Expert advice: What to do if your pet ingests marijuana

A woman poses for a photo with her dog
Dr. Ahna Brutlag (pictured with her dog, Sherman) is a veterinary toxicologist, has a faculty appointment with the University of Minnesota and is the director of veterinary services at the Pet Poison Helpline.
Courtesy Dr. Ahna Brutlag

There has been a major uptick in calls to the Pet Poison Helpline — a 540 percent increase — across the country as marijuana has become legal in more and more states.

The reason is simple: As cannabis becomes more accessible to humans, it becomes more accessible to pets in homes.

But what should you do if your pet accidentally swallows a gummy or steals some cannabis butter off the counter?

Dr. Ahna Brutlag is a veterinary toxicologist, has a faculty appointment with the University of Minnesota and is the director of veterinary services at the Pet Poison Helpline. She was a guest on Morning Edition and talked about prevention, symptoms, what to expect at the vet’s office and if you could face legal consequences should your pet ingest a marijuana product.

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The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity. Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

1) How do I know if my pet ingested cannabis?

Identify symptoms in your pet. While vomiting is one of the early signs, a unique sign that can be seen — especially in dogs — is dribbling urine. You may also see some immediate behavioral changes that are similar to what is seen in people, such as:

  • A glazed expression

  • Lethargy

  • A wide-based stance

2) What should I do if I think my pet ingested marijuana?

  • Act as quickly as possible. Call the Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661 or your vet. The sooner the vets act, the better the prognosis.

  • After talking to a veterinary professional, you might have to induce vomiting in your dog and to prevent poisoning. It is never safe to induce vomiting in a cat at home.

    • Grab hydrogen peroxide (3 percent concentration) and either get a syringe into the cheek pouch or mix it with milk or food.

3) Will my pet survive?

With most cannabis exposures pets will pull through, especially if they have appropriate care. Cannabis could be fatal if dogs or cats get into a very concentrated form, like consuming a lot of edibles or some of the concentrated resins like waxes, or the concentrated oil that people vape or smoke.

The good news is that most of the time, even if a dog or cat does become symptomatic, they can pull through within a day or so of hospitalization.

No, if it was an accident. Veterinarians know that accidents happen and they are not interested in reporting someone to the police because of an accident. On the criminal side of things, it really boils down to intent. So if someone intentionally gave their animal marijuana with the intent to get them high, or the intent to cause them harm, that's a different situation. But that is very rare compared to the majority of exposures, which are just simply accidents.

Veterinarians just want to help your pet, so if you can be honest and tell them what happened, they will be much better equipped to figure out the next appropriate steps and get your pet on the road to better health.

5) How can I prevent my pet from cannabis poisoning?

Pets are like toddlers, except for the fact that they can jump onto the counter.

  • If you have a cat: Cats love to eat plants, so if you're growing indoors, make sure you have a system to keep your cat away from the plants you are growing.

  • If you have a dog: Put your products somewhere inaccessible to them, like a drawer or a cupboard, because if they smell something that smells like food or like plant material, it could be something enticing to them. And they certainly don't know that it's harmful. The key is prevention.