Should you give marijuana to your sick dog?

One of my mantras with regard to euthanasia is “don’t put a dog down if they are still eating. If they are eating, chances are that they still want to live.” The trick with sick pets is to get them to eat.

In California, where marijuana dispensaries are present on every other corner, coupons for a free joints abound in the weekly publications, and pot is basically legal, the question arises – should pet owners consider giving marijuana to their sick pets as an appetite stimulant?

The vast majority of information you will find about dogs and marijuana is related to marijuana toxicosis (e.g. your Pomeranian gets into the stash and eats more than any human would smoke in a week).  We know a lot about what happens if dogs eats too much marijuana. The problem is that we know little or nothing about whether or not marijuana can be safely and effectively used as an appetite stimulant in dogs and as an effective therapeutic agent in our older, sick, pets.

As far as science goes, what we do know is that an LD501 has not been established in dogs but levels as high as 3,000 to 9,000 mg/kg were not lethal, and all dogs recovered within 24 hours of ingestion.

The clinical signs of intoxication have been well documented and include ataxia, bradycardia, collapse, loss of conciousness, diarrhea, hypersalivation, hypotension, nausea, vomiting, and urinary incontinence. One sign that is also encountered is excessive eating (e.g. the munchies).

One LA times article2 documented a case of the munchies where a Pitbull ate an entire box of baking soda. Indeed, in an animal that routinely eats feces, shoes, and underwear, one can only wonder what will happen if a dog gets the munchies. Nonetheless, the question some vets and pet owners are asking is whether or not we can harness dog munchies as therapy? In small amounts can pot help get an ill dog to eat when other medications have failed?

Unfortunately, veterinarians (at least those here in California) do not have much to guide them even if they wanted to prescribe marijuana. What is the proper dose? What is the proper method of administration? Moreover, there are questions to the legality of prescribing marijuana and most vets would be reluctant to script out marijuana for fear of losing their DEA license. Nonetheless, some pet owners are taking matters into their own hands and giving us a window into what might be possible. We are seeing and hearing about anecdotal reports that marijuana can be used to stimulate appetite in dogs. For example, one veterinarian in California stated:

“I recently volunteered with a canine hospice case who had lymphoma. The dog would get a dollop of marijuana butter added to a small treat prior to mealtime to enhance her appetite. It seemed to work quite well, she would eat whenever she had some of the butter3.”

As far as therapeutic administration of marijuana to pets, the only thing we know is that we don’t know enough.

Take home messages:

  • Give marijuana to your dog at your own risk. We are neither recommending that you feed your dog pot or that your veterinarian scripts out pot for your dog.
  • Currently we do not have enough evidence one way or the other to determine 1) if pot administration is safe 2) if it will reliably work and/or 3) what does of marijuana is appropriate to use to stimulate appetite.
  • If you do suspect that your dog ingested your stash – get to your vets office immediately. The side effects of pot toxicosis can be pretty scary and you WILL want them under veterinary supervision. When you are at the vets office, do not be stupid. Tell your vet what happened. The signs of marijuana toxicosis are similar to all sorts of other disorders and you will quickly run up your vet bill as your vet runs test after test trying to find out what you already know.

If you have any experience with the therapeutic administration of marijuana to your pet, please let us know.

1. . LD50 is the lethal dose of a drug that will kill 50% of the subjects that ingest the drug An LD50 has not been established in dogs or cats. However research in dogs and monkeys showed that oral doses of delta 9-THC and delta 8-THC ranging from 3,000 to 9,000 mg/kg were not lethal, and all dogs recovered within 24 hours of ingestion. At higher doses, clinical signs in monkeys persisted up to five days. No histopathologic lesions were noted in dogs or monkeys. Donaldson CW: Marijuana exposure in animals. Vet Med 2002 Vol 97 pp. 437-439. In my experience, clinical signs of marijuana toxicity maybe severe but I have yet to see an animal with marijuana toxicosis who came int a veterinary emergency room die from pot ingestion. NOTE: there may be animals who did not make it to the emergency room so do not take this to mean that pot toxicosis cannot kill your pet.


3. THC is lipid soluble. “Cannabutter”, “butterjuana” or “marijuana butter” is a butter-based solution which has been infused with cannabinoids.