Can Dogs Get High? The Dangerous Effects of Marijuana on Dogs
As marijuana is starting to be legalized throughout the country, it means that veterinarians will probably see an increase in pets accidentally ingesting the drug. So what should pet owners do if their dog eats marijuana? Can dogs get high? Does marijuana have harmful effects on dogs?
Find out what to do, why you shouldn’t treat your pet at home, and why you should never be afraid to bring your dog to the vet if you suspect they’ve eaten marijuana.
CBD Oil and Dogs
First, it is important to make the distinction between CBD oil and marijuana. You may have heard about CBD oil being used to treat certain ailments in dogs. Cannabidiol (CBD) oil is culled from marijuana or hemp plants, but it has very little to no amounts of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol)—the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that makes you high. So if a dog ingests CBD oil, they will not suffer from the same side effects that they would if they ingest marijuana.
Will Dogs Eat Weed?
Yes. Both vets we spoke to said they’ve seen dogs eat both raw leaf marijuana and “edibles,” or foods infused with marijuana. Can dogs get high from eating marijuana? The answer is yes, as well. However, while dogs can get high, it does not mean that it’s okay or that they find the effects of marijuana enjoyable.
Dr. Carly Fox, DVM, staff doctor at Animal Medical Center’s Emergency and Critical Care Service in New York City, explains that, “It’s rarely fatal.” But to reiterate, when a human ingests marijuana, they know what they signed up for. That is not the case with dogs, and they can end up becoming very sick.
What Does Marijuana Exposure Look Like in Dogs?
Dr. Fox says that some of the marijuana effects that a dog may exhibit include ataxia (loss of coordination that can show up as an uncoordinated or “drunken” walk), incontinence and hypersensitivity to touch. They can also be especially hypersensitive to sounds. During a physical exam, a vet may also notice a slower heart rate and lower temperature than normal, Dr. Fox tells says.
Normally, your dog will recover within 12-24 hours. If your dog’s symptoms persist longer than that, it’s probably not marijuana, says Dr. Fox.
“If your dog does ingest pot, there’s no way for you to know how affected they’ll be unless you seek medical attention,” explains Dr. Fox. She also says that pet parents should not try to administer medications or induce vomiting at home. “Vomiting could be dangerous to them because it could result in aspiration [when food or other foreign bodies become lodged in the throat],” says Dr. Fox.
With edibles, you’ll also have to be careful of the other ingredients like chocolate or sugar, which can be harmful to dogs.
“If they get into a huge container of brownies, they’re going to get a pretty massive dose of marijuana, but they’re also going to get a ton of butter and grease and fat and a ton of other stuff that’s bad for them,” says Dr. Tim Hackett, board-certified emergency and critical veterinarian and interim director of the Colorado State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital. He says that edibles tend to take a lot longer to leave an animal’s system since the THC in edibles is highly concentrated and dosed for an adult human, not an animal.
Don’t Be Afraid To Take Your Dog to the Vet
Since marijuana is still illegal in many places and others may judge you for having the drug, it’s understandable that many pet owners may feel ashamed or even afraid that there will be legal consequences. But both vets we spoke to assured us that this wasn’t the case.
“I’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of cases and not one has ever gone in a legal direction, ever,” says Dr. Fox. “Our biggest concern as veterinarians is treating the dog.”
The more honest an owner is about possible ingestion of marijuana, the less diagnostic testing will need to be run to rule out a neurologic or metabolic cause, and treatment can start more quickly.
How Vets May Treat Your Dog
If you bring your dog in to the vet within one to two hours of them eating marijuana, the vet may induce vomiting, but only if the marijuana hasn’t been absorbed yet. If the dog is exhibiting the symptoms mentioned above, the THC has already been digested, and it’s too late to induce vomiting, says Dr. Hackett.
The vet will probably offer supportive care and give intravenous fluids to help dilute the toxins and decrease the rate of absorption, explains Dr. Hackett. Your vet may also run a blood test or other diagnostic tests to rule out other toxins or even underlying metabolic or neurologic diseases, says Dr. Fox.
If your dog is unable to stand up, he or she will probably have to be admitted to the hospital, says Dr. Fox. If the dog is in severe shape, the vet may choose to give an IV lipid or fat. Marijuana is very fat soluble, and the theory is that a lipid injection will help trap or absorb the marijuana in the fat, explains Dr. Fox.
Since THC is a depressant that can suppress the gag reflex, the dog can’t vomit and expel the vomit, leading to respiratory failure, says Dr. Hackett. If the lungs are physically damaged due to aspirating or inhaling vomit, it can take days to weeks for them to heal, and can also be fatal. This can occur secondary to just about any poisoning and is a complication of surgery in any species, including people. In severe cases, a dog may be put into an oxygen case to support respiration, says Dr. Hackett.
Both vets suggested letting your pet stay overnight so they can be observed. If you bring them home, just pay close attention to your dog and follow your vet’s instructions.
My Dog Ate Weed. Now What?
Animal Poison Control Center fielded a whopping 765 percent more calls about dogs eating weed in 2019 than it had the year prior.
With marijuana laws loosening up nationwide, more pet owners are finding themselves facing a predicament: “My dog ate weed. Now what?” Yes, more dogs are scarfing down their owners’ stash, and it can be a major health concern for the animals. In early 2019, ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center fielded a whopping 765 percent more calls about dogs eating marijuana than it had the year prior. Likewise, veterinarians everywhere say marijuana toxicity cases have skyrocketed. But is weed bad for dogs? How long do the effects last? And what should you do if your dog ate edibles?
Although cats are occasionally the culprits, the vast majority of weed-stealing pets are dogs. Most pups could care less about dry herb, however — it’s all those THC-infused brownies, cookies, and other ganja foods they can’t seem to resist.
“Most dogs who ingest marijuana are eating edibles,” says Kenneth Drobatz, DVM, director of emergency services at the University of Pennsylvania’s Ryan Veterinary Hospital. “It’s not unusual for college kids to come home on break and then suddenly the family pet starts acting strangely. We’ll ask the owner if their dog could’ve gotten into weed, and they say no, no, no. But then they ask their kid and, sure enough, they’d brought a pot brownie home.”
Is Weed Bad For Dogs?
Although dogs very rarely die from marijuana toxicity, it’s a serious condition requiring immediate veterinary care. “They often become ataxic, have a wobbly gait, and might seem light-sensitive, blinking and looking around a lot,” Drobatz says. “If you move your hand toward their head, they back away excessively.” Sometimes dogs dribble urine or vomit, he adds, or, in severe cases, have seizures. Also, just like how pot affects different people differently, some pups will get drowsy while others become anxious and hyper-excitable.
But exactly how a dog will react to weed depends largely on how strong the stuff is. Generally, the higher the THC content, the more toxic it will be, says Drobatz. That means today’s medical-grade marijuana is a lot more hazardous than the ditch weed you may have smoked in the dorms. Pot oils and butters used for cooking and baking tend to be higher in THC.
Edibles, on the other hand — dogs’ favorite form of cannabis — pose a unique danger. Aside from THC, they’re often made with other ingredients that are toxic to dogs. Chocolate is the big one, especially dark chocolate because it’s rich in caffeine and theobromine, two compounds canines can’t metabolize as humans can. If a canine downs enough chocolate, they may experience vomiting, seizures, heart problems, and even death. The sugar alcohol xylitol, another common ingredient in edibles, is similarly toxic to dogs.
A pup’s size also plays role in how weed will affect them. “Like any drug, the higher the dose of THC per body weight, the more potential potency,” Drobatz says. Hence, a tiny terrier may have a rougher go than, say, a full-grown lab.
My Dog Ate Edibles. Now What?
The biggest problem with a dog eating weed is that owners often don’t realize their pup poached their pot until they notice them acting funny. This can make it tough to know exactly how much the dog devoured or how long ago. For this reason, if you have any weed in the house — in any form — Drobatz advises keeping a close eye out for the token signs of marijuana toxicity so you can act fast if you spot them.
“As soon as you see any of the symptoms, bring them into the emergency vet, because you don’t know how severe their reaction will get,” Drobatz says. Just be straight with your vet about what happened, even if marijuana is illegal where you live. Vets have zero interest in turning people in — they only care about the dog’s immediate wellbeing.
Calling an animal poison control hotline for help is also an option, although they usually just tell people to go to the vet, Drobatz notes. And most hotlines charge for the service, so if your fairly certain cannabis is causing your pet’s peculiar behavior, it’s fine to skip this step. “Marijuana has become a very common intoxication, so most vets can look at the characteristic signs, know what the problem is and know how to treat it,” he says.
In those rare instances when an owner catches their pup in the act and gets them to the vet before they begin exhibiting symptoms, the doc may induce vomiting to get the drug out of their body. But once they begin showing neurological signs, vomiting can be dangerous, Drobatz says, so there’s a narrow window in which this is an option. This also means you shouldn’t induce vomiting at home without a vet’s express direction.
Most of the time, vets see pups that are already sick, spaced out, or having trouble walking. In these cases, they offer supportive care. They’ll keep the dog under close observation for several hours, possibly even overnight, and manage their symptoms as they develop. For anxious or agitated pups, they may provide a sedative.
“Sometimes we’ll administer IV fluids to keep them hydrated because we don’t let them drink or take anything orally,” Drobatz says. Fluids can also promote urination, he adds, which will help flush THC from the body. “In really severe cases, intralipid therapy is given through an IV that absorbs marijuana and takes it out of their tissues,” he adds.
Although this whole situation can be scary — and might make you feel like the worst pet owner ever — do your best to stay calm and present. “Chances are your dog will be OK,” Drobatz says. “Once it goes through their system, they should be fine.”