image by imp kerr

Getting your pet high may seem like a "cool" thing to do, but you could land your pooch in the ER

Laurel Braitman, historian of science and author of Animal Madness: How anxious dogs, compulsive parrots and elephants in therapy show us the wildness of our own minds (forthcoming from Simon and Schuster), interviews the veterinarian Dr. Andrew Springer Browne. Dr. Browne has treated companion animals throughout the United States, studied zoonotic diseases in Kenyan camels, worked at a falcon hospital in Abu Dhabi, holds degrees in veterinary medicine and public health, and has raised bantam chickens since he was five years old.

Laurel Braitman: First of all, can an animal get high on marijuana?

Dr. Andrew Springer Browne: Yes, but I would call it a very bad trip rather than being stoned or high.

Why? What are the signs in, say, dogs?

The main clinical signs in dogs are low body temperature, dilated pupils, increased sensitivity to noise and movement, being unsteady on their feet, and dribbling urine. The animals are usually distressed and whimpering or howling. With really high doses they are collapsed, breathing slowly, with a very slow heart rate, and are barely responsive. This can last 24 to 48 hours. Usually they survive.

Can cats get stoned?

Cats tend to be more fastidious than dogs so they don’t usually eat things that make them 18 sick…although I once removed a large ball of hair bands from a cat’s stomach.

But I have seen a cat high. There was catnip involved, not weed. And whether or not that cat was tripping, it was obviously in a state of bliss. Have you seen or heard of any other animals getting stoned accidentally or on purpose? Say fish, parrots, horses or any other animal that might be around weed… and us?


How much marijuana is too much for an animal?

The listed LD50 for marijuana in rats (otherwise known as the dosage that kills 50 percent of animals tested) is 42mg of THC per kg of bodyweight, but I don’t believe it’s been established in dogs, cats, or other domestic animals. I would say though that any amount of marijuana is too much for an animal.  We consider it a toxin.  Also one of the main problems is that marijuana can have a variable amount of THC in it and also many contain contaminants like fungal spores, pesticides, or fertilizer, that would make it unsafe and unwise to recommend to a patient
as a dosage.

Well that also means it wouldn’t be a good batch for humans. Speaking of, there are lots of things that people and other animals take for medical and recreational purposes that would be toxic if taken in large doses. For example—as a vet you give animals other opiates, like morphine, frequently to treat pain. Morphine could also be fatal if given at too high a dose. I think we don’t give animals marijuana because we’re not supposed to be taking it ourselves. If we knew what safe dosages were, and if it was uncontaminated, do you think there would be anything disadvantageous to giving them marijuana or THC in another form?

People talk about marijuana’s benefits for chemotherapy-induced nausea in humans.  That problem is less common in animals because we use lower doses of chemo (we are big on quality of life not quantity) so if our treatment is making the animal sick and miserable it isn’t good treatment. That said, we do use appetite stimulants and anti-nausea drugs all the time in small animal medicine. If marijuana was shown to be effective in stimulating appetite and for treating nausea and the doses were understood, I think that it could show promise, as long as the neurological side effects were absent.  However, there would have to be clinical trials in animals, and not just rats, to show it was effective and safe before any responsible veterinarian would recommend it.

What was the most memorable stoned creature you’ve treated? How did their human react?

My most memorable but certainly not funny case was at an emergency vet hospital in San Diego. Both the owner and the dog had ingested edible marijuana baked goods. The dog was agitated and whimpering, and the owner was also agitated, crying, and screaming—upset that she left her treats on the kitchen table where the dog got them. Taking care of the owner was just as important as treating her dog.

I actually do think that is a little bit funny. How did you treat the animal?

This patient received activated charcoal by mouth and fluids under the skin, along with a recommendation to stay quiet and warm at home. The owner received support and reassurance, a cup of tea, a quiet dark room, and a taxi ride home.

I’m glad they both survived. What do you think might happen within the animal kingdom if we legalized marijuana?

THC butter in baked goods seems to be the most dangerous for dogs. These “edibles” are tasty and appetizing for animals and they are also highly potent compared to marijuana in its natural form. With legalization there may be more edibles within the reach of companion animals. There’s already evidence of an increasing number of marijuana toxicities in animals reported in California and Colorado following legalization.

My last question: Can you prosecute someone for getting an animal stoned?

California Penal Code §597 includes a provision against any person who “subjects any animal to needless suffering, or inflicts unnecessary cruelty upon the animal, or in any manner abuses any animal.” If someone was intentionally poisoning an animal with drugs because they thought it was funny to see the animal high, scared out of his mind, I would report it to Animal Control.

That said, all the cases I’ve seen happened because the dog ate the weed or baked goods by accident, and the owners wouldn’t have brought the dog into the ER unless they cared about their welfare. Vets certainly don’t narc to the police on someone who comes in because they might have recreational drugs… We are more concerned about the animal’s welfare.