Is Marijuana Toxic to Cats?
The recent legalization of marijuana for human medicinal treatments has increased marijuana (pot) exposure and toxicity in pets. The Pet Poison Helpline suggests that there has been approximately a 450% increase in veterinary visits and calls to animal poison hotlines from marijuana exposure and toxicity. Most calls are about dogs but cats can also be exposed to and develop marijuana toxicity.
Marijuana, commonly known as pot, refers to a tobacco product made from Cannabis leaves. There are two common species of the Cannabis plant, the Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa. There are many compounds that can be extracted from the Cannabis with each having different properties that can create a variety of effects when ingested, absorbed, or inhaled. For example, there are over 80 cannabinoids that create various effects. The amount and concentration of each cannabinoid varies with the different plants and strains of plants.
Of the over 80 cannabinoids, the two most common are studied and used are Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol, commonly referred to as “CBD”.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the most potent and psychogenic of the cannabinoids. THC is present in the leaves and flowering tops of the cannabis plant. Hashish, another THC containing product, is the resin extracted from the plant. THC is the active ingredient that causes the majority of toxicity signs in cats.
How Marijuana Affects Cats
With the legalization of marijuana, there are many varieties of marijuana as well as many forms. Cannabis can be used by ingestion of various foods including candy, gummy candy, suckers, baked good, butters, as well as by smoking or vaporizing.
Cats can be exposed to marijuana by ingestion of the cigarettes or dried leaves. On the other hand, dried leaves, cigarettes or baked products and candy products that are becoming more common at dispensaries, can expose pets. There are also reports of second hand smoke causing intoxication.
When inhaled or ingested, the THC enters the body and binds with neuroreceptors in the brain including norepinephrine, serotonin dopamine, and/or acetylcholine. This binding alters normal neurotransmitter function.
Is Marijuana Toxic to Cats? Signs of Pot Toxicity in Cats
Marijuana can be toxic to cats. The most common side effects of marijuana intoxication in cats are:
- Loss of motor coordination or balance (stumbling)
- Incontinence of urine
- Low heart rate
- Low blood pressure
- Respiratory depression
- Dilated pupils and glazed over eyes
- Vocalization such as crying or whining
- Increased stimulation to noises or fast movements (some cats may experience hallucinations)
The signs of exposure can begin as quickly as 5 minutes to 12 hours after exposure. The signs can last from a half hour to several days depending on the amount and type ingested.
When to Take Your Cat to the Vet
If your cat is showing symptoms of ingestion or toxicity, please call your veterinarian immediately.
What Will Your Vet Do or Will They Report You if Your Cat got into Marijuana?
Unfortunately, because of the illegal nature of these drugs and the concern over societal stigmas, diagnosis and treatment are sometimes delayed. This brings up the point – what does your vet do if you bring a cat in with an illegal drug exposure? Learn the answer here.
How Toxic is Marijuana to Cats?
THC is readily stored in the body’s fat tissue including the liver, brain and kidneys. The liver metabolizes it and much of it is excreted in the feces and urine.
The good news is that it is marijuana exposure or ingestion is rarely deadly and long-term complications are uncommon. Toxicity of marijuana is low. It takes about 1.5 grams of marijuana per pound of body weight to be fatal. Therefore, death from marijuana ingestion is not common.
The most severe problems relating to marijuana exposure or ingestion in cats have been from high concentrations of medical grade THC.
Diagnosis of Marijuana Ingestion in Cats
Diagnosis of marijuana ingestion or exposure in cats is often based on the physical exam findings and history of exposure. There are urine tests to determine the presence of THC. Human tests can be used but are not dependable in cats.
Treatment of Marijuana Ingestion in Cats
There is no antidote for marijuana. This means that the treatment of marijuana exposure usually involves trying to eliminate the drug in their system, treat secondary signs, prevent injury, and provide support until the drug is eliminated from their systems.
Treatments may include:
- Induction of vomiting may be recommended to remove any residual THC in the stomach, however in cats this is not a common recommendation unless the amount ingested is highly concentrated and dangerous.
- Depending on the severity of the signs, some cats will be administered activated charcoal to help absorb or bind any marijuana in their system.
- Medications may be given to control vomiting such as maropitant.
- Intravenous (IV) fluids may be given to help eliminate the drug.
- In severe cases of marijuana toxicity, drugs may be needed to treat seizures and control abnormal heart rates.
- It is important to protect cats from injury or self-trauma during this time of intoxication. Because of the range of signs from agitation to lethargy, hallucinations and incoordination, some cats are vulnerable to falling or reacting abnormally to loud noises. The ideal environment for a cat with marijuana ingestion and toxicity is a quiet dark area for cats to rest while the THC is being eliminated from their systems. Limit exposure to stairs or anyplace they can fall.
The vast majority of cats exposed to marijuana fully recover within 24 hours. After ingestion, THC is rapidly absorbed, and generally, within 24 hours, most of the THC has been excreted.
Prevention of Marijuana Toxicity in Cats
If you have marijuana in your home, please keep it out of the reach of your cats. If marijuana is being smoked, keep all cats in a separate area with excellent ventilation until all smoke has dissipated.