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Donna Solomon, DVM Headshot

Marijuana and Your Pet: Not a Good Time

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Not long ago one of my clients and her 17-year-old son came to see me with their almost one hundred pound Labrador retriever, whom I will fictitiously name "Chewy." This big overgrown teddy bear was acutely ill. He stumbled into the examination room with dilated eyes and a profuse amount of saliva dripping from his mouth. He seemed agitated and disoriented. I did a complete physical examination and detected a slow heart rate and depressed blood pressure. I instantly suspected that Chewy had ingested something toxic and asked both if there were any medications or plants that Chewy may have accidentally eaten. Both adamantly answered "No, he is walked on a leash, no access to plants in the house, and no medications left sitting on countertops." I recommended to the owners that we proceed with some diagnostic testing. As I was about to summon my veterinary technician to draw the patient's blood, the mother asked me, "Can I have a few moments alone with my son?" I immediately exited the examination room. After a few minutes, I returned to find the son absent and the mother embarrassed. She told me that a few hours ago Chewy got into her son's backpack and ingested about one- quarter of an ounce of marijuana.

Since the legalization of marijuana in some communities in United States, the accidental ingestion of marijuana by our pets has risen. The Animal Poison Control Center has reported a 30 percent rise in the number of calls it has received for toxic ingestion of marijuana in the last three years. This increase in calls may correspond to an increased exposure and simultaneous increased willingness of owners to admit their own use.

Signs of marijuana ingestion usually occur within thirty to ninety minutes after ingestion, and may last a few days. This is because the active ingredient, delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is stored in the body's fat and may be slowly released into the bloodstream. The clinical signs of marijuana ingestion are:
  1. Agitation or depression
  2. Staggering or incoordination
  3. Dilated pupils
  4. Drooling
  5. Slow heart rate or collapsing
  6. Seizure

Contact your veterinarian or the Animal Poison Control Center immediately if you suspect your dog or cat may have ingested marijuana. Please honestly report what your pet ate and the quantity. Your veterinarian is interested in helping your pet and not focused on reprimanding you for your extracurricular activities. Don't worry; there are no legal obligations for your veterinarian to report marijuana intoxications to the police. If less than 30 minutes have elapsed since your pet ingested marijuana, your veterinarian may recommend inducing your pet to vomit if it's alert. If your pet ingested it many hours ago, the induction of vomiting is no longer warranted. Frequently, the supportive therapy of intravenous fluids and oral administration of activated charcoal will help reduce the severity and duration of clinical signs.

Whether it's legal or not, please be careful where you store your drugs and drug paraphernalia. If you bake with marijuana, please keep the finished baked goods away from your pet's reach. Most dogs will eat anything that smells good even though it may be detrimental to their health. So be smarter than your pet and keep drugs behind closed cabinet doors that your pet cannot open.

Dr. Donna Solomon is a veterinarian Animal Medical Center of Chicago and invites you to email her your questions or future topic ideas to doctors@animalmedicalcenterofchicago.com.