If you witnessed or strongly suspect your pet ingested THC buds or edible products, this is considered an “ORANGE” – or urgent case – on our Fast Track Triage system. We recommend calling ASPCA Animal Poison Control at 888-426-4435 for help determining if your pet consumed a toxic amount and for guidance on what to do next. If veterinary care is advised, call your family veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital ahead of your arrival.
Earlier this year, Dex, a one-year-old Collie arrived at our ER.
Wobbly walk? Yup.
High heart rate? High temperature? Double yup.
Over-reacting to stimuli around his face? Yu- wait, what?
If you wave your hand in front of his face, does he have an exaggerated response? Oooh. Let’s see – yup. Definite yup.
When a pet like Dex comes into our ER with these symptoms, our team can quickly surmise the pet was likely exposed to marijuana or THC products. Over the years, as more states legalize recreational marijuana and THC products become more accessible, we’ve unfortunately seen an increase in THC toxicity cases in our animal ER.
Understanding THC Toxicity in Pets
Marijuana, which comes from the cannabis plant, contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which directly affects the brain’s cannabinoid receptors. Pets can be exposed to THC from eating marijuana (including edible products) or by inhaling the smoke.
Pets are much more sensitive to THC than humans, and it only takes a small amount for symptoms to occur. In addition to the symptoms that Dex was experiencing, pets may also have dilated pupils, agitation or sedation, drooling, vomiting, or urinary incontinence. In severe cases, tremors or even a coma are also possible. Generally speaking, THC toxicity in pets has an overall good prognosis with the appropriate veterinary treatment – most patients recover well within 24 hours of exposure.
Since many products containing THC (especially homemade baked goods or marijuana buds) don’t list the concentration of THC in the product, it’s difficult to know how much was consumed. Typically, though, dogs and cats start showing signs of THC intoxication 30 to 90 minutes post-exposure – though that can vary depending on the individual pet since some pets are more sensitive. Signs often last 18-24 hours but can last up to 72 hours.
Fortunately for Dex, time was on his side.
The Importance of Honesty in THC Toxicity Cases
When THC toxicity cases come to our ER, it’s very important for pet owners to be honest and upfront about exposure. THC toxicity is often very easy for veterinarians to diagnose based on the presenting symptoms, but we can’t begin treatment until THC exposure is confirmed by the pet’s owner or by testing. There are other toxins, drugs, and underlying diseases that cause the same symptoms as THC toxicity, so our team must rule out more life-threatening causes like antifreeze poisoning, neurological disease, or liver failure. That rule-out process equates to additional tests and added expense to the pet owner.
Our team also needs to know exactly what the pet was exposed to, and the estimated quantity consumed to evaluate the best course of action. For example, marijuana mixed into butter contains much higher THC levels than regular marijuana bud or flower. Thus, ingestion of the butter itself or baked goods that contain marijuana butter will increase the severity of the pet’s condition and require more aggressive treatment.
Luckily for Dex, his humans did the two best things they could do in this situation:
- They brought him into our ER as soon as possible – 1-2 hours after Dex’s estimated exposure
- They immediately told our team that Dex got into cannabis wax – which is a concentrated form of cannabis and is much more potent than the plant itself.
With confirmation of THC toxicity its source, our team was able to start immediate treatment.
Dex’s Hospitalized Comedown
There’s no specific antidote to reverse THC toxicity. Instead, supportive care and treatment is employed in an attempt to flush the toxin from the body more quickly. Since Dex had already developed symptoms, our team jumped into action and began providing treatment right away.
First, we induced vomiting to remove any residual cannabis wax from Dex’s stomach. After vomiting, Dex became very lethargic. He couldn’t walk or even raise his head, and his blood pressure dropped.
Dex was given a fluid bolus (a rapid administration of a large volume of IV fluids) to increase his blood pressure. It worked! Dex’s blood pressure increased to a normal level. He was then started on intralipids – which create a lipid “sink” that attracts other lipid-soluble compounds, including THC, and removes them from the bloodstream.
Overnight, Dex gradually improved. His temperature normalized and he started lifting his head and moving his limbs. By morning, he was still a little sleepy but able to walk normally – plus, he ate his food!
Without treatment, Dex could have worsened quickly at home, potentially experiencing some of the more severe symptoms of THC toxicity such as tremors or coma. His humans did the right thing to bring him to our ER as soon as possible. Fortunately for Dex, he was able to go home after his overnight hospitalization.
Since synthetic THC is becoming more popular and Minnesota’s marijuana laws are currently in flux, Dex’s case is an important reminder to pet parents to keep all marijuana and THC products away from pets. Keep items in a cupboard that’s secured with a baby-proof lock. Also, if you’re making edible products at home, keep pets out of the kitchen until the finished product is secured and stored out of your pet’s reach. It’s also important not to smoke marijuana near pets.
To prevent further exposure, be cautious on walks. We’ve heard multiple reports of dogs getting into marijuana or THC products while on a walk. If you notice your dog pick something up off the sidewalk or in a yard, immediately retrieve the item from your dog’s mouth.
If you discover your pet got into any marijuana, THC, or any other item not intended for consumption by pets (or you suspect they did), contact your family veterinarian, local animal urgent care, or local animal ER right away for immediate treatment.
Our “Fur-tunately: Stories of Animal Survival” series features real pets treated by our team at Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota. All images and information have been shared with the owner’s permission.
Case content provided by Latasha Sikes, DVM.
- Marijuana Poisoning in Pets: Part I | What Pet Owners Need to Know
- Marijuana Poisoning in Pets: Part II | Why Pet Owners Need to be Honest
- 10 Most Common Human Foods that are Toxic to Pets