dogs.

Q. What are the effects of cannabis on dogs?

A. Dogs that ingest cannabis can display symptoms of central nervous system depression, which can include lethargy, stumbling, vomiting, tremors, constricting or dilating the pupils, hypothermia, and urinary incontinence. Other blood pressure and heart rate issues can occur as well. The classic presentation of cannabis toxication for dogs includes depression, hypothermia, slow heart rate, and dribbling urine.

Q. What should you do if your dog accidentally ingests cannabis?

A. Most dogs with cannabis toxicity can recover well on their own. The toxicity itself takes time to resolve, so your dog may want to lie down and rest more frequently. Where concerns start to arise is if there's a complete lack of appetite, unable to stand to urinate or defecate, seizures, muscle tremors, or other severe neurologic symptoms occur.

Rarely is cannabis toxicity fatal, but if you think your pet may have ingested it, it would be wise to seek veterinary care right away or consult with a poison control hotline to determine the next course of action.

Q. Are you seeing more questions within the past year from pet owners who believe their pets have eaten or gotten into their marijuana, either edibles or weed itself?

A. Within the past several years, I'm seeing a rise in these types of questions. Most days that I work Just Answer's call service I get a call from someone concerned that their dog (sometimes cat) ate an edible or got into some marijuana. It's one of the most common toxicities that we see in pets. I've seen it in places where it's legal, and I've seen it in places where it's not legal yet as well.

The key comes down to the frequency of how often we see it and sometimes how honest people will be. I've found that places like California and Washington were more likely to have people confess it happened sooner and oftentimes made it easier to treat their pets if needed.

In midwestern states, I've been suspicious of it because of the classic signs but sometimes people don't give me a straight answer to it. Frequency also goes up in legalized states because people often keep edibles in their house more and their dog seems to get into it more often.

Gummies are the most common because dogs will try to find them and eat them because they contain candy, chocolate, or other tasty additives. The more chocolate that is in it, the more concerning it is as well. The gummy/candy is sometimes more important than them ingesting the marijuana/THC altogether.

Q. What do you typically advise or tell people in these situations?

A. It depends on the symptoms. Most dogs/cats get a certain amount ingested, act lethargic, dribble urine, and act hungry, but otherwise do fine and it will get cleared out within the next couple of days with daily improvement.

Where we get concerned is if a patient is not eating or not able to support itself so much that it's causing harm to themself. In those situations, it's recommended to seek medical care for hospitalization until it passes through the system and they can be discharged once they're eating, drinking, and otherwise supporting themselves okay.

Rarely do patients die from THC/Marijuana toxicity. There are two reports that I know of where dogs died. They both had high doses of edibles with butter, and both vomited. I believe they had complications from the vomiting (such as aspiration pneumonia, a condition where you swallow your vomit into your lungs and get an infection) and that was the primary concern at that point of death. So, while it's possible, it's extremely rare.

Grant Little, DVM, is a small-animal veterinarian from Nebraska who also works as an animal health expert on the JustAnswer platform, answering veterinary questions from pet owners around the world. He studied at Washington State University Veterinary School before returning to Nebraska, where he works in private practice.

Rebecca West

Rebecca is a writer and editor for both print and digital with a love for travel, history, archaeology, trivia, and architecture. Much of her writing has focused on human and animal health and welfare. A life-long pet owner, she has taken part in fostering dogs for military members during deployment and given many rescued and surrendered dogs the forever home they always wanted. Her two favorite canine quotes are, "Be the kind of person your dog thinks you are," and "My dog rescued me."

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