Cannabis and Cats: A Feline Guide to Marijuana, CBD, and Hemp Products

The facts about THC toxicity in cats, as well as CBD and hemp products for feline health.
Last Modified: February 25, 2019

As more people gain access to legal marijuana, the issue of giving it to pets has become an increasingly hot topic. One of the biggest questions people have is about marijuana and cats. If catnip results in a happy and high cat, can they be given marijuana, as well? What about medical marijuana for cats?

The truth about marijuana and cats is that it can be quite dangerous to them due to its THC content. Meanwhile, cannabis products with no THC and high CBD can be beneficial. Understanding the difference can help owners protect their cats as well as ease the symptoms of painful and uncomfortable diseases and disorders.

Can Cats Get High?

Humans get high from marijuana due to the cannabinoids, or active ingredients in cannabis, binding with cannabinoid receptors in their brains and bodies. Do cats have cannabinoid receptors? Just like humans, cats do have this series of receptors. In fact, all mammals, birds, reptiles, and fish have CB1 and CB2 receptors. They make up the endocannabinoid system – the network through which marijuana cannabinoids such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) work to create a variety of effects (including a high). The presence of CB1 receptors in this system is why marijuana consumption in a feline will result in a very high cat.

Owners should be aware, however, that getting a cat high on marijuana is not the same as giving them catnip.

High Cats: Marijuana vs. Catnip

When an owner gives their feline friend a pinch of catnip, the cat appears to experience the same euphoric sensation as a human does when they consume marijuana. Their pupils dilate, the cat usually rolls over and stares crazily around the room, they often become playful and typically end up sprawled out on the floor or couch, fast asleep.

It’s important for cat owners to understand that catnip and marijuana are not the same, however – nor do they work the same way in a cat’s brain and body. While the cannabinoids in marijuana bind with a cat’s endocannabinoid receptors, catnip interacts with a different system.

In fact, instead of behaving like a drug, catnip behaves more like a pheromone – stimulating the cat’s sensory neurons and creating a sexual response. In other words, after smelling catnip, a feline is more randy than they are high in the traditional sense. If they eat the catnip, it acts as a sedative and makes them fall asleep.

Unlike with marijuana, a “high” cat exposed to catnip can’t overdose, although they can get an upset stomach if they eat too much of the catnip plant material. Typically, a cat can tell when they’ve had enough catnip and will simply lose interest.

Marijuana intoxication in a cat is a different story, however. It’s incredibly dangerous due to the risk of THC toxicity.


Marijuana Intoxication in Cats

While marijuana intoxication most frequently affects dogs (one study found that only 3 percent of marijuana toxicity cases were cats, while 96 percent were dogs), cats can also suffer ill effects from ingestion of THC. This isn’t typically the result of the cat smoking marijuana directly, but through the indirect inhalation of marijuana smoke or the oral ingestion of marijuana flower or infused edibles.

The effects experienced will depend on the kind of cannabis consumed. A cat eating a pot plant will likely show the least signs of THC intoxication because the plant material is not decarboxylated (a process through which curing or heating activates the THC and other cannabinoids). Consuming dried marijuana flower is likely to create greater effects. Meanwhile, the greatest risk of danger with cats and marijuana comes when they ingest concentrates – most commonly THC-infused coconut oil or cannabutter, as those are the most appealing to a cat. These substances can have potent amounts of THC that can be dangerous to animals.

For a cat, marijuana intoxication comes on much as it does in a human, with dilated pupils and a loss of coordination being the obvious visible signs. The danger lies in the invisible effects of THC toxicity: a heart rate that becomes dangerously slow and a drop in body temperature and rate of respiration. This danger is much greater for cats and small dogs than it is for larger dogs. Symptoms can start in as little as a half hour and can last for several hours or even days.

Signs of marijuana toxicity in cats include:

  • Lack of coordination
  • Depression/apathy that may alternate with agitation/anxiety
  • Vomiting
  • Slow heart rate
  • Lower body temperature
  • Seizures
  • Coma

If a cat eats marijuana or has become intoxicated through inhalation of the smoke (directly or indirectly), it should receive immediate veterinary care. Although there’s no way to reverse marijuana ingestion, a veterinarian may administer activated charcoal to help absorb any THC remaining in the stomach. The cat will also be confined to prevent them from falling and hurting themselves and receive fluids to keep them hydrated. The only way for a pet to recover from marijuana toxicity is to sleep it off, but a vet will be able to monitor them for any dangerous reactions during this time period.

Due to marijuana prohibition in many places, some pet owners are hesitant to seek medical care for a cat or other animal that has ingested marijuana. Many veterinarians stress that their priority is not to report pet owners to the police but to provide the best possible care to the animal in distress.

Cannabis and Cats: Potential Benefits

Humans have been using medical cannabis for years to treat a wide variety of diseases and symptoms. As legalization has spread and marijuana has become more mainstream, a growing chorus of voices has begun to ask, “What about medical marijuana for pets?”

Because cats have endocannabinoid systems, they can benefit from many of the cannabinoids in cannabis the same way humans can. Many pet owners have found that they can give medical cannabis to their cats to treat:

Anxiety

Cannabis has long been studied for its anti-anxiety effects. Scientists have found that cannabidiol (CBD) has a particularly calming effect – both on animals and in humans. It’s useful for bouts of anxiety as well as generalized anxiety and insomnia; however, CBD doesn’t cause extreme sedation the way many other anti-anxiety and sleep medications can.

Pain

Cannabis is also an effective treatment for pain – whether a cat is suffering from a disease such as cancer or is older and dealing with extreme arthritis. THC is known for its pain-killing effects, but as it may cause toxicity in small animals such as cats, most pet owners prefer to rely on the analgesic properties of CBD, which is much safer for pets.

Appetite Loss/Nausea

Over the years, cannabis has become well-known as a natural anti-nausea treatment – particularly for patients who are undergoing chemotherapy. It also works well for animals who have lost interest in food or who are experiencing digestive problems. In addition to calming nausea, it also stimulates appetite, which is a double benefit to cats that have lost weight due to a continued bout of vomiting.

Seizures

CBD has been proven effective at treating certain kinds of epilepsy in humans, and many cat owners are finding that it helps their furry friends, as well. While animal studies are still ongoing, one study from Colorado State University’s veterinary teaching hospital found that 89 percent of epileptic dogs treated with CBD showed reduced seizure activity.

The potential benefits versus risks of giving a cat marijuana for medical purposes depends greatly on the type of product given. While any amount of marijuana that contains THC can be risky for small animals, cat owners often find great success using CBD products and hemp. Before using any of these products, it’s important for pet owners to know the difference.


Medical Cannabis for Cats

When discussing cannabis and cats, there’s plenty of room for misunderstanding. This is because “cannabis” can refer to marijuana with THC, as well as hemp products (which don’t contain significant amounts of THC). Pure CBD oils also have no THC. To get the desired result and avoid any potential danger, it’s essential to understand the difference between these products before giving any sort of cannabis to cats.

Marijuana and Cats

There’s lots of talk on the internet about medical marijuana and cats, and it’s important to differentiate between marijuana that contains THC and hemp, which is another form of cannabis. Most of the human marijuana flower and extracts on the market today contain very high levels of THC, which (as discussed above) can be toxic to cats. While some pet owners insist that very low doses of THC are beneficial for treating their animals’ illnesses, most veterinarians are unable to discuss giving animals marijuana or recommend doses. This leaves pet owners to the mercy of internet research and trial and error. Some people are able to find holistic vets that will recommend medical marijuana, and it’s important that any form of medical cannabis be given with a veterinarian’s knowledge.

While some people say they have found success treating external ailments with topical THC oils and ointments, this kind of application can be problematic if a cat licks it off and ingests it internally. Because too much THC can be deadly to pets – and especially small dogs and cats – most pet owners opt for CBD and hemp products for their animals.

CBD Products for Cats

When it comes to medical marijuana and cats, the safest route is to skip marijuana entirely and treat a cat with CBD. Because it’s effective at helping with pain, anxiety, depression, nausea, and a host of other ailments, many cat owners are finding that CBD is a natural alternative to other medications that don’t work as well or that have unpleasant side effects for their pet. Best of all, CBD won’t result in a high cat; unlike THC, CBD has no psychotropic effects.

The most common way to give a cat CBD is via CBD oil. It’s also known as cannabis oil, and it’s important that cat owners make sure that their cannabis oil is free of THC. (While cannabis oil derived from hemp will have insignificant amounts of THC, cannabis oil derived from marijuana can have low amounts of THC present.) Unlike marijuana or oils extracted from it, CBD oil derived from hemp (also known as hemp extract) is legal everywhere. CBD oil-infused treats are also available for owners who may have trouble getting their cats to consume the oil.

Feline CBD Dosage

CBD oil is available in liquid oil form, capsules, or as infused treats. Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules about CBD dosage in cats. This is because various CBD products have different amounts of CBD in them.

Dosage recommendations for cats vary, but for a 10-pound pet, 1 mg a day is considered a minimum dose, 3 mg an average dose, and 5 mg a very strong dose. Whether a cat owner opts for oil or another form of CBD, experts advise to start with the smallest possible dose and increase it as needed.

Hemp Products for Cats

For people who are interested in giving their cat cannabis for medical purposes and want to be sure the products are THC-free, hemp is an excellent option. In order to be considered hemp, a plant has to have less than 0.3 percent THC, which is a nearly nonexistent amount. Common hemp products for cats are hemp extract, hemp oil, and hemp-infused treats.

Hemp Extract

CBD oil derived from hemp is also referred to as hemp extract. Very high in CBD, it’s an excellent option for owners who want to use medical cannabis to treat their cat’s ailments but wish to avoid products that may contain THC. Because they sound so much alike, it’s easy for many consumers to confuse high-CBD hemp extract with hemp oil – another hemp-based product.

Hemp Oil

While hemp extract is concentrated from the entire plant, hemp oil is made from cold-pressed hemp seeds. Hemp oil is high in calories, high in protein, and features vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids. Unlike hemp extract, hemp oil is low in CBD. This means that it’s not ideal for cat ailments that should be targeted with concentrated doses of CBD. It’s good as a general health supplement in cats, can help soothe arthritis and achy joints, and hemp oil has even been shown to improve cardiovascular health in animals. It’s also an excellent treatment for cats with skin problems, as hemp oil can improve skin quality and make hair softer.

Hemp-Infused Treats

Some owners may have trouble administering extracts and oils to their cats, which makes hemp-infused treats a convenient way to dose a finicky cat. Some treats have concentrated amounts of CBD and some are dietary supplements made with hemp oil; dosage/feeding guidelines will vary according to the product.


FAQ About Cats and Cannabis

As recreational and medical cannabis has become more mainstream, an increasing number of people are using it to treat their pets. Due to federal prohibition that still exists in places like the U.S., many veterinarians cannot or are hesitant to discuss cannabis for cats and dogs, and some owners are hesitant to ask their vets about it. Here are some of the questions that pet owners frequently have about cats and marijuana.

Do cats have cannabinoid receptors?

All mammals have an endocannabinoid system, including cats. This includes CB1 receptors (which bind with THC) and CB2 receptors (which react to CBD). Not only do cats have cannabinoid receptors, but they have a larger amount of them than humans do – making them more sensitive to cannabinoids like THC.

Can cats get high on marijuana?

Yes. When cats ingest marijuana smoke, flower, or concentrates, they get high in a similar way to humans, only the effects can be intensified due to their size and number of cannabinoid receptors. Signs of marijuana intoxication in cats include dilated pupils, lack of coordination, lethargy, agitation, or vomiting.

Is marijuana bad for cats?

Unfortunately, a high cat is no joke. Marijuana containing THC can be toxic to cats and ingestion may require veterinary care. Cannabis such as hemp that contains no THC and significant amounts of CBD can be good for cats, however.

What should I do about my cat eating marijuana?

THC intoxication in a cat doesn’t typically result from a cat smoking marijuana; usually the cat nibbles a stash of flower or cannabutter. If a cat displays mild signs of marijuana intoxication, activated charcoal can be administered. If symptoms worsen, they should be taken to the vet immediately.


Marijuana and Cats: Understanding the Risks and Benefits

The internet abounds with memes about “cats smoking weed,” photos labeled “high cat,” and assorted jokes regarding cats and marijuana. In reality, the likelihood of THC toxicity is real and something that pet owners should be aware of. Unlike catnip, THC isn’t harmless for cats and can cause seizures, coma, and even death if enough is consumed.

Medical marijuana for cats is a tricky topic; although some cat owners insist that they’ve successfully used small amounts of THC to treat feline medical issues, most experts advise against it due to the risks. Meanwhile, CBD products and those derived from hemp can be safely used for medical issues, as well for dietary supplements for general health.

Understanding the difference between these products – as well as the risks of THC ingestion in cats and what action to take if it occurs – will allow cat owners to help their four-legged friends have long and healthy lives.


CATEGORY PAGES
  • Cannabis and Pets - An in-depth overview of the benefits and potential harms of marijuana, CBD, and hemp for pets.
  • Cannabis and Cats - (CURRENT PAGE)
  • Cannabis and Dogs - A guide to the benefits and harms of dogs consuming cannabis – from marijuana to CBD and hemp.

Leave a Reply

avatar
1500