A survey study conducted by researchers from Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph reveals that cannabis poisoning cases among pets are increasing at an alarming rate in the US and Canada.
The study reports that the number of reported cases related to cannabis-induced toxicosis in dogs, cats, and other pet animals has increased significantly after the legalization of cannabis in Canada in October 2018. Since both cannabis use and reporting have witnessed an upward trend post-legalization, these findings have even perplexed the researchers.
We're only just now starting to be understand this situation, researchers say. When asked about the role that cannabis legalization might have played in the rise of cannabis poisoning cases, Assistant Professor at Ontario Veterinary College, Jibran Y. Khokhar told ZME Science that while pet cannabis poisoning appears to be on the rise, “we can’t be sure if it is an actual increase or if it has just resulted in greater reporting since it is no longer illegal.”
The causes and symptoms of cannabis poisoning in pets
Marijuana poisoning in pets mainly occurs when animals ingest cannabis-based edible products or dried cannabis plants in the absence of their owners. Moreover, inhalation of smoke from burning marijuana can also lead to cannabis poisoning in pets.
The symptoms start showing up within 30-60 minutes after ingestion and within 6-12 minutes after inhalation. The affected pet may experience urine dribbling, ataxia (abnormal body movements and lack of coordination), dilated pupils, glassy eyes, disorientation, urinary incontinence, and hyperesthesia (increased sensory activity).
For this eye-opening study, lead researcher Richard Quansah Amissah and his colleagues collected survey data from 251 veterinarians in the US and Canada. The surveys incorporate information from numerous participants who had come across cannabis poisoning cases in pets, and while it still doesn't present a comprehensive analysis, it's one of the broadest studies on this topic.
Cannabis poisoning can be a serious problem for pets. A previously published study found that cannabis poisoning could also induce seizures, abnormal and fluctuating heart rates, body vibrations, and in severe cases, even coma. The analysis from the recent survey points out that although nearly all animals treated with outpatient monitoring recovered completely, cannabis poisoning has led to the death of a few pets in some cases.
“While most cases seem to be mild and resolve with monitoring, some cases might be more severe. The other concern that comes with this is the cost of veterinary care, which can also become significant,” said Professor Khokhar.
Is there a way to prevent cannabis poisoning in pets?
According to the researchers, awareness should be the first step when it comes to preventing marijuana poisoning among pets. If users are made aware of the consequences their pets could face when subjected to marijuana, they are likely to take necessary precautions and measures.
We can't overstate this enough: don't leave your cannabis where your pets can reach it! Oh, and keep in mind that your pets have a bigger reach than you probably think.
Policymakers should also come up with laws that would encourage manufacturers to sell cannabis products with pet-proof packaging and warning labels. Moreover, the researchers call for additional research concerning the impact of cannabis products on animals.
“This is an important topic to study in the light of the recent legalization of cannabis in Canada and across multiple states. In order to understand the mechanisms underlying cannabis-induced toxicosis in pets, and to develop treatments for it, we need to first understand what it looks like; this is what we had hoped to accomplish with this survey, and believe that these findings will help us get a better handle on this under-studied topic,” the researchers note in the study.
The researchers are currently in the process of creating a rodent model of cannabis-induced toxicosis. Findings from this model would allow them to study the effects of marijuana poisoning on the animal brain.