Pups and pot: Experts discuss marijuana usage around pets

THC, a compound of marijuana, is toxic to dogs, cats and other household pets

Despite the legal battles, gray areas and general debate around marijuana, experts are looking through the smoke and cautioning pet owners to not get their pets high.

Due to sensitivity to tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, being exposed to weed can be deadly for animals. Consuming THC is poisonous to cats and dogs and the toxicity can range from moderate to severe, according to the Pet Poison Hotline.

When a dog is exposed to marijuana, the symptoms can range from lethargy and stumbling to seizures and comas or even death, according to the Hotline's website.

Even second-hand marijuana smoke can pose a risk to dogs, according to veterinarian Eric Barchas. Not because of the marijuana, but because of the smoke itself. 

"Dogs have exquisitely sensitive lungs, and smoke can damage them," he wrote in a blog post. "If we’re talking smoking weed around dogs (or cigarettes) every day, a dog’s respiratory function can be compromised."

Katherine Smith, a veterinary emergency and critical care specialist at the Arizona Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Center, said that pet visits due to marijuana consumption are surprisingly common. 

“Working in emergency care for the last ten years, we would see maybe one case every once in a while,” Smith said. “Now it’s a weekly, almost daily, occurrence.” 

She said marijuana edibles are especially dangerous for pets, and “even one edible can land an animal in the hospital.” 

Even though recreational marijuana is illegal in Arizona, Smith said the best safety precaution is keeping all animals away from marijuana.

"If you are using marijuana, please put it away somewhere your pets can’t get it," she said. "Keep them from having any access to it because once it does happen, there isn’t much you can do aside from taking them to a vet.” 

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a compound of marijuana that does not cause psychoactive intoxication and has recently been popularized for its anxiety-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties, according to some reports and anecdotes.

Under current FDA regulations, aside from Epidiolex, there are no FDA-approved CBD drug products. 

Brittany Fjelstad, an account manager at Hemp Health Inc., a company that sells CBD products for both people and pets, said that because CBD contains less than 1% THC,  it is much safer and can actually offer health benefits for pets. 

“What people think they need in a (medical marijuana) card can often be found in CBD oil,” Fjelstad said. “When it comes to both people and animals, it’s not just a product, it’s medicine.” 

For those who are interested in treating their pet's with CBD, Fjelstad recommends purchasing products from reputable companies. However, though CBD is said to have multiple positive effects on both people and animals, studies and official data on CBD are limited.

Lynne Hoban, owner of Friendship Pet Hospital in Fountain Hills, said that while she has seen clients who use CBD oil in attempt to treat dogs for aggression, anxiety or symptoms that come with aging, there is not enough research to determine if CBD is truly effective in treating animals. 

Hoban said she has also seen an increase in pets taken to the vet after consuming products that contain THC, and she warns pet owners how important it is to seek treatment if a pet is exposed.

“Marijuana causes more respiratory depression (in pets) than it does in people, and for dogs, that can lead to death,” she said. “What is extremely important is taking your pet to an emergency hospital if they do get into any marijuana products.”

Reach the reporter at kreinha3@asu.edu and follow @ReinhartKatelyn on Twitter.

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