Cannabis Made Clear

Cannabis and Your Pet

Cannabis can have both toxic and therapeutic potential for domestic animals, including cats and dogs. Learn how to spot, treat and prevent cannabis poisoning in your furry companions.  

Dog and cat being embraced by a person in an orange shirt

Since cannabis legalization in 2018, Canadian veterinarians have reported an increase in animal emergency room visits for cannabis poisoning. Meanwhile, as research and interest in the potential therapeutic use of cannabis for humans grows, some pet parents are wondering if it could help their furry companions, too.

The short story is that cannabis has both toxic and therapeutic potential for pets, depending on the circumstances.

We talked to Dr. Sarah Silcox, founding director and president of the Canadian Association of Veterinary Cannabinoid Medicine (CAVCM), about cannabis and pets — specifically dogs and cats, Canada’s most popular domestic animals. Find out how to spot, treat and prevent pet poisoning, and how to find a vet familiar with cannabinoid use in animals.

Is cannabis dangerous for pets?

Cannabis poisoning can be quite unpleasant for an animal, causing them to become agitated and disoriented, among other symptoms. In some cases, it may lead to seizures and hypothermia (a reduction in body temperature).

Veterinarians have reported cannabis poisoning as the cause of a small number of pet deaths. However, researchers caution that it can be difficult to rule out other related causes of death, such as other toxic substances or underlying health conditions.

While cannabis consumption generally has a high margin of safety for dogs, Dr. Silcox recommends seeking veterinary guidance before giving your pet any cannabis product.

What are the signs of cannabis poisoning in pets?

The symptoms will vary, but the signs of cannabis poisoning in dogs and cats can include:

  • Urinary incontinence (leaking)
  • Wobbling
  • Lack of coordination
  • Dilated pupils
  • Hyperactivity and/or lethargy
  • Disorientation
  • Agitation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Drooling and/or vomiting
  • Altered heart rate, blood pressure and/or breathing
  • Lowered body temperature (hypothermia)
  • Tremors and/or seizures
  • Sensitivity to light and/or sound

If you have any reason to believe your pet has consumed cannabis and is experiencing symptoms, contact a vet or emergency animal hospital immediately and let staff know why you’re concerned.

Will my pet get sick from ingesting cannabis?

If your cat or dog has ingested cannabis, a variety of factors determine how severe the effects will be or whether your pet will experience any symptoms at all.

Animal species and size

Cats can suffer cannabis poisoning, but it’s less common than in dogs, mainly because felines tend to be more discriminating about what they eat. Cats are simply less likely to get into edibles, dried flower and other cannabis products.

On the other hand, many dogs like to eat things they shouldn’t, says Dr. Silcox, who is also a small-animal veterinarian focused on palliative, hospice and end-of-life care.

A tendency for unrestrained sampling makes dogs more prone to accidental cannabis ingestion. This can be particularly hard on smaller breeds, who are at higher risk of suffering hypothermia.

Cannabis product and potency

Pets can get sick from eating cannabis or cannabis-infused products, as well as from second-hand exposure to cannabis smoke. The severity of symptoms will depend on the product type, potency and dose, and the animal’s size and health, among other factors. Both vets and researchers note that pet parents should be particularly cautious with high-THC products around their furry companions.

Cannabis isn’t the only concerning ingredient: An edible that contains other substances that are toxic to dogs — for instance, chocolate, xylitol or raisins — could complicate the symptoms and diagnosis.

Is cannabis especially toxic to dogs?

It’s often reported that cannabis is particularly toxic for dogs because they have more CB1 receptors in their brains than humans. More research is required on dogs and cannabis, but we know that for humans, cannabinoids interact with CB1 receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system, which may regulate a range of functions and processes including body temperature, pain, inflammation and appetite.

According to the CAVCM, newer studies indicate that rather than having more CB1 receptors overall, dogs’ CB1 receptors are more concentrated in the cerebellum, the part of the brain that is responsible for coordination and balance. This may explain why dogs appear hypersensitive to cannabis and cannabinoids.

How do vets treat cannabis poisoning?

Although it’s unlikely that a pet will die from ingesting cannabis, severe symptoms could require sedation, intravenous fluid treatment or overnight hospitalization.

More commonly, an animal diagnosed with cannabis poisoning will be monitored for symptoms and encouraged to rest. Most pets will recover fully.

How can I keep my pet safe from cannabis?

You can protect your pet from cannabis in the same way you would a child. Store cannabis products in an inaccessible spot, such as on a high shelf or inside a pet-proof box or cupboard. Be mindful not to leave cannabis products lying around. And remember, this goes for all cannabis products, since some pets (we’re looking at you, Labrador retrievers) will eat just about anything.

If you choose to smoke cannabis, do so away from your pets. Never blow cannabis smoke in an animal’s face.

Are there any beneficial uses of cannabis for pets?

While researchers are still catching up from a lack of studies due to decades of prohibition, initial results demonstrating beneficial uses of cannabis for domestic animals are promising.

So far, the best evidence is around the beneficial use of cannabidiol (CBD) products for dogs with osteoarthritis. It’s the most-studied area in veterinary cannabinoid medicine, says Dr. Silcox. “Further, almost all of these studies showed a positive outcome, with those dogs receiving cannabis treatment showing a statistically significant improvement in pain scores and mobility.”

Can vets prescribe cannabis?

While Canadian veterinarians can’t prescribe cannabis for dogs and cats, they may advise on the use of legal recreational cannabis for pets.

The Canadian Council of Veterinary Registrars guides vets on how to apply cannabis regulations to their practices. Based on their guidelines and regulations in the federal Cannabis Act, here’s a breakdown of what Canadians can expect from their vet or Authorized Cannabis Store when it comes to buying legal cannabis for their pets.

Vets can advise on legally available cannabis products. Vets cannot prescribe cannabis products for pets.
Vets are accountable for their professional advice around cannabis. Vets aren’t obligated to advise on cannabis products for pets.
Vets can recommend and sell veterinary health products containing hemp that are approved by Health Canada. Veterinary health products made from hemp can’t contain cannabinoids (such as THC and CBD) and can’t make health claims.
Canadians can purchase legal cannabis products for their pets,  but getting advice from a vet first is strongly recommended, as these products are not intended for animal use. Authorized Cannabis Stores and budtenders cannot offer health advice for pets or humans.

Are there legal cannabis products for pets in Canada?

No, there aren’t any legal cannabis products formulated specifically for pets in Canada. Although you may come across cannabis-infused products marketed for dogs and cats, they are illegal and unregulated.

A 2020 study published in The Canadian Veterinary Journal looked at the composition of illegal products marketed directly to pet parents. Every one of the products they assessed was incompletely labelled, and several claimed CBD potencies that were dramatically lower than what was actually in the package.

“It can be hard for a consumer to know,” says Dr. Silcox. “They look very professional.” But she cautions that such products are unregulated and often sold with instructions for dosing that are unlikely to provide the optimal effects.

How can I tell if a pet cannabis product is legal?

There aren’t any legal cannabis products specifically designed for pets, so use the tactics you would to determine whether a cannabis product is legal for your own use. But just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s safe or appropriate to give to your pet. A veterinarian who understands cannabis is your best guide.

How can I find a vet who understands cannabis?

Vets should only recommend legal recreational products for use in pets if they’re competent and comfortable doing so. If you’re considering giving cannabis to your dog or cat, Dr. Silcox recommends finding a vet trained in cannabinoid medicine.

“If your regular veterinarian is not comfortable having these discussions, please ask for a referral to a veterinarian who can provide you with the appropriate guidance to do so as safely and effectively as possible,” she says. The CAVCM Find a Veterinarian page is a good place to start.

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