Cannabis (marijuana) poisoning in dogs is a growing problem

May 11, 2023 - 5 min read
Dog with Marijuana pattern in the background

What’s recreational for a human can be dangerous for a dog. And that’s certainly the case with cannabis, which has been sending a growing number of pups to the vet in recent years.

Dogs don’t react to THC—the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis—the same way humans do. Rather than euphoria, a pot-infused pup experiences cannabis toxicosis, a serious condition whose symptoms range from mild to life-threatening. 

And unfortunately, the data’s clear: Canine cannabis poisoning is becoming more common in North America. Not surprisingly, this trend coincides with a rapid expansion in cannabis legalization, with recreational use now legal in Canada and 18 US states and medicinal use legal in 37 US states in total. One 2022 study, focused on the US and Canada, found a 448% (!!!) increase in reports of canine cannabis poisoning between 2016 and 2022.

Now look, we’re not saying you shouldn’t partake; we’re decidedly apolitical over here at ManyPets. But we are telling you, in no uncertain terms, that your dog is better off abstaining—unless you’re eager to spend a fortune on vet bills.

Read on to learn why cannabis is dangerous for your furry friend and what you can do to keep them safe.

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Why is cannabis bad for dogs?

Both dogs and humans (and vertebrate animals in general, actually) possess “cannabinoid receptors.” These are the parts of the brain that are activated by the psychoactive ingredients in cannabis — especially tetrahydrocannabinol, AKA THC. 

Dogs have more cannabinoid receptors in their brain than humans do. In addition, THC can recycle in their bodies and remain stored in their tissues longer before eliminating.

As a result, Cannabis makes them sick. 

And unfortunately, dogs love all kinds of edibles. Pups will sometimes gobble up cannabis-laden cookies and brownies — but others will simply scarf down hefty quantities of plain, dried marijuana. In yet other cases, they may be exposed to plumes of cannabis smoke. 

None of this is a laughing matter. Your dog won’t get high or have a good time. Any of these exposures is likely to make your dog seriously ill. 

Your best bet is to keep any cannabis products well out of paw’s reach. 

Symptoms of cannabis toxicity in dogs

Here’s the most obvious sign of cannabis toxicosis in dogs: You witnessed your dog eating cannabis, or some cannabis in your home has mysteriously vanished.

Now this part is key: If you notice such a disappearance before you notice any physical symptoms, do not wait for symptoms to flare up before you spring into action. Get your dog to a vet immediately. Cannabis ingestion can sometimes take mere minutes to cause any physical symptoms — but it can also take several hours. It all depends on the amount consumed, the size of your dog, and a number of other factors.

Here are some the most common signs of cannabis poisoning in dogs:

  • Lethargy or inactivity

  • Dilated Pupils

  • Extreme sensitivity to sounds, sensations, and sights/motions

  • Drooling

  • Incontinence or peeing indoors

  • Low heart rate

And in more extreme cases:

  • Aggression and restlessness

  • Accelerated heart rate (tachycardia)

  • Low blood pressure

  • Rapid eye movement

  • Seizure

  • Coma

In some extremely rare cases, dogs have even been known to die from cannabis-related causes (though in some cases, other concurrent toxins, like chocolate, may have played a role as well). 

If you notice any of these symptoms—and you happen to know that there’s cannabis in your home—go and make sure it’s all still where it’s supposed to be. And if there is no cannabis in your home, well, don’t rule out cannabis-poisoning just yet; there have been some well-reported instances of dogs eating marijuana off the streets

If your dog is suffering from any of these symptoms, your best bet is to get to a vet immediately.

When to See a Vet

The simple answer is that you should see a vet at the very first onset of symptoms, or even earlier if you have other reasons to think your dog has ingested cannabis. If you bring your dog in right away, there’s a good chance your vet will be able to make them vomit up the substance right away, avoiding primary absorption altogether. 

It sounds simple, but some dog parents take the wrong approach. For one thing, many owners mistakenly believe that the symptoms of their dog’s cannabis exposure may simply subside over time, similar to a drug reaction in humans.

That’s not how it works. Toxic drug reactions have a way of getting worse and worse without swift medical intervention. The longer you wait to seek treatment, the more severe—maybe even irreversible—the consequences will be for your dog. 

The bottom line is that you should treat canine cannabis poisoning as a medical emergency and act accordingly.

How is cannabis toxicity in dogs treated?

Your vet’s treatment plan will heavily depend on how quickly you address the problem, so time is of the essence. Other factors include your dog’s size, how much cannabis they consumed, and whether there was a secondary poisoning (like the chocolate in a cannabis brownie). 

If you actually observe your pup eating cannabis and you’re able to get them to the vet before they get sick, your vet may be able to head off major symptoms by inducing vomiting. But keep in mind that this may not always be a perfect solution. One challenge for vets is that cannabis has well-documented antiemetic properties, which means it may sometimes be difficult for your vet to successfully induce vomiting.

And this approach will be even less effective if your pup is already heavily symptomatic by the time they get to the vet. Once your dog has absorbed enough of the drug, inducing vomiting may not accomplish very much. In this case, your vet will deploy other tactics, including:

  • Placing your dog on IV fluids to speed up the body and eliminate the THC

  • Giving medications to help ease symptoms, such as anti-nausea drugs

  • Administering activated charcoal (this helps prevent further toxin absorption in the gut)

  • ILE (Intravenous Lipid Emulsion), a process — used in extreme cases — which partitions lipid in the bloodstream to help prevent cannabis from being absorbed into the dog’s tissues

  • Enemas to remove toxins from the gastrointestinal tract

The majority of cases can be well managed at your veterinary clinic with supportive therapy, including IV fluids and medications. This therapy will help with things like nausea, vomiting, and dehydration and also help stabilize things like heart rate, blood pressure, or body temperature.

If your pet has ingested an additional toxic substance, other treatments may be necessary.

Be Honest With Your Vet

This is absolutely critical: If you don’t tell your veterinarian why your dog is sick, your vet may not be able to administer the right treatments in a timely manner.  

“I know people worry about getting in trouble or feeling guilty when it happens,” says Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM MRCVS. “But I promise that we, as vets, just need to know the truth! If you tell me, I can help your pet feel better a lot sooner! A very good portion of pets that ingest cannabis do well with supportive therapy in the clinic and time.”

Dog Insurance Can Help

Emergency treatment can cost thousands of dollars. Fortunately, the ManyPets Accident and Illness Policy may cover emergency veterinary care and poison control consultations.* Get a dog insurance quote today.

*Conditions that pre-date your policy's effective date or occur during your waiting period will be excluded as pre-existing conditions (with potential waiting period exemptions for customers who directly transferred from another provider). Please refer to our sample policy for more coverage details.

David Teich
Lead Editor

David oversees content strategy and development at ManyPets. As Lead Editor, he focuses on delivering accurate information related to pet care and insurance. David’s editorial background spans more than a decade, including a pivotal role at Digiday, where he wrote content and managed relationships with media and tech companies. As an Associate Editor at Cynopsis Media, David wrote the Cynopsis Digital newsletter and interviewed executives and digital marketing experts in the TV industry. His background also includes film journalism. His diverse experiences in journalism and marketing underpins his role in shaping content within the pet care industry.