Marijuana & Your Pets
By: Guest blogger Dr. Ryan Llera
Marijuana is now legal for you to use. For years, people have been lighting up and living in constant fear their stash would be discovered – or worse –eaten by their pets. Behind all the new legalization are the potential medical benefits for people, but what about pets? No, I’m not suggesting you grab a spot on the couch and light up a joint to share with your dog or cat.
Trying to get the medical benefits of marijuana for your pet is not as simple as feeding it to them or lighting up and blowing smoke in their face. On the contrary, either of these methods would be harmful or toxic to your pet. The effects of cannabis toxicity can vary widely among pets, but some examples of the presentation include; incoordination when trying to walk, dilated pupils, slower heart rate, and dribbling of urine. For small intoxications, monitoring may be sufficient but more severe cases may need more supportive care. Blowing smoke in their face isn’t going to get them high but it sure can cause some irritation to the airway, similar to asthma, or the eyes. In all cases, it’s important to consult your veterinarian on the best course of action as soon as a potential ingestion/exposure is suspected or found.
The prevalence of edible marijuana in the marketplace can lead to additional toxicities depending on the other ingredients (example = pot brownies can also cause chocolate toxicity). A quick search and I found cereal bars, gummy bears, cookies, butter, honey, and mock Pop Tarts. I even found candies containing xylitol (yes, the same ingredient in sugar free gums that causes low blood sugar and liver failure). According to the Pet Poison Helpline, THC has a moderate level of toxicity, and, the other components of the edibles could be quite sickening or potentially fatal. Like with all potential toxins, make sure to keep anything they might ingest out of reach.
So while research has been done to some extent, it’s been mostly for human benefit though a large portion of existing research was done on animals. Some extrapolated doses are anecdotal and have not been established for uses in animals or for specific cannabinoids. And that’s where we need to focus future research on….the actual cannabinoids that may benefit animals with consistent, proven, and reliable effects. There’s no doubt in my mind that at some point in my career I may end up prescribing cannabinoids for the benefit of a patient. Currently, Health Canada regulations don’t include veterinarians among the medical professional that can legally prescribe these treatments. Therefore, there is currently no legal pathway for veterinarians in Ontario to prescribe medical marijuana to animals.
There has been much speculation and even advertised use of CBD oils in pets and some of them may actually be hemp oils. Hemp in itself does not have the psychotropic effects that marijuana does but it also has higher concentrations of the cannabinoids. The active ingredient in marijuana is THC and there are actually different forms of it that have varying effects. Again, the research for actual appropriate doses may be getting done in some areas but the use of these is still anecdotal and there have been questions if the effects being seen are like a placebo effect. My concern with a pet owner just starting to use CBD oils is that they may be masking signs of a more serious problem needing veterinary attention. The oils are not meant to be a first line treatment.
The future of medical marijuana and pets may be interesting. Benefits could include appetite stimulation, pain control, anti-cancer properties, and relieving of anxiety, to name a few. As of this point though, it’s not legal, and also we don’t quite know enough to use it safely or effectively on a routine basis. So if you ask your veterinarian about using it for your pets, we aren’t allowed to prescribe or suggest it – not because we aren’t willing to try, but because we are legally not allowed to in Ontario. Keep your stash safe and if your pet finds some be sure to contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Dr. Ryan Llera is a small animal veterinarian living & working in Kingston, Ontario where he has been an associate vet at the Kingston Veterinary Clinic since 2012. He is a 2006 graduate of the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. Though originally from Florida, he married a Canadian (who is also a vet!) and made the trek up north. He & his wife, Jennifer, share their home with 3 cats, 2 dogs, and 2 horses. Find more of Ryan’s blogs at www.drryanllera.com. Or see what else he is up to on Facebook or Twitter @DrRyanLlera or Instagram @drryanllera
Hats off to you
To all kind-hearted and hard-working people at SPCA: hats off to you. I love animals and admire the work you do.