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As marijuana becomes more widely accepted in areas across the United States, it's important to store products that contain THC where cats can't get into them.
Mistakes still happen, however, and cats can be accidentally exposed to marijuana. If that happens, you may be wondering, is marijuana toxic to cats and does it have the same effect on cats as it does on people? If your cat ate marijuana, stay calm. Understand the effects of THC on cats, and learn how to help your cat if they're ever exposed to it.
Is Marijuana Toxic to Cats?
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main psychoactive compound in marijuana, and it is indeed toxic to cats, though the exact amount that's toxic isn't known. While marijuana intoxication in dogs is more common than in cats (as Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica notes, about 96% of marijuana toxicity cases are dogs) it can still happen, especially with edible THC products. It's also important to remember that THC concentrations tend to be higher in edible products and because they usually flavorful treats, your kitty may be tempted to eat multiple of them. These two factors significantly increase the risk for severe toxicity to occur, particularly when considering a cat's relatively small size because they don't have to consume much to be affected.
In most situations, cats can fully recover from marijuana toxicity without any lingering effects. However, cats who contract aspiration pneumonia, experience seizures or have existing heart problems may develop long-term complications from consuming marijuana.
Side Effects if Your Cat Ate Marijuana
Is marijuana toxic to cats? It is, and consuming THC products can affect your cat in numerous ways.
If your cat ate marijuana, the most common side effects are ataxia (or uncoordinated wobbly movements), extreme lethargy and slower heart rate than normal (the normal heart rate for a cat is 120-140 beats per minute). More severe intoxication can result in the following signs:
- Urinary incontinence
- Dilated pupils
- Breathing slowly
- Excessive vocalization
- Vomiting and diarrhea
How to Help a Cat Who Ate Marijuana
Call your veterinarian immediately if your cat ate marijuana, you suspect your cat ate marijuana or your cat is exhibiting the above signs. If your vet isn't available, call the Pet Poison Helpline. When it comes to marijuana intoxication, it's best to take action quickly as a vet can safely remove the drug from your cat's stomach before it's absorbed into the bloodstream. Furthermore, it can take days for marijuana to exit your cat's system, during which they may likely need veterinary support — high doses of THC products, in particular, can be lethal for some cats. Your vet can diagnose marijuana toxicity by examining your cat, running laboratory tests and learning more about your cat's situation from you.
Treatment if a Cat Ate Marijuana
Treatment for marijuana toxicity in cats is twofold:
- Detoxification: Removing marijuana from the cat's system is one of the first treatment steps. Your vet will detoxify your cat by administering activated charcoal to absorb marijuana from the stomach and intestines, giving your cat an enema or using fluid therapy to flush the drug out of the bloodstream.
- Supportive care: Supporting the cat until the effects of the THC wear off is the next step, which usually takes a day or two. Since most cats won't eat or drink until the effects have worn off, supportive care can consist of managing their body temperature and fluids to maintain hydration and blood pressure. Your vet may also give your cat medication for seizures or tremors and provide general nursing care, such as dealing with urine and feces, administering anxiety medications (if needed), keeping the cat quiet and preventing self-trauma while they're intoxicated.
With appropriate care, most cats recover fully. Based on your cat's exposure and reaction, your vet will be able to tell you what to expect in regard to short-term and long-term effects.
Now that you know the answer to the question, "Is marijuana toxic to cats?" the best way to protect your cat and any other pets from marijuana toxicity is to store THC products in a locked, elevated cabinet only you have access to. Put all products away when not in use or keep them in your direct line of sight, and you'll reduce your cat's chances of toxicity.
Dr. Sarah Wooten
Dr. Sarah Wooten is a well known international influencer in the veterinary and animal health care spaces. She has 16 years experience in private practice and over 10 years experience in media work. Dr. Wooten is a certified veterinary journalist, a member of the AVMA, and is passionate about helping pet parents learn how to care better for their fur friends, . She is also a co-creator of the wildly popular card game 'Vets Against Insanity'. She lives in Colorado with her family. To see what else she has up her sleeve, visit drsarahwooten.com.