Cannabis and Dogs: A Guide to Canines and Marijuana, CBD, and Hemp

From marijuana toxicity in dogs to CBD, hemp, and medical marijuana for dogs, a growing number of people have questions about canines and cannabis.
Last Modified: February 25, 2019

As marijuana has become more and more a part of people’s lives – both for medical purposes and due to recreational legalization in many places – the issue of cannabis for dogs has become an increasingly popular topic. What are the effects of marijuana on dogs? Can it be used for medical purposes? Is it harmful or beneficial to them?

Cannabis comes in many forms that include THC-rich marijuana as well as non-psychoactive hemp. While a carefully-controlled dose of medical marijuana for dogs can bring relief where other medications are too strong or have failed, if a dog eats marijuana or concentrates that are high in THC, the results could be deadly. This has led many pet owners to avoid using regular marijuana as medicine for their dogs; instead, they opt for CBD oil or hemp-derived products (all of which contain  little to no THC).

Effects of Marijuana on Dogs

Dogs have the same endocannabinoid system as humans do. This is the network of receptors throughout the brain and body that connect with cannabinoids, the active ingredients in marijuana. In humans, cannabinoids such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) can create euphoria, sleepiness, relieve pain, and calm nausea and anxiety.

Cannabis for dogs works similarly to the way it does in humans. This means that a dog that consumes marijuana could experience lack of coordination, sleepiness, dilated pupils, increased heart rate, dilated pupils, or an increased startle reflex.

Depending on the dose, dogs and marijuana can be a deadly combination. This is because in higher doses, THC can be toxic.


Marijuana Toxicity in Dogs

As recreational legalization started spreading to more places, the number of dogs consuming their owners’ marijuana began to skyrocket. In fact, pet-related calls to poison control centers have shot up by 756 percent over the past decade. The ASPCA reports that it received over 1,800 calls in 2018 alone. These kinds of calls result when a dog eats marijuana flower, edibles, or even BHO and other marijuana concentrates.

What happens when a dog eats marijuana? Effects of THC can set in anywhere from five minutes to as long as 12 hours after consumption, and they can last for a half hour up to several days. Severity of symptoms will depend on the size of animal and the potency of the product consumed. Symptoms of marijuana toxicity in dogs will be similar to overconsumption in humans.

Signs of marijuana toxicity in dogs include:

  • Lethargy
  • Sedation
  • Glassy eyes
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty Walking
  • Tremors
  • Whining/crying
  • Agitation
  • Trouble regulating body temperature
  • Seizures
  • Coma

Treating Marijuana Overconsumption in Dogs

Typically, too much THC for dogs results in an uncomfortable several hours until the effects wear off. If the dosage consumed is very high, however, the results can be more serious. Extremely low blood pressure or irregular body temperatures can be dangerous to a dog and can potentially cause death.

If an owner suspects their pet has consumed cannabis – whether a bag of flower, edibles, or a vape cartridge – it’s important to take action right away. As a first step, activated charcoal can be administered to help absorb some of the THC remaining in the pet’s stomach. If that doesn’t work, it may help to induce vomiting. If these steps don’t help, seek veterinary care right away.

While there’s no way to reverse marijuana overconsumption, a veterinarian can help manage the dangerous effects of THC toxicity. This means monitoring the dog’s heart rate and other vital signs, keeping the dog confined so it doesn’t harm itself, as well as giving intravenous fluids to ensure that it stays well-hydrated. A veterinarian can also take steps to help the dog regulate their body temperature so it doesn’t drop too high or low and administer anti-vomiting medication to keep them more comfortable and prevent dehydration.


Benefits of Cannabis for Dogs

While marijuana toxicity is a real concern if a dog is able to access their owner’s stash of flower, concentrates, or edible cannabis treats, cannabis can also be an effective medical treatment and health supplement for dogs. In fact, there is a growing interest in using cannabis for pets to treat many of the same conditions it helps in humans. Just a few of them are:

Pain

Just as in humans, cannabis is excellent at controlling pain in dogs. While there have been a greater number of studies into the effects of cannabinoids on human pain, research is beginning to catch up to the growing interest in cannabis for dogs. One study found that CBD-based oil was an effective treatment for osteoarthritic dogs, helping reduce their pain and increase their activity levels.

Anxiety

A common discomfort and disorder for humans, anxiety can also plague dogs. It ranges from separation anxiety that sets in when an owner leaves to generalized anxiety due to personality, trauma, or illness. As in humans, CBD is particularly effective at treating anxiety in dogs.

Nausea and Low Appetite

One of the best-known uses for medical marijuana is in human patients undergoing chemotherapy, as cannabis can help calm nausea and stimulate appetite. Cannabis works similarly in dogs who have developed stomach problems or who have lost interest in food, whether due to age or illness.


Types of Cannabis for Dogs

Cannabis for dogs isn’t one-size-fits all, however. Not only do different doses vary depending on the concentration of cannabinoids, the size of the dog, and the way their endocannabinoid system metabolizes cannabis; products and their effects vary wildly depending on how they’re made. Cannabis for dogs is best divided into three separate kinds:  those made with marijuana, CBD extracts, and products made from hemp.

Marijuana for Dogs

Marijuana as most people know it is a plant that’s abundant in tetrahydrocannabinol, otherwise known as THC. It’s this cannabinoid that’s responsible for marijuana’s most famous effect: getting people high. While marijuana should never be given to a dog for kicks or as a joke, carefully-administered medical marijuana for dogs can bring great relief to dogs who are older and ailing or suffering from various illnesses.

It’s the careful administration of THC that makes the difference between a therapeutic dose and an overdose. A study from the mid-70s found that dogs have a large number of CB1 endocannabinoid receptors in various parts of their brains. This means that dogs require a very small amount of THC in order to obtain a therapeutic effect. While CBD is also effective at treating pain, anxiety, nausea, and more, some pet owners insist that their dogs do better when receiving the full spectrum of marijuana cannabinoids, including very small amounts of THC.

Dosing Medical Marijuana for Dogs

When it comes to dosing medical marijuana for dogs, most owners are left to a combination of internet research and trial and error. Due to marijuana laws that have been slow to change in many places, a large number of veterinarians cannot discuss medical marijuana for their patients.

When people do use medical marijuana for dogs, they typically administer it as a marijuana/cannabis oil concentrate. Percentages of THC in cannabis oil can vary depending on the product, but giving it this way makes it easier to control the dosage of THC, as administering too much can be lethal. Using medical marijuana with THC on dogs can be tricky, as dosage and potential results are highly anecdotal. For this reason, most people who use medical marijuana for dogs turn to CBD oil or hemp products. Certain THC products can also be administered topically to treat external ailments, but this method of treatment raises the concern about the dog licking the oil or ointment off and ingesting it.

CBD Products for Dogs

Like THC, CBD is also effective at treating a wide range of ailments that dogs often face. It’s frequently used for everything from pain and anxiety to nausea and low appetite. It’s also been studied for its anticonvulsant and antiepileptic activity in canines, raising the potential that CBD may be useful for dogs who experience seizures. However, CBD doesn’t create the same toxicity issues that come with using THC on dogs. It also doesn’t cause the psychotropic effects seen with THC, meaning that CBD won’t make a dog feel intoxicated.

CBD oil can be extracted from high-CBD, low-THC strains of marijuana, but most commercially-available CBD oil for pets is extracted from hemp, which contains less than 0.3 percent THC. The latter is also known as hemp extract (which is different than hemp oil – a product that will be discussed later).

Some people refer to hemp-derived CBD oil for dogs as “cannabis oil,” as hemp is part of the cannabis family (just like marijuana). Some high-THC oils derived from marijuana are also referred to as “cannabis oil,” so it’s essential for dog owners to carefully research any product to find out the amount of CBD and THC it contains before giving it to their pets in order to prevent accidental administration of THC.

CBD Dosage for Dogs

While CBD isn’t toxic, it can create unpleasant results if too much is administered. Because cannabis for dogs is becoming increasingly popular, there are a growing number of products made just for dogs. CBD is available as an oil as well as in CBD-infused chews and treats. It’s essential for owners to find a product with clear dosing instructions and follow them carefully. Just as with humans, it’s best to start with the lowest dose, as more can always be given if necessary.

Signs of CBD overconsumption in dogs may include:

  • Lethargy
  • Severe drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Hemp Products for Dogs

Hemp is another popular form of cannabis for dogs – either as a supplement for general health or as a treatment for specific conditions. Hemp is naturally high in CBD, but unlike marijuana, it contains next to no THC. In fact, in order to be considered hemp, cannabis must contain 0.3% or less of THC. Hemp also contains a wide range of other cannabinoids (although in smaller concentrations than CBD), as well as omega-3 fatty acids and other essential nutrients.

Those who are interested in hemp-derived cannabis for dogs will find a variety of hemp products available for their furry friends.

Hemp Extract

Hemp extract is also referred to as CBD oil (discussed above). It’s an excellent choice for dog owners who are hoping to target their dog’s ailments with a CBD-specific treatment that will not contain unsafe levels of THC. With so many different products on the market, it’s easy to confuse hemp extract with another common hemp product: hemp oil.

Hemp Oil

Although the two products sound alike, hemp oil is quite different from hemp extract. While the extract comes from the whole plant, hemp oil is made by cold-pressing hemp seeds. While hemp extract is high in CBD, hemp oil is low in the cannabinoid. Hemp oil is high in calories, however. It’s also high in protein, and contains omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E, making it an excellent dietary supplement to treat or prevent canine health problems over the long term. Hemp oil has been studied for its cardiovascular benefits in animals, can help ease inflamed joints, and can make a dog’s coat and skin softer and healthier.

Hemp-Infused Treats

For owners who would like to supplement their dog’s diet with hemp but who don’t want to administer oil or drops orally or over food, there are many different hemp-infused chews, cookies, and treats available on the market today. Unlike marijuana-infused edibles for humans, cannabis edibles derived from hemp don’t carry a danger of THC toxicity. CBD levels in hemp treats depend on whether or not they were made with hemp oil or concentrated CBD oil. Some may have very small amounts, while others may have a higher percentage.

FAQ About Marijuana and Dogs

Cannabis, marijuana, hemp, CBD, oil, extract – with so many terms flying around, it’s easy for people to get confused about the different types of cannabis for dogs as well as their safety. Here are some of the questions that arise most frequently.

Can dogs get high?

Yes. Because dogs have an endocannabinoid system just like humans, they can also get high after consuming marijuana. Marijuana oil, edibles, or smoke can make a dog uncoordinated, sleepy, nauseous, agitated, or at worst, cause a drop in blood pressure, seizures, or a coma.

Is marijuana bad for dogs?

Dogs have a large number of endocannabinoid receptors in their brain, which means that they experience effects from very small amounts of THC. While CBD can be beneficial to dogs, THC can be toxic and even deadly in high amounts.

What happens if a dog eats marijuana?

Within 30 minutes to a few hours a dog eats marijuana, it will typically begin to show signs of intoxication. Effects depend on how much THC was consumed and can include dilated pupils, lethargy/sleepiness, lack of coordination, vomiting, agitation, tremors, or seizures.

My dog ate weed – what do I do?

While many humans enjoy THC for its intoxicating effects, high doses of THC for dogs can be uncomfortable and even dangerous. If a dog eats marijuana, the owner should administer activated charcoal to help absorb THC in the stomach. If effects grow worse, immediate veterinary care is necessary.

Is there medical marijuana for dogs?

Because a dog can easily overdose on THC, many pet experts recommend that people who are interested in cannabis for dogs use CBD oil or hemp products that have very little THC. These may be used as a treatment for specific conditions or as a supplement for general health.


Cannabis for Dogs: A World of Potential

Although many studies have been done on the health benefits of cannabis for humans, there has been very little research on medical marijuana for dogs. The little evidence that is available shows that dogs have endocannabinoid systems as humans do and that cannabis – particularly in its high-CBD forms – can be safely used to treat certain diseases and ailments in dogs.

It’s clear, however, that THC has a high potential of overdose and toxicity in canines, which is a concern for marijuana consumers who often have it around the house as well as people interested in medicating their dogs with cannabis. This is why many dog owners who choose cannabis as a medication avoid THC altogether and choose CBD oil or hemp-derived products that contain little to no THC. With proper research, education, and care, pet owners can not only cut down on the number of emergency calls for canine marijuana overconsumption; they can harness the power of cannabis and use it to improve the health of their tail-wagging friends.


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