Since non-medical cannabis became legalized in Canada in October 2018, the Investigations & Emergency Response Department (IER) has seen an increase in calls of concern for marijuana toxicity in pets. With the help of the Winnipeg Humane Society’s veterinarian Dr. Johnston, the IER department is hoping to raise awareness of this concern and what to do if it should ever occur.
Prevention is key in protecting your animals and their health!
Ensure any marijuana products are safely stored out of reach of all animals and are never left out unattended. The most common cause of THC toxicity cases in animals is from ingestion. However, it is important to know that all pets are at risk of respiratory irritation from second-hand smoke[i] and should be avoided.
Dogs have a higher number of cannabinoid receptors in the brain[ii] compared with humans.
This could make them more sensitive to the toxic effects of THC. Exposing them to THC-rich cannabis products could put them in a critical medical crisis that requires prompt and appropriate medical treatment. Remember that animal size is a factor – a smaller dog is going to be more susceptible.
Health Canada and the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association have not approved medicinal cannabis products being used on animals.
While cannabidiol (CBD) can be used to help with health problems in people there are no studies proving the efficacy and safety of CBD use in animals. There have been cases of dogs developing the same signs of THC toxicity after ingesting CBD-only products. As these products are not regulated, it could possibly be a quality control issue – CBD products might contain THC even if it is labelled otherwise[iii]. If you are considering using a CBD product on your pet, we highly encourage you to discuss their use with your veterinarian to ensure it’s the best choice for you and your animal. Vets can provide valuable information on published studies, can help avoid potential drug interactions and can offer guidance on how to recognize and reduce the risk of adverse effects and toxicity.
Cats are not immune to marijuana toxicity.
Feline cases are just fewer as they tend to be pickier eaters. Cats generally avoid eating garbage, are less likely to counter surf for scraps and don’t necessarily steal food the same way that dogs do. However, cats can be more susceptible to essential oils that may contain cannabis oil. Please refer to our previous blog about the dangers of essential oils in pets, for more information: https://www.winnipeghumanesociety.ca/a-warning-about-essential-oils-and-your-pet/
Symptoms of marijuana toxicity can be seen typically 30 to 90 minutes after the animal has ingested the item and the effects can last for several days depending on the severity.
Most cases involve a dog inadvertently consuming a personal supply of marijuana, such as a joint or edibles. Animals can also show toxicity symptoms after ingesting edibles that contain chocolate or xylitol (artificial sweetener, toxic to dogs). If these ingredients are involved, the risk of severe illness increases greatly.
Signs of toxicity can include:
• Incoordination (stumbling or falling over)
• Lethargy (lack of energy)
• Dilated pupils
• Decreased heart rate
• Dribbling urine/ urinary incontinence[iv].
Unfortunately, there is no specific medicine or antidote for marijuana toxicity. Instead, treatment often involves IV fluids to help flush the drug out of the animal’s system. The animal is also kept warm to prevent hypothermia and they are typically confined to prevent further injuries to themselves. Veterinarians will rarely induce vomiting, as it can increase the risk of aspiration pneumonia. Recovery can take anywhere between 12 and 24 hours. You may also rack up a large vet bill – the pricing will depend on the clinic you go to, the services provided, and how quickly the animal responds to treatment. It is important to seek immediate treatment for your animal as there is the possibility of the toxicity becoming fatal.
At the end of the day, it is always better to be honest about what your pet has ingested. Marijuana toxicity can sometimes appear to be something else, such as early stages of anti-freeze poisoning. Being truthful will reduce the number of tests done to diagnose what’s wrong and can speed up the treatment process. Veterinarians are not required to report recreational drugs to police, their priority is to help the animals. The more information you provide your veterinarian, the faster they can assist you and your furry family member.
For the month of November 2019, the I/ER team attended 128 animal welfare concerns, 44 animal related emergencies and 36 jobs for a variety of other tasks
For Animal Emergencies within the City of Winnipeg, call 204-982-2020
To report an Animal Welfare Concern within the City of Winnipeg, call 204-982-2028
To reach our Intake Department, call 204-982-2025 option #5
To report an Animal Welfare Concern outside of Winnipeg, call the Animal Care Line at 204-945-8000 or toll free 1-888-945-8001
To report Winnipeg Bylaw concerns (stray dogs, barking complaints), contact 311