With Illinois Governor JB Pritzker signing a bill June 24th making Illinois the 11th state to legalize marijuana, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is encouraging all pet owners to make sure an increase in legalization doesn’t lead to an increase in pet poisonings.
While marijuana use can be a pleasurable experience for people, it can be scary and dangerous for dogs. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive substance in marijuana that produces a high for humans, is toxic to dogs, and can cause vomiting, incoordination, depression, sleepiness or excitation, low blood pressure, low body temperature and seizures. Death is rare but there have been a few cases reported.
Marijuana poisonings have been on the rise in dogs in recent years. In 2019 the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center reported a 765% increase in calls about marijuana ingestion by animals over the same period last year. The Pet Poison Helpline has reported an over 400% increase in marijuana-related calls over the past six years. And anecdotally, the AVMA has heard from member veterinarians reporting an increased number of pets coming into their clinics with signs of marijuana intoxication.
Legalization of medical and recreational marijuana may increase the chances of dogs ingesting harmful amounts of the drug. For example, a 2012 study showed that cases of marijuana toxicosis at two Colorado veterinary hospitals quadrupled over a five-year period (2005-10) during which the number of state medical marijuana registrations increased by more than 100 percent. Two dogs died after eating baked goods containing tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in cannabis, the study stated.
Edible products–such as pot brownies, candy bars and other baked goods–are a particular concern. Due to its lipophilic (“fat-loving”) nature, THC is highly concentrated in the butter used for such edible products compared to plant material. Therefore these products can cause pets to become particularly ill. These products could pose an increased risk due to additional toxic ingredients, such as chocolate, raisins or sugar-free sweeteners such as xylitol, which could compound their toxicity.
There may also be risks of smoking around your pets, as toxic exposures are possible. If you smoke marijuana, the AVMA recommends that you do so away from your pets. As with any drug, you should make sure to keep it secure and inaccessible to your pets.
Even if you don’t bring marijuana into your house, legalization could increase the chances of your dog coming upon a discarded joint or edible while outdoors. Keeping your dog on a leash and preventing them from grazing while out on walks can prevent such exposures.
If your pets show any signs of marijuana toxicity–if they appear off-balance, rigid or nervous, if they’re drooling or dribbling urine, vocalizing or having seizures–please get them to a veterinarian as quickly as possible.