Dogs don’t get high. They get sick. Take care of your pup by educating yourself and stashing your stash.

By Stacey Freed
July 08, 2021
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One evening in mid-May, California dog mom Jill Tomac took her 6-year-old Labradoodle Cooper for their usual walk from her home in Corona Del Mar, down to the beach. On their way back, Cooper became "jumpy and spastic; he began stumbling around as if he were having a stroke," Tomac says.

She rushed him to the emergency vet. He was panting and anxious and his back legs gave out. His temperature rose to 106.5 degrees F. After a quick blood test, the veterinarian on duty said Cooper had ingested THC, possibly from an edible. "The vet told me that they see four to five dogs a day [who have ingested pot]," Tomac says.

In fact, according to Tina Wismer, DVM, senior director ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center (APCC), "[we] saw a 173 percent increase in case volume related to marijuana ingestion since 2017." As more states legalize medical or recreational use of marijuana, it's likely the number of cases will continue to rise. (There are 17 states that allow medical and recreational use and 36 states allow it for medical use.) So how can you protect your pooch from pot?

What Happens If a Dog Eats Marijuana?

Cannabis sativa, known to most of us as marijuana, contains compounds called cannabinoids, which bind to receptors in a human's—or canine's—body. There are at least 113 different cannabinoids. THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) is the cannabinoid known for its mind-altering properties. It is different from CBD (cannabidiol), another cannabinoid, which has healing properties but doesn't make a user high.

If your dog eats weed, the first thing you might notice is an uncoordinated gait, as Tomac did with Cooper. "THC gets into their system pretty quickly. You'll see signs in less than an hour. It impacts the central nervous system and causes a condition called static ataxia," says Andy Fleming, DVM, founding member of the Veterinary Cannabis Society. That means that your dog may be standing still (static) yet wobbling and falling (ataxia).

Other effects include hyperactivity, disorientation, barking, dilated pupils (a wild-eyed look), and excessive vomiting or drooling. "There might also be depression, seizures, coma, and, potentially, death," Fleming says.

husky dog looking at marijuana leaf
Credit: Svetlana Sarapultseva / Getty

Marijuana Toxicity in Dogs

Although, as Fleming says, there is the "potential for death," seldom is marijuana ingestion fatal, and the side effects don't last too long. But keep in mind, your pet doesn't understand what's happening to them. They're not interested in lying on the couch and listening to bootleg Phish concert tapes; they are likely scared and confused.

Your dog's temperature will probably be elevated. A normal dog temperature is anywhere from 99.5 to 102.5 degrees F. Cooper's fever climbed to 106.5 degrees F, and according to Fleming, a temp that high has potential to cause brain damage in a dog.

And it's not just fresh cannabis that may have this effect on your pet.

Dogs are pretty indiscriminate when it comes to food. The trashed cheesecloth you used to strain cannabutter, the side-of-the-road roaches, or the gummy or chocolate edibles strewn on the coffee table all seem like delightful snacks to the unrefined snout. In addition, edibles may contain xylitol, an artificial sweetener, which is toxic to canines, as is chocolate.

APCC most often gets calls about "a pet eating a marijuana-laced baked good or plant material," Wismer says. "Edibles and any other concentrated forms of marijuana, such as synthetic cannabis, marijuana wax, and oil are more dangerous than the plant material. The more THC a pet ingests, the more severe the signs generally are, so it takes a smaller amount of concentrated material, like edibles, to cause an issue than it would with plant material."

What to Do If Your Dog Ingests Marijuana Products

The short answer is: Get your dog to the veterinarian immediately. Here's how your pup will likely be treated for marijuana toxicity.

Decontamination is the first thing. The vet may use activated charcoal to adsorb the drug in the gastrointestinal tract to allow it to pass through harmlessly, Fleming says. If the marijuana is on your dog's body, the vet will clean it off. Then, the vet will get at the symptoms, treating the neurological effects with drugs and tranquilizers to reduce possible seizures.

With Cooper's high temp, the doctors cooled him down, sedated him, and he spent the night at the emergency vet's office. Tomac was able to bring Cooper home the following morning, and after a few days he was back to his old self. "But it was horrible," Tomac says. "I didn't sleep. The kids were crying. It was scary, and I wasn't sure which way it was going to go."

Preventing Future Accidents

Tomac does not have any marijuana products in her home, and Cooper was on a leash the entire time of his fateful walk. Things happen, but here are some tips to help you avoid a problem.

  • Be mindful. It should go without saying that you should keep your eyes open when you're outside, but free-range romps can be too fun to pass up. Practice a "leave it" or "drop it" cue to get your dog to either not grab up something foreign or to spit out whatever they've picked up.
  • Store your stash. You wouldn't leave open wine bottles lying around within easy reach. Keep edibles and your weed stash in child-proof containers on high shelves.
  • Educate everyone. Make sure all family members know the symptoms of cannabis ingestion and know the vet's number in case of emergency.