Cannabis in pets – what are the risks?
Cannabis is the collective term for all psychoactive substances derived from the dried leaves and flowers of the plant Cannabis sativa, the active ingredient being tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Other terms for the recreational drug include weed, pot, dope, grass, marijuana and hashish. Pets are at risk of cannabis intoxication if they eat cannabis or inhale the smoke.
What are the potential hazards of cannabis exposure in pets?
The effects of cannabis intoxication occur rapidly (within 30-60 minutes). However, if ingested with fatty foods such as cake, the effects can occur quicker. If inhaled, signs may start as late as 4 hours after exposure. Effects include:
- Drowsiness and depression, disorientation
- Wobbliness, incoordination when walking or taking really long steps
- Slow or fast heart rate, fast breathing
- Behavioural changes with aggression, agitation, vocalising and apparent hallucinations
- Dilated pupils and reddened eyes
- Salivation and vomiting
- Urinary and faecal incontinence
- Twitching, tremors or seizures
- Low or high body temperature
Animals can recover within 24 hours if only mildly affected but in those with more pronounced effects, recovery may take 3-4 days. When treated, prognosis is good.
What is the difference between cannabis oil, hemp oil and CBD oil?
There are different strains of Cannabis sativa and they contain oils which have different amounts of THC and cannabidiol (CBD). THC has psychoactive effects but CBD does not.
Cannabis oil (hash oil) is high in THC and can cause the same effects as cannabis.
Cannabidiol (CBD) oil is high in CBD and low in THC and does not cause the intoxicating effects of cannabis. It is sometimes used in pets (and people) for a variety of conditions. No studies regarding the safety of CBD oil in pets are available so ask your veterinary surgeon for advice before using.
Hemp oil (hemp seed oil) is of low toxicity and can cause gastrointestinal upset if ingested.
How do I reduce the risk of cannabis poisoning in my pet?
You should store any cannabis products out of sight and out of reach of your pet and do not leave cannabis-containing baked goods (eg cannabis cookies or brownies) where pets can access them.
Do not feed cannabis to pets and do not smoke cannabis around your pet. When smoking, make sure that the area is well ventilated before allowing pets back in.
What should I do if I think my pet has eaten cannabis?
If you suspect that your pet has eaten cannabis, first you should remove your pet from the source of poisoning, and, if you can do so safely, remove any suspect material from your pet’s mouth. If practical collect a sample of what has been eaten or a sample of vomit (but DO NOT attempt to make your pet vomit).
You should then contact your vet for advice and be prepared to take your pet and the suspect material to the veterinary surgery.
What information will help my vet?
On arrival at the veterinary surgery someone will assess your pet immediately and make sure that its condition is stable before any other treatments are instigated. Your vet will want to know:
- What your pet has eaten or inhaled, and the amount if possible.
- How long ago the incident happened.
- If your pet is showing any signs of being unwell.
- If your pet is receiving any medication or has any pre-existing medical conditions.