Red-Eyed Rover

Recently, we happened to meet a veterinarian while out with friends for dinner, and 

with this golden opportunity, after a few glasses of wine, we had to ask. In his 

professional opinion, “What’s the deal with pets using cannabis?”

Little did we know, we had asked a fairly large question. Our new friend was 

reluctant to answer, or be named for this article, he said, because any answer would 

lack support. Not only is there simply too little research done on the subject to make 

any real claims, but veterinarians, unlike medical doctors, have not been given the 

legal pathway to prescribe cannabis medically. It may or may not be similar to 

humans. Factually and legally, he just couldn’t say. 

There are, however, a few things we do know. Our new friend informed us of a few 

things shaping the debate around pets and cannabis:

Absolutely, positively, keep your edibles away from your pets.

By and large, consuming cannabis in either raw or prepared forms is going to be an 

uncomfortable experience for your cat/bat/rat/boa constrictor. Do not take Rover’s 

eagerness to eat cannabis as a positive sign. Pets become lethargic and anxious, and 

in some cases, incontinent. Imagine if you got high and didn’t have the capacity to 

understand it. Veterinarians observe that many of the side effects that humans 

encounter with cannabis can be more pronounced in pets. 

This is especially risky for anything containing cannabutter, the primary mode of 

delivery for baked goods and many other popular edibles. The butter alone will hurt 

Fido or Fluffy and could cause serious, even fatal reactions. When combined with 

cannabis’ natural ability to suppress nausea, it makes getting this harmful substance 

out of the pet’s system all the more difficult. Another risk factor is chocolate, which 

is toxic to many pets, especially dogs, and very prevalent in medicated edibles. In a 

2012 study published in the Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care 

reported that cannabis toxicity in pets had increased fourfold since the legalization 

of recreational cannabis in Colorado, yet only two of these cases proved fatal. In 

both of the fatal cases, baked goods were consumed, and researchers were unable to 

determine if the fatality was caused by the actual cannabis or the other ingredients 

of the edibles. 

However, veterinarians are interested in cannabis’ medical properties for pets.

Much like humans, most vertebrates, and even a few invertebrates have an 

endocannabinoid system, and much like humans, the naturally occurring 

cannabinoids in the cannabis plant bond to endocannabinoid receptors in their 

brains and alter feelings, mood, pain, memory and healing. A 2013 article in the 

Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association documents the benefits of 

the use of cannabis over the traditionally prescribed Tramadol and how it helped a 

12-year old black Lab suffering from terminal cancer. Much like human cancer 

patients, the dog experienced an easing of pain and a return of appetite. Miles was 

dosed using a glycerin tincture, avoiding many of the potential risks previously 

mentioned with giving pets edibles. Doses were also carefully measured and 

administered, further reducing risk. The article also details anecdotal evidence of 

various pets experiencing many of the same benefits as humans with medical 

cannabis, and that veterinarians are responding in kind, championing the plant’s use 

in the field. 

-There’s still much to be learned, proceed with caution.

Dr. Eric Barchas is a Bay Area veterinarian who has seen lots of cases of cannabis 

intoxication in pets. On his website, which he maintains as a free resource for pet 

owners, he details the many effects and hazards associated with pets and cannabis 

( However, extreme risks seem minimal. He 


“[I]n my personal experience dealing with many hundreds or perhaps even 

thousands of cases of marijuana intoxication none of my patients has ever 

suffered a significant long-term complication as a result of marijuana 

ingestion. These include a number of patients who had consumed massive 

quantities of the product (I have treated patients who consumed several 

pounds of market-ready plant material, or dozens of doses of potent medical 

grade edible products).”

Yet, the unique ways that cannabinoids interact with various pets are still unknown, 

and until research and testing can be done to discover and quantify these effects, it 

is best to err on the side of extreme caution. They might be different from the 

unique way that cannabis interacts in the human system, and what is good for the 

pet owner might not necessarily be good for the pet. Rex or Spot might seem to 

enjoy an occasional puff when their owner is medicating, but it is best to not let 

them partake. 

If your pet were suffering from an extreme condition, it would be wise to take into 

consideration the many factors, both legal and medical, before attempting to 

medicate with cannabis, and if that choice is made, to go about it in measured and 

cautious steps. There are promising things on the horizon, but for the time being, 

the risks are unknown. We encourage medical cannabis patients to support 

scientific research and legislation that would allow us to further our understanding 

of the interaction between cannabis and pets, and for now, to make sure all 

medicine is safely secured to avoid accidental ingestion. Pets need advocates too, 

and now, as the national climate regarding medical cannabis is shifting, is the 

perfect time to explore what we can do to effectively and safely help our fellow life 

forms in times of suffering.