If you’re one of the many Manitobans picking up edibles in recent months, veterinarians want to remind you to keep your cannabis far from your pets.
Dr. Ian Sandler, CEO of Grey Wolf Animal Health in Toronto, said while it’s never good to let pets get into products with a high THC content, edibles can pose more of a risk thanks to the potential combination of cannabis toxicity and other toxic ingredients.
“The problem with many of these high THC products is not so much the THC, per se,” said Sandler, who is also a board member on the national issues committee of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association.
“The biggest issue is oftentimes these components contain things like chocolate, especially dark chocolate, and sweeteners like xylitol, possibly raisins or macadamia nuts. And those products, in [and of] themselves, are fairly toxic to dogs, especially. So it’s really a combination issue.”
Sandler said reports of pet exposure to cannabis and cannabidiol have increased in recent years. Over the past six years, the U.S.-based Pet Poison Helpline says cannabis toxicity cases have more than quadrupled in the U.S.
In Canada, the helpline reported there were 54 reports of pet exposure to CBD and cannabis during the first seven months of 2019. There were 64 reports from Canada in all of 2018, the organization said.
Dr. Karen Choptain, an emergency vet at Winnipeg’s Bridgwater Veterinary Hospital, said that anecdotally, she’s observed a jump in the number of pets coming in for cannabis exposure since the drug was legalized for recreational use in October 2018.
“This is a product that’s becoming more readily available to our pets,” she said.
“If you’re going to have the product in your house you just have to be cognizant of that — make sure that you’re keeping your products in a pet container, out of a pet’s reach, that kind of thing, and notice symptoms, so that if you do see them you can seek veterinary attention right away.”
What happens when a pet consumes cannabis?
Sandler said so far, evidence indicates CBD or cannabidiol, a non-intoxicating compound found in the cannabis plant, is safe for dogs and cats — although more research is still needed, and veterinarians have no regulated way to prescribe its use.
But cannabis products that contain a high amount of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — the main psychoactive component in cannabis that gives users a high — does have an effect on pets, and symptoms tend to last between six and 12 hours, or up to 24.
There have been no reported pet deaths from cannabis exposure, Sandler said.
Symptoms of cannabis exposure come on a “sliding scale,” Choptain said. Typical examples include ataxia, or an unco-ordination of movement, as well as heavy drooling, dilated eyes, staring off into space and leaking of urine.
There’s also evidence to indicate dogs can be more sensitive to the psychogenic effects of THC than their owners, she said. Dogs have more THC receptors than humans do, including in the skin in their salivary glands — which might explain why they drool so much, she said.
Veterinarians suspect dogs feel paranoid after ingesting cannabis, Choptain said, based on how hypersensitive some dogs appear afterward.
“They’re scared, they don’t understand what’s going on, they react to movements,” she said. “We think that it actually has more of a negative effect on dogs than a benefit effect that it does to people.”
What should I do if my pet is exposed?
The vast majority of pet exposures to cannabis Choptain has seen were accidental, she said. That could range from pets getting into their owner’s stash to snapping up butted-out joints off the ground while out for a walk.
Sandler added pets, especially dogs, have been known to preferentially eat cannabis even if it’s not in the form of an edible.
“We’re not sure if it’s the aromatics, or some of the floral fragrances from the terpenes — which are essentially the essential oils within the cannabis plant — but we’ve certainly seen dogs eat dried bud,” he said. Cats will sometimes eat oils too, he added.
If you suspect your pet has gotten into some cannabis, Choptain said the right thing to do is to take them to the vet.
“Often these pets will need supportive care,” she said. “We also do decontamination therapy, so if we can, we make them vomit. If not, we’ll get them activated charcoal, which helps to bind to any recirculating toxins within their system, and we put them on intravenous fluids to help flush their system and provide support.”
While scientists work to better understand how cannabis affects humans, Sandler said he thinks the veterinary world is ahead of the curve.
But Sandler says despite appetite from pet owners for CBD or other cannabis products to treat their pet’s ailments, there’s still no legal framework for veterinarians to guide them in doing so.
“What is very, very sad and very, very scary is because there isn’t a legal pathway for veterinarians to be able to authorize, pet parents are sort of taking it in their own hands to do what they think is best,” he said.
He wants to see Health Canada give veterinarians more guidance on cannabis products and pets, and he hopes Canadian veterinarians become more involved in the conversation.
“We are essentially the health care advocates, and we are the key point person who can prescribe products for animals,” he said. “And we need to be engaged with that.”