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Veterinary Medicine

Veterinarians advise: Just say no to pot and pets

by Coleman Cornelius

Use of recreational marijuana is now legal in Colorado, but pot ingestion among pets could send their health up in smoke.

A study conducted by Colorado State University and Wheat Ridge Veterinary Specialists, published in the Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care, found that as the number of medical marijuana licenses has increased in Colorado, so has the number of marijuana toxicity cases among pets.

Pot Poisoning

Pot poisoning – the result of accidental ingestion of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana – can sicken and even kill pets, according to the research paper. Bottom line: Prevent accidental pot ingestion among pets to help keep them out of the veterinary emergency room.

“The dry leaves and flowers from the hemp plant Cannabis sativa contain the toxic compound of THC,” the study from CSU and Wheat Ridge explains. “Toxicosis in dogs can be caused by inhalation of the smoke, direct ingestion of the leaves, seeds, stems and flowers of the plant, ingestion of products laced with marijuana leaves, or ingestion of products made with concentrated THC or hashish oil. Clinical signs may be seen within 30–60 minutes after ingestion of marijuana. THC toxicosis in dogs can cause considerable morbidity. The most common reported clinical signs of marijuana toxicosis in dogs include CNS depression, ataxia, mydriasis, increased sensitivity to motion or sound, hyperesthesia, ptyalism, tremors, and the acute onset of urinary incontinence.”

Dr. Stephen Sheldon, a veterinarian at Gypsum Animal Hospital, put it this way in a column published Jan. 2 in the Vail Daily: “There’s a buzz around town now that Colorado is legalizing marijuana. How is it going to affect Fido and little Ms. Kitty? Let me give you a word of advice: stash your stash, guard your ganja and hide your hemp. Store it high and out of reach. This is not a joke.” 

Sheldon reiterates the clinical signs and dangers of pot among pets, which also are noted in the study from CSU and Wheat Ridge.

Medical Marijuana

What about purposeful therapeutic use of medical marijuana in home or veterinary settings?

The American Veterinary Medical Association, standard-bearer for the industry, does not yet have an official position on veterinary marijuana, according to the AVMA website.

Members of the AVMA Scientific Activities Division have noted the following:

  • Veterinarians making treatment decisions must use sound clinical judgment and current medical information, and must be in compliance with federal, state and local laws and regulations.
  • Medications do not necessarily work the same in animals as they do people, which underscores the value of extensive studies showing safety and efficacy, and also the value of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's approval process for drugs used in animals.
  • There are possibilities of adverse reactions, including toxicities and failure to treat the clinical condition at hand.

A news report published in June 2013 in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association further explores the issue of veterinary marijuana. 

CSU veterinarians encourage pet owners to consult with their veterinarians before administering any drug meant to improve pet health and quality of life.