While massive strides have been made recently when it comes to understanding our animal friends, their inability to self-report makes it impossible to ever know what’s actually going on in their heads. But what we do know is that the effects of THC on dogs, cats and other creatures we keep as pets, does more to disorient and disturb them than it does to calm them.

Unintended THC Intoxication

The key thing to remember is that they don’t know what’s happening to them and the effects can be very frightening.

While nobody, we certainly hope, is hotboxing Fido these days, it is true that pets—which often have more sophisticated and sensitive olfactory systems than our own—can be affected by the cannabis their owners use. In fact, dogs have far more cannabinoid receptors than humans and pets in general usually weigh much less than us, so intoxication can happen with even very small amounts of THC.

Most cases of pet intoxication come from curious animals finding edibles or flowers and ingesting them. That means an automatic trip to the vet. Don’t be shy about reporting what happened.

Second-hand smoke, of course, is also a problem; but so is what’s known as third-hand smoke, which is defined as smoke that has penetrated household surfaces like furniture and clothes. Cats and certain breeds of short-snouted dogs are particularly sensitive to third-hand smoke.

Vaporizers can take away some of the hazards associated with smoking, but the active ingredients in cannabis can still affect pets.

Symptoms of THC intoxication in pets include disorientation, lack of coordination, drooling, excess urination, vomiting, reduced heart rate, hyperactivity and pupil dilation. A trip to the vet will usually result in an IV to replace fluids, anti-nauseants to prevent vomiting and activated charcoal to clean the digestive system.

The important thing for recovery is that the pet be kept in a safe, ideally welcoming, place. Just as animals don’t know how they got high, they also don’t know that it will ever end, so comforting them until it passes is necessary.

Is CBD Safe for Pets?

A Vet Weighs In…

Dr. Katherine Kramer, a veterinarian at Vancouver Animal Wellness Clinic, is not legally allowed (as per the College of Veterinarians of B.C.) to prescribe or even recommend CBD, unless she is specifically asked about it. “I should wear a button that says ‘Ask me about CBD,’ Kramer says with a chuckle.  She welcomes this opportunity to increase awareness because for the past six years, her clients’ results are “nothing short of miracles.” Kramer’s practice focuses on geriatric and cancer patients, so she knows firsthand how CBD helps with pain and arthritis, with nausea, seizures, and anxiety.

It even helps with behaviour issues. “Some dogs before taking CBD had such horrible behaviour problems, and in an urban environment anxiety can go through the roof,” says Dr. Kramer, “but soon after taking it owners tell me they ‘have their dog back.’ And pets with cancer have been able to get their quality of life back.”

If you told Dr. Kramer six years ago that she would “discuss” medical marijuana with her clients, she wouldn’t believe you. She had the ‘aha moment’ when a client, who worked with human patients treated with medical marijuana, suggested that his cat also try cannabis. “His cat had multiple health issues; prescribed opioids were knocking him out and affecting his appetite so he had nothing to lose. He was willing to try CBD so we worked out the dosage and in no time the cat improved; his appetite and energy came back and we reduced the conventional medications,” adds Dr. Kramer. “He lived a few more quality years after that. And I started looking at more worrisome cases.”

A few years ago Dr. Kramer would get a call about CBD about once a month; now her clinic is taking calls from vets and clients across North America. In a nutshell, this is her advice:

#1 Talk to your vet about anything you are thinking about trying; your vet also needs to get educated about these products. If enough pet owners ask, it will force the vet community to take further action.

#2 It’s important to use a quality-controlled product. Be careful about the products you use as they could be laced with THC (more about that below at left) or maybe there’s not enough CBD in it to be effective. The FDA recently found that 90 percent of products they tested had little or no CBD or it didn’t match label ingredients.
Ask the supplier for a certificate of analysis and if you have any concerns start with the true hemp line, which is 100 percent safe.

#3 Regarding dosage, the current catch phrase is “Start low, go slow.” And the rule of thumb .5 mg per lb of body weight. (e.g., 5 mg per 10 lbs) so a little goes a long way.

Dr. Kramer thinks that CBD’s therapeutic potential is enormous, but there’s the legality issue, mainly due to insufficient clinical trials. “I’m hopeful that with more research and studies the legal barriers will fall,” she says, “and then we will be allowed to prescribe CBDs.”

(Although the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association officially encourages research into the safety, dosing and uses of cannabis in animals, the American Veterinary Medical Association has not yet condoned the use of medical marijuana and related products with animals.)

How to Keep Pets Safe

To prevent pets from being affected by human cannabis use, it’s smart to contain smoking or vaping to a single, well-ventilated room, ideally one that pets don’t frequent. Steam-cleaning upholstered furniture and rugs can help, as can keeping your pets groomed properly. But the most important thing a good pet owner can do is to make sure all of their cannabis products are securely out of the reach of any curious pets.