More than a dozen states have legalized recreational marijuana use, and most others allow it in medical capacities. The hemp-derived delta-8 THC is also growing in popularity. It’s even legal in states where marijuana is not.
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But as more and more Americans are incorporating cannabis products into their daily lives, there are also more dogs accidentally getting into their owners’ weed.
“We’ve actually seen huge increases in calls to the pet poison hotlines and the ASPCA because of this,” says Dr. Rena Carlson, the president of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
What happens if a dog eats weed?
Dogs process marijuana in their central nervous system similar to humans, but their response to the high is much different, according to Carlson, because they don’t understand what’s going on.
“They’re going to be much more stressed about the fact that they may not have control, they don’t have the wherewithal or rational understanding that this is a temporary high,” Carlson told USA TODAY.
Dogs also have more cannabinoid receptors in their brain, so the effects of any THC products will be more pronounced and toxic than when humans consume them.
The symptoms of a dog under the influence of marijuana are similar to any other toxin, Carlson says:
- Uncoordinated or abnormal walking
- Urinating uncontrollably
- Pupils dilated
- Abrupt depression or excitement
In higher doses, vets typically see low blood pressure and heart rates, seizures and even death.
“Any of those signs is certainly alarming and you’d want to seek veterinary care as soon as possible,” Carlson says.
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Is weed bad for dogs?
Yes. According to the AVMA, there have been several dog deaths due to cannabis toxicity, likely because of complications like aspiration (trouble breathing). Cannabis toxicity also comes from exposure to edibles, which may have other ingredients that are toxic to dogs.
“Just because we may find a pleasurable experience with these products, it is not the case for dogs, even at low doses,” Carlson says.
If your dog gets into edibles in the form of brownies or gummies, there might be chocolate, oils or other harmful foods. According to Carlson, this is where vets see overdoses occur because animals don’t often stop at a bite or two – they may even chew through plastic or nudge a cabinet door open to devour the whole thing.
“Oftentimes the products are put together in a form that entices the animal,” Carlson says. “Dogs have such a great sense of smell that they seek that out, they know that’s something that would be palatable to them. … They have no way to know that there’s a potentially toxic compound in that product.”
The key is to make sure your pets don’t get into your cannabis products at all, including cats, who are often more sensitive to THC, Carlson says. Put your products high on shelves or in areas pets aren’t able to get through.
Exposure can also happen on walks, so Carlson recommends keeping them on leashes and close by your side so they don’t wander off and eat something they shouldn’t. Non-owners can help out by not littering.
“Prevention is key,” Carlson says.
Owners should also exercise caution when it comes to CBD dog treats. As a growing number of people treat pain and stress with CBD, some are choosing to let their dogs in on the alternative medicine. Carlson says little is known about the benefits and safety of these products. It’s better to consult your veterinarian for advice and treatment for doggy anxiety.
“We have very little control over the concentrations and exactly which product is in there,” Carlson says. “Within the group of CBD and THC, there’s a lot of variation on exactly which receptor in the nervous system that particular compound would bind to and react with.”
What do I do if my dog ate weed?
Your job as a pet owner is simple – take your dog to the vet right away and be upfront about the potential marijuana intoxication so they can quickly assess and treat. Some owners hesitate to disclose because of state laws prohibiting weed, Carlson says, but it could be a matter of life or death for your pet. Be specific if you can.
“There’s other products in there that are fine for people, but can be toxic to dogs and cats,” Carlson says. “Those are added complications that the veterinarian needs to know – what might have been in that product that we would need to worry about.”
The vet will then provide your dog with supportive care, helping them through the high as it runs its course by keeping them full of fluids. If it’s early enough from the exposure, they can also induce vomiting or give them activated charcoal to move the toxic ingredients through the GI tract without being absorbed. Treatment depends on the dosage, so if you know it, that’s good to share as well. If your dog is seizing, for example, they can help control those safely.
If you’re unsure about your dog’s symptoms, the ASPCA runs a 24-hour Animal Poison Control Center where they can offer advice at 888-426-4435.
How long until weed is out of a dog’s system?
The length of time weed spends in the system depends on the dog and the dosage. Carlson says she’s seen cases that last a couple of hours and some that last days. Your vet will be able to give you a clearer picture of the care timeline; the most important thing to worry about is getting them there in the first place.
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