Marijuana intoxication may occur in pets that have access to marijuana plants, dried portions of the plants, or foodstuffs containing marijuana.
Serious long-term health consequences and fatality from marijuana intoxication are extremely rare, although newer highly concentrated strains of marijuana and synthetic drugs (such as “spice”) that mimic marijuana pose a more significant threat. Also, pets that are exposed to marijuana may display anxiety and disorientation, and are prone to “bad trips”. Intoxicated pets may lack the coordination necessary to consume food and water.
Intoxication with marijuana appears clinically similar to other, more serious forms of poisoning. However, most animals recover from marijuana toxicity over a period of several hours.
Anxiety, panting, heavy breathing and agitation commonly occur following exposure to marijuana. In some pets, marijuana toxicity results in profound lethargy that can border on unconsciousness. Pets suffering from marijuana intoxication often show impaired balance. They may stagger, stumble, and fall attempting to walk. Vomiting, diarrhea and drooling can occur. After exposure to marijuana, pets may lose bowel and bladder control.
Extreme responses to noises, movements, and other forms of sensory stimulation may occur in pets that are exposed to marijuana. These responses can manifest as jerking of the head or extremities. In severe cases, the responses may appear similar to seizures.
Risk Factors and Prevention
The main risk factor is the presence of whole marijuana plants, dried plant parts, or foods containing marijuana in the pet’s environment.
Deliberate exposure of pets to marijuana is not unheard of. People may intentionally feed marijuana to pets, or deliberately expose pets to marijuana smoke.
Long-term complications from exposure to marijuana are very rare. Pets suffering from marijuana intoxication may injure themselves due to lack of coordination. Dehydration can result when pets are unable to consume water.
In many cases, diagnosis is based on clinical symptoms in combination with known or potential exposure to marijuana.
In some instances, extensive diagnostic testing is performed to ensure that other, more serious forms of intoxication are not occurring.
How to treat marijuana intoxication
The goal of treatment is to nurse the pet and prevent anxiety until the period of intoxication is complete. Noise and other sensory stimuli should be minimized. Some pets require sedatives or injections of fluids.
If a large quantity of marijuana is in a pet’s stomach, the attending veterinarian may cause the pet to vomit.
Most cases of marijuana intoxication resolve over a period of 3 – 12 hours.
Because it is a controlled substance, people who know that their pet has consumed marijuana are often reluctant to reveal this fact to veterinarians. The symptoms of marijuana intoxication are similar to those of several more serious syndromes. If the veterinarian treating the pet is not aware of marijuana exposure, he or she is likely to recommend a number of expensive tests and treatments that may not be necessary.