When Dogs Eat Grass

State laws regarding marijuana seem to be changing every minute these days. When I was a youngster, we could never have imagined that this material would someday be proudly displayed in a case at the corner store, with dozens of varieties represented and all available for legal purchase. It’s not that way in every state (yet), but the laws governing marijuana and hemp have loosened significantly across the board. These looser restrictions and diminished penalties have made consumers a bit more adventurous, resulting in more creative pot concoctions and more highly concentrated products.

What does this have to do with dogs, you say? Well, the incidence of marijuana exposure in pets (dogs, mostly, because cats prefer amphetamines) has increased by about 500% in the last few years, and the illness caused by these interactions is growing more severe over time. Ten years ago, the law was much stricter. When a pot smoker’s dog discovered and ate a secret stash, the quantity was usually small because of the legal risk involved in purchase and possession. It was generally supplied as a dried leaf, which is irritating to the lining of the stomach, so some of this ingested product was often vomited up before it could cause any toxic effects.

People’s tastes have become more refined, though, and the stash has gotten bigger. Today’s plants have been carefully bred to contain the maximum THC concentrations, about 40-60 times as much as the older plant varieties. The majority of dogs exposed to marijuana today are ingesting not leaves but edible products such as candy, cookies, butters, and oils. These food products are very attractive, highly digestible, and may contain other ingredients, like chocolate, that are toxic to dogs. Furthermore, cannabis that has been prepared with butter releases a very large quantity of active ingredient into the surrounding oils, creating a food product that is even more dense in psychoactive compounds. Even if the patient vomits after ingesting this, very little of the offending substance will be safely expelled onto the floor.

Even more treacherous for today’s inquisitive canine are the newer preparations known as wax or shatter (used for vaping), and Cannabis that’s intended for medical purposes. These can be 50-90% THC, and that is well over 100 times more potent than the dried leaf that mischievous pups would have stumbled upon just a decade or two ago. Products like this pack a real toxic wallop for someone who’s inclined to eat everything they find under the bed or on the kitchen counter.

Marijuana usually does not cause death in dogs unless a second dangerous item is consumed along with it (such as dark chocolate or espresso beans, or something so high in fat that the pancreas is damaged). However, highly concentrated modern cannabis products will make your dog feel miserable for a rather prolonged period of time. If you’ve taken today’s more lenient cannabis laws as an invitation to experiment, be sure to keep that 2019 marijuana safely away from your dog, who’s still a child of the 70’s.

Dr. M.S. Regan