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THC Toxicity in Pets

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THC Toxicity in Dogs and Cats _ ASPCA Pet Insurance _ kitten wrapped in a blue blanket

Calls to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center about THC exposure jumped up significantly in 2019.* That's not surprising as more states legalize the use of marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes. Here's what you need to know about THC toxicity in dogs and cats.

Learn the Lingo

Terms like marijuana and THC can be confusing. Here's what they mean and how they differ from one another.

  • Cannabis – This is a family or genus of plants that includes both marijuana and hemp plants. Cannabis plants contain more than 80 biologically active chemical compounds.+
  • Marijuana – Marijuana is a type of cannabis plant that contains many compounds, including THC and CBD. It's known for having high amounts of THC.
  • Hemp – Hemp is considered a low THC cannabis plant, which has high amounts of CBD. The stalks of the hemp plant can be used to make products, such as fabric, rope, and paper. The seeds can be pressed to create hemp oil, which is not the same as CBD oil.
  • THC – THC is the abbreviation for Tetrahydrocannabinol. It's one of over 100 different compounds called cannabinoids found in cannabis. THC causes the "high" feeling associated with marijuana.
  • CBD – CBD stands for cannabidiol. It's a single compound derived from a cannabis plant. There are lots of CBD oil products on the market these days, from pet chews to liquid drops.

is cbd healthy for dogs and cats _ dog resting on a white carpet while woman does yoga

Health Benefit Claims

CBD products make all sorts of health claims, such as reducing anxiety, promoting sleep, and managing pain for pets. Currently, the potential benefits of CBD for pets are not well researched or understood. The U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that many of these products are being marketed with unproven medical claims and unknown quality.+ They also may carry risks, such as stomach upset or liver damage.

To date, the FDA has approved one cannabis-derived drug product (Epidiolux) as a treatment for seizures related to certain conditions in humans. They have also approved three synthetic cannabis-related drug products to treat nausea associated with chemotherapy and anorexia in AIDS patients.

Much of the research done so far related to pets has been on toxic effects. While there is research taking place into possible medicinal uses for CBD in pets, including epilepsy, osteoarthritis, and chronic pain, it has not been approved by the FDA for any of these uses.

Help keep your pet safe by knowing what could harm them. Learn about 16 things never to feed your dog and 25 common plants poisonous to cats.

Risks of THC Exposure for Pets

You might not think your pet would eat cannabis, but dogs, in particular, have been known to eat all sorts of strange things from piles of sand at the beach to stinky socks pulled out of the laundry basket. Cats tend to have more discerning palettes than dogs, but our felines love to nibble on plant leaves. This can put them at risk for THC exposure if cannabis plants are grown in the home.

Both dogs and cats may be tempted to eat edibles containing THC. These edibles come in all sorts of forms, including cookies, brownies, gummies, chocolates, and other tasty treats that can be appealing to pets. They may also contain other ingredients that can be harmful, such as chocolate or xylitol, which is an artificial sweetener that is highly toxic to pets.

dangers of marijuana for dogs and cats _ dog and cat meeting in a living room

Is Marijuana Bad for Dogs and Cats?

The THC in marijuana is toxic for pets. So, how does THC affect dogs? What about cats? THC will make your pet feel "high." They may appear dazed, disoriented, and confused. They can have difficulty walking and maintaining their balance. Other symptoms include:

  • Glassy eyes and dilated pupils
  • Hyperactivity
  • Vocalization
  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Urinary incontinence

THC exposure can also affect their heart rate and body temperature. In severe cases, it can cause tremors, seizures, and coma. The severity will depend on the amount of THC involved along with factors including the size of your pet.

If you suspect your pet has been exposed to THC, you should contact your veterinarian or call the ASPCA® Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) at 888-426-4435 right away. The APCC is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A consultation fee may apply, but a portion of that is covered by our pet insurance. Their experts have access to resources that can help diagnosis the problem and recommend next steps.

Do you know what to do in a poison emergency? Get pet poison safety tips every pet parent should know.

Diagnosis and Treatment

To diagnose THC exposure, your veterinarian will need to get an accurate account of what happened. Some pet parents may feel nervous, embarrassed, or even guilty about the situation. But it's important that you share all of the facts with your veterinarian so your pet can get the best care possible. Your veterinarian may also conduct a test that can detect THC in the urine to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment for THC exposure is focused on supportive care. For instance, the pet may need fluids to keep them hydrated or medications to regulate their heart rate or body temperature. If they're disoriented and unstable, they may need close supervision to make sure they don't hurt themselves.

Your veterinarian may recommend intravenous lipid infusion therapy, which can help THC pass through your pet's body quicker. Other possible treatments include inducing vomiting, pumping the pet's stomach, or administering activated charcoal, which helps prevent toxins from being absorbed into the body.

Pet Safety Tips for THC

These tips can help you keep your pet safe from THC poisoning:

  • Treat cannabis and products with THC as medications and store them safely out of paw's reach. A high medicine cabinet or locked box can be good choices for storage.
  • Remember that edibles with THC may be particularly tempting for your pet. Avoid leaving them out on tables, counters, or anywhere else your curious pet might be able to get at them.
  • Keep your pet out of rooms where cannabis is being smoked. Wait until the air is fully clear before allowing your pet back in. While the jury is still out on how cannabis smoke affects animals, many studies highlight the danger of secondhand smoke to our pets, including eye irritation and increases in different types of cancers.

If your pet is exposed to THC, remember not to panic and seek medical help as soon as you can to help your pet recover safely.

* Marijuana Toxicosis in Animals, ASPCApro

+ What You Need to Know (And What We're Working to Find Out) About Products Containing Cannabis or Cannabis-derived Compounds, Including CBD, U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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