Vail Pet Talk column: Cannabinoid-containing products have not proven beneficial for pets
February 26, 2016
As residents of the Vail Valley, we have several unique opportunities available to us: skiing half of the year, rafting and mountain biking the other half of the year and, of course, access to legal marijuana year-round. Beyond its recreational use, marijuana does have some proven health benefits in people; however, concerns arise when animals are exposed to it.
Canines metabolize THC and other cannabinoids very differently than people. Because of this, marijuana is considered a toxin with many harmful side effects for dogs. Marijuana consumption by dogs causes neurologic and heart problems. Hypothermia, heart arrhythmias and seizures are seen in more severe cases. Without treatment, some patients can progress to coma and even death. As a veterinarian in the Vail Valley, I see this toxicity frequently, more than once a week.
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We attribute this high volume of cases not only to the fact that edibles are commonly left in places accessible to our pets (dogs also think cookies, brownies and candies can be tasty!), but also due to decreased awareness of the toxic effects of this drug in pets.
Unfortunately, due to its safe use in people, many people assume it is also safe in pets and ignore initial signs of toxicity. Because of this, we often do not see cases until the patient has progressed to a critical state. The good news is that your veterinarian can easily treat this toxicity with decontamination and IV fluids. Most cases do respond quickly once treatment has been initiated, with average hospitalization times being 24 to 36 hours.
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Although marijuana is a toxin in pets, a common question for veterinarians is if marijuana can be used in pets as a medical treatment. Although benefits of marijuana have been proven in people, the benefits and correct uses in animals (concerning dose, frequency, etc.) have not yet been researched. There are several cannabinoid-containing products for use in pets, none of which are regulated to ensure quality control.
A study was performed on 18 pet products currently available, which included cannabinoids on their label. Seven of the products contained no cannabinoids, while the other 11 products contained cannabinoids at varying levels, different from what was labeled. One product contained cannabinoids at a level that is considered toxic. Although marijuana use in pets can potentially be beneficial, its use in dogs should not be recommended until research has defined its proper uses and doses and until better products are available.
In summary, marijuana use is not recommended for your pet at this time. If you suspect your pet has had exposure to marijuana, then please call your veterinarian as soon as possible for medical advice, as this could be an emergency situation.
Dr. Justin Milizio, DVM, is a veterinarian at Vail Valley Animal Hospital in Edwards. Contact the clinic at 970-926-3496 if you have any questions about this article or any other concerns about your pets.