Curiosity and the cat have always gone hand in hand. However, when the cat decides to taste test some new treats in the house, it could have very bad consequences especially if that treat includes something toxic. Many people are aware of the dangers of chocolate, various nuts, grapes, raisins, and other foods…but did you know that marijuana is also toxic for pets?

With marijuana laws changing across the country, pet emergency rooms are seeing a big spike in the number of cases of dogs, cats, and other pets that have ingested marijuana. The Pet Poison Helpline has seen a 330 percent increase in calls involving pets and pot in the past five years with about two-thirds of the calls involving food or oils laced with marijuana or one of its active chemicals. Studies in Colorado have shown marijuana exposure cases have quadrupled since legalization. Since medical marijuana was legalized in Illinois, we’ve seen an increase in these types of cases at Veterinary Specialty Center.

The exposure can come in many forms; from pot brownies to pets drinking bong water to smoke exposure. One of the problems is that many of the edibles or medicinal doses are infused with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in a high concentration. That increased potency in a yummy butter, oil, or in baked goods can cause bigger problems for pets.

In cases of typical exposure to natural forms of marijuana, symptoms resolve with time and some pets require support with intravenous fluids and monitoring in the hospital. In these cases, symptoms improve within 6-12 hours.

However, when THC is involved, there is much more risk. THC is lipophilic so it binds well in fat. This means the marijuana edibles such as butters, oils, etc. contain higher doses of THC and cause more severe and prolonged symptoms, lasting up to 5 days and requiring prolonged hospitalization. Because of the lipophilic nature of THC, more pronounced exposure can be treated with IV lipids but these do have the risk of causing pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas).

Symptoms of ingestion may include vomiting, racing, or slowed heart rates, tremors, or seizures. Clinical signs also include:

  • Mental dullness/drowsiness but hyper-reactive to stimuli
  • Dribbling urine
  • Hypothermia

If your pet has ingested or you suspect your pet has ingested, marijuana or a medicinal version of pot, it is important that you get medical advice immediately from your veterinarian or an emergency veterinary team. Often it could mean a night or two in the ER as veterinarians induce vomiting or administer intravenous fluids and other medications to stabilize your dog or cat.

Accidents and illnesses do happen for pets, even when you follow pet safety tips. Veterinary Specialty Center’s Emergency and Critical Care Department is open 24-hours a day, 365 days a year. Our 24-hour emergency facility is located at 1515 Busch Parkway (the corner of Milwaukee Avenue, just north of Deerfield Parkway) in Buffalo Grove and we can be reached at 847.459.7535. If you’re coming into our emergency room, it does help to call in advance if possible or get in line online for non-urgent cases.