With legalization of adult-use marijuana set to begin Jan. 1 in Illinois, the American Veterinary Medical Association is warning residents of the dangers marijuana ingestion can cause their pets.
“We’ve seen a marked increase in any state that has legalized marijuana, where there’s been a huge spike in the amount of cases of animals coming into veterinary hospitals, clearly under the effects of marijuana,” said Dr. John de Jong, the group’s president.
De Jong said THC, the psychoactive substance in marijuana, is toxic to dogs. Ingestion of THC by animals can cause vomiting, incoordination, depression, sleepiness or excitation, low blood pressure, low body temperature and seizures, according to the veterinary organization.
Edible products, which will become legal in Illinois Jan. 1 as well, pose a special risk. That’s because they are often mixed with other products such as chocolate or other complex sugars that are also poisonous to dogs.
“So when the animal has consumed marijuana products that have been mixed with other things that might also be toxic to dogs, then suddenly the risks are increased considerably,” de Jong said.
De Jong said he was not aware of any immediate deaths of animals caused by marijuana ingestion, but the toxicity of THC to dogs could cause serious damage.
“If they got enough of it (THC), it could probably cause enough damage to the liver or kidney system to have long lasting effects that might eventually kill them,” he said.
De Jong said in 2019 the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ poison control center reported a 765% increase in calls about marijuana ingestion by animals over the same period the previous year. Calls to the Pet Poison Helpline soared over 400% in the past six years.
In Colorado, veterinary visits for marijuana ingestion at two animal hospitals quadrupled from 2005 to 2010, de Jong said. During that time, the state’s active medical marijuana registrations increased by more than 100%.
De Jong said the process of treating a pet for marijuana consumption is “supportive care,” although more intensive medical intervention can sometimes be necessary.
“If they got into THC, you may, depending on how soon the animal presents after being exposed, you may want to induce vomiting, or use activated charcoal to try and find anything that’s in their stomach. Otherwise, you’ve got to ride it out and give them supportive care,” he said.
If a pet does show signs of marijuana toxicity – such as rigidness, nervousness, poor balance, seizures, drooling or dribbling urine – de Jong said a veterinarian should be contacted as quickly as possible.
De Jong said smoking in the same room as a pet could be dangerous as well, although the evidence of ambient smoke affecting pets is more anecdotal. The AVMA said marijuana smokers should do so away from pets, and any edibles should be kept secure and inaccessible to pets.
“We’re more concerned, especially with dogs, about the ingestion of marijuana,” he said.