Pot and Your Pet: Keep Out of Paws’ Reach!

By Joe Musielak, DVM, Pilchuck's Small-Animal Emergency Department

Recent changes in marijuana laws have also had an effect on veterinary medicine. Many people may be surprised to realize that veterinary ER hospitals saw cases of accidental marijuana exposure in pets (mostly dogs) prior to the laws changing. We have definitely seen an increase in pets showing symptoms of THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) intoxication with the legal changes. We actually saw a climb in exposure that started a few months prior to the law going into effect in Washington State. 

Dogs that have been exposed to marijuana usually present showing signs of difficulty walking, being easily startled, and sometimes dribbling urine. They may also have extremely low body temperatures and very low heart rates. These last two signs can be life-threatening if your pet ingested a large amount of THC in substances such as “pot butter” or hash oil. We recently had one patient who was hospitalized for several days in a coma-like state from ingesting hash oil. Medical marijuana chocolate bars may have quite high levels of THC when ingested by a small dog, AND you have the added chocolate toxicity to deal with. 

These symptoms can be indicators of exposure to other toxins such as antifreeze or other health disorders. Fortunately we have a urine test to let us know if your dog has been exposed to marijuana. Our test detects the breakdown products of THC in the dog’s urine. Dogs have slightly different breakdown products than humans do, so human urine drug tests that you can purchase over the counter will usually give a false negative. Dogs are not small humans. 

If your pet presents with these signs, we can test for marijuana and initiate treatment if the results are positive. Most pets do well with general treatments designed to remove toxins from the body, such as IV fluids, activated charcoal, and in some of the extreme cases a new therapy called lipid rescue. 

It’s important to test for marijuana if it is suspected because then we can stop looking for other causes for these symptoms. Treatment for marijuana exposure usually has a much better outcome than that for antifreeze exposure, for example. If the test is negative, then we have to keep looking for the cause of the symptoms. 

We have seen pets present after eating garbage containing marijuana cigarette ash; pot brownies and cigarette butts are also frequent sources. The important thing to remember is that the staff doesn’t really care where the exposure came from. We just want to treat your pet effectively and appropriately. We let you do the detective work at home to prevent a future exposure. 

PVH offers comprehensive and 24/7 emergency care. Call 360.568.3113 for appointments. Located in Snohomish.

Article added 7.23.14