A few years ago, my former housemate’s dog ate weed — a cannabis-infused brownie, to be exact. She connected the dots when she noticed her normally docile, sweet-natured chihuahua mix fearfully snapping at anyone within reach — and the disappearance of the weed brownie she had stashed in her purse. The high wore off eventually, and luckily, her pupper was just fine. But what exactly happens when your pet accidentally eats weed, and what’s the best way to handle it?
Amid the rising tide of cannabis legalization and growing acceptance of the substance overall, pet owners have probably begun asking themselves these questions more often. Indeed, there’s evidence to suggest these accidents might become more common. One study found that during a steep rise in medical marijuana registrations in Colorado between 2005 and 2010, marijuana toxicosis cases in dogs quadrupled at two veterinary hospitals in the state.
Dogs are far more likely than any other pet to eat your weed brownie, Steven Friedenberg, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, tells Mic. “We see dogs being a lot more curious about things and interested in eating everything than many other species.” Cats, on the other hand, tend to be much more finicky about what they eat.
If your doggo does get into your stash, it’ll take roughly 30 minutes to an hour for the weed to take effect, says Karl Jandrey, a professor at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Intoxication in dogs looks similar, but not the same, as it does in their humans. Physically, they might have unusually dilated pupils, a slower heart rate, and difficulty walking, if they can walk at all. (In severe cases, they might just lie still.) They also often dribble urine uncontrollably. Behavior-wise, they tend to startle more easily and be warier of people they normally trust.
This heightened apprehension might explain why eating a weed brownie made my old housemate’s dog so aggro, although Jandrey notes it’s more common for weed to result in a general lethargy. But chocolate, which is toxic to dogs, can cause agitation, Friedenberg says — so the chocolate in the brownie might have played a role.
It also matters whether your Very Good (but very high) Boy or Girl ingested an edible versus flower. Since, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the main inebriating compound in marijuana) is fat-soluble, a stick of weed butter or a brownie has a higher concentration of THC than an equivalent volume of, say, THC-infused seltzer — and will therefore mess up your pet more, according to Friedenberg. Size matters, too. “The smaller the animal, the more toxic,” Jandrey says. In other words, a weed brownie would probably have a smaller effect on a Great Dane than it did on my former housemate’s smol chihuahua mix.
Dogs have the ability to recycle a class of compounds called cannabinoids, which includes THC, in weed. When the dog eats their next meal, the bile gets secreted back into the intestines, basically re-exposing the them to the cannabinoids.
The effects of an edible high usually last for around 18 to 24 hours in dogs, Jandrey says; in humans, they last for only up to 12 hours, according to Harvard Health. Jandrey explains that dogs have the ability to recycle a class of compounds called cannabinoids, which includes THC, in weed. The cannabinoids get absorbed through the gut and later stored in the bile, important for digesting fats. When the dog eats their next meal, the bile gets secreted back into the intestines, basically re-exposing the them to the cannabinoids.
Dogs usually just sleep off the weed, Friedenberg says, but there have been some case reports of dogs dying from eating weed or weed-laden products. (The study of the Colorado veterinary hospitals reported the deaths of two dogs that had eaten weed butter in baked products.) Most were small dogs that consumed extremely high doses, which can cause respiratory depression, or slow, insufficient breathing. Friedenberg says such cases are rare, though.
So how do you know if you should take your fur baby to the doc, or if they’ll be fine riding it out at home? “I think for the most part, if you’re concerned about your animal’s health at all and not sure what’s going on, the best thing to do is bring your dog to a veterinarian,” Friedenberg says. Let your vet know if you’re concerned that your pupper got a hold of your weed, so they actually know what your dog is dealing with and don’t run tests for a totally different condition. If you’re worried about the legal repercussions, Friedenberg says your vet probably won’t care.
If you’re comfortable with your dog being mildly affected — “a little wobbly, a little incontinent” — but mostly okay, and their symptoms don’t worsen, they probably don’t need veterinary attention, Jandrey says. Just make sure they’re eating and drinking normally, Friedenberg adds.
But if your doggo’s symptoms worsen within an hour or two of you first noticing them, get to a vet, since they could worsen even further over the next few hours, Jandrey says. And if your dog is hard to rouse, or you struggle to get them to walk, Friedenberg suggests going to the hospital, where they’ll likely be given an intravenous lipid solution that can help absorb THC in the bloodstream. Head to the ER if you have a small dog you suspect has eaten a high dose of weed.
To keep your pets from getting their paws on your weed in the first place, store it in a medicine cabinet, on a high shelf, or other hard-to-access spot, Friedenberg says. Take these precautions before you become impaired, rather than passing out and waking up to find your dog scarfed down the gummies you left on the counter in your edible-induced haze. Or, if you dog already tends to misbehave in general, consider keeping them crated when you’re not at home.
Since dogs will eat anything, even stuff you wouldn’t consider edible, remember to keep all cannabis products out of their reach. Jandrey recently treated a small dog that ate six joints, sneaking them from the coffee able while their human had some friends over to smoke. “You can never predict what an animal will do,” he says. They may not even be hungry, just inquisitive.
Basically, safeguard your pets from weed as you would kids from medications, Jandrey says. Seeing your fur baby high can be scary, but if they do get to your stash, they’ll probably emerge on the other side just fine, like my old housemate’s dog, even if it takes a couple of hours.
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