What To Do in Case of Marijuana Intoxication

By: Christine New, DVM

TVMA Member
Dallas, Texas

Published December 2015

Marijuana in all forms is toxic to dogs and cats. Marijuana ingestion occurs much more commonly in dogs than in cats because dogs tend to be less scrupulous in the things they eat. After consuming marijuana, dogs typically show clinical signs within 30 to 90 minutes. Signs include wobbliness and incoordination, drowsiness, jitteriness, restlessness and hypersensitivity to touch, sound and lights, meaning they startle easily. Dogs may urinate on themselves, have low heart rates and dilated pupils.

Drug Testing

Veterinarians are not required to report pet marijuana ingestion to law enforcement. If there is a possibility that marijuana was in the pet’s environment, it is best to be honest and forthcoming so prompt and appropriate treatment can begin. Similarly, you should disclose any other possible drug ingestion (illicit or prescription) to your veterinarian. If there is marijuana in your pet’s environment and your pet is not acting normally, you should assume your pet has access to it. Remember, dogs can be adept in gaining access to things they would like to eat.

If marijuana ingestion is suspected, a urine sample can be tested to confirm exposure and likely intoxication. Human urine drug tests can be purchased without a prescription from any drug store as well as the pharmacy section of many grocery stores. Human urine drug tests are highly accurate at detecting marijuana and other drugs in your pet’s urine. If there is a suspicion that your pet may have ingested a drug, your veterinarian may ask you to provide a urine drug test while clinic staff members obtain a urine sample for testing. Urine drug tests provide accurate results within five to 10 minutes.

Treatment Options

Treatment for marijuana intoxication is focused on removing the marijuana from your pet’s body. If ingestion occurred within 30 minutes of the time of presentation and your pet is alert and appears to be acting normal, your veterinarian may induce vomiting to remove as much of the material as possible prior to absorption. This greatly reduces the potential for toxicity. Owners should not attempt to make dogs vomit since serious and potentially life-threatening complications such as choking and aspiration can occur.

Your veterinarian may recommend hospitalization of your pet for 12 to 24 hours for close monitoring. Additional treatments that may be administered include intravenous (IV) fluids and oral activated charcoal, which can further help absorb the marijuana in your pet’s system. IV fluids hasten the excretion of the drug in your pet’s urine while activated charcoal binds to the drug within the gastrointestinal tract to further reduce absorption and aid in excretion in subsequent stools.

Close monitoring of your pet’s body temperature, heart rate and breathing are also needed until the marijuana has been cleared from your pet’s body and your pet returns to normal. Marijuana is a powerful sedative, and at high doses, it can induce a life-threatening coma. With appropriate, interventional care by a veterinarian, marijuana toxicity is almost never fatal. Long-term side effects are extremely rare.

Dr. Christine New practices veterinary medicine at the Hillside Veterinary Clinic in Dallas.