Cannabis and Pets: A Vet’s Guide on What to Know



“I’m pretty optimistic about the medicinal use of cannabis for pets, including CBD, provided there’s solid scientific backing. It shows promise for conditions like chronic pain, anxiety, and certain seizures, offering an alternative when conventional treatments fall short. However, any treatment should be under a vet’s guidance to ensure safety and effectiveness.”

Sabrina Kong, DVM, Jules Veterinary Center

In people, cannabis is known to alleviate chronic pain, reduce anxiety, and even aid in the management of conditions like epilepsy and multiple sclerosis. These benefits stem from cannabis’s active compounds, such as cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system. With such positive outcomes in human medicine, it’s natural for pet owners and veterinary professionals to wonder if and how these therapeutic effects might translate to our four-legged companions.

In 1996, California was the first state in the country to legalize cannabis for medicinal use. Since then, it has been legalized for recreational use in 24 states, and another 14 allow the use of cannabis for medical purposes.

This growing acceptance and use of cannabis has led to increased research on the benefits for pets. “The use of cannabis, specifically non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD), has garnered interest for its potential to treat various ailments in pets, including anxiety, pain, inflammation, and seizure disorders,” shares Dr. Sabrina Kong, a veterinarian at Jules Veterinary Center in Tracy, CA.

However, there is still limited scientific data on the effectiveness of cannabis for pets: “CBD products, when derived from hemp and containing less than 0.3 percent THC, are considered to have potential therapeutic benefits for pets. Anecdotal evidence and a growing body of veterinary research suggest that CBD may help manage certain conditions with a relatively low risk of side effects,” says Dr. Kong

With the increased availability and societal acceptance of marijuana, there is a new concern for pet owners: the accidental ingestion of cannabis by animals. “Accidental ingestion of marijuana (containing THC) poses significant risks to pets. THC toxicity can lead to a range of symptoms from lethargy, uncoordinated movements, and drooling to more severe signs like tremors, seizures, and, in rare cases, death. The increase in marijuana legalization has correlated with a rise in cases of THC toxicity in pets, highlighting the need for pet-proofing substances and educating pet owners about the risks,” warns Dr. Kong

Keep reading to learn more about the potential benefits and concerns of cannabis and pets.

Meet The Expert: Sabrina Kong, DVM

Sabrina Kong

Dr. Sabrina Kong graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in England in 2016 and has worked at a small animal clinic in Northern California since then. She grew up in the Bay Area and got her bachelor’s degree from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. She also became a certified canine rehabilitation practitioner through a program at the University of Tennessee.

She practices at the Jules Veterinary Center in Tracy, CA, and is the lead Staff Veterinary Writer at

Potential Benefits of Cannabis For Pets

Much like for humans, there can be some benefits of using cannabis to treat pets. In a 2022 study, CBD seemed to help with joint pain and arthritis in dogs but had little effect on behavioral issues or helped treat epilepsy. The study noted that overall, CBD was well tolerated by the dogs.

However, there has not been a lot of research in this area yet, so it may be some time before research-based best practices are implemented. “I’m pretty optimistic about the medicinal use of cannabis for pets, including CBD, provided there’s solid scientific backing,” says Dr. Kong. “It shows promise for conditions like chronic pain, anxiety, and certain seizures, offering an alternative when conventional treatments fall short. However, any treatment should be under a vet’s guidance to ensure safety and effectiveness.”

Pet owners who are considering cannabis to treat their pets should take a few precautionary steps. “Proceed with caution and consult a vet experienced in cannabis treatments. Choosing products specifically formulated for pets is crucial, ensuring they are safe and effective. The key is informed, cautious use under professional supervision,” says Dr. Kong.

With an increased acceptance of cannabis use for people, it is natural that the future of treatments for pets is optimistic: “I anticipate continued research into cannabis, including CBD, for veterinary use, potentially leading to new, safe, and effective treatments for various conditions,” says Dr. Kong. “Rigorous scientific evaluation is essential to this progress, ensuring the well-being of pets.”

Regulatory Issues When Treating Pets With Cannabis

“The regulatory landscape is complex and varies widely, often lagging behind the growing interest in cannabis for pets,” says Dr. Kong. “This creates challenges for veterinarians in prescribing or discussing cannabis-based products. Pet owners and vets must stay informed about legal developments in their area.”

As long as a cannabis product has a THC concentration of less than 0.3 percent, it is classified as hemp and has been federally deregulated since 2018. This means that CBD products are widely available and could be used by veterinarians to treat pets.

However, if the THC concentration is higher than 0.3 percent, that is where things get complicated. Just because a state has legalized cannabis for medicinal use does not mean that it also applies to animals. To help veterinarians make informed decisions, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has published a cannabis regulations FAQ for their members.

Risks and Dangers of Accidental Ingestion of Cannabis By Pets

While there are many potential upsides to cannabis for pets, the increased availability of it in pet owner’s homes poses a risk to animals who may accidentally ingest it. Starting in 2019, the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) started to notice a significant uptick in calls about pets ingesting cannabis. In fact, calls increased by 765 percent over a ten-year period.

Unfortunately, this can cause the pets some serious issues. “Pets ingesting recreational cannabis can face significant risks, as THC can be toxic, leading to symptoms like lethargy and seizures. It’s vital to keep these products out of pets’ reach and be aware of intoxication signs,” warns Dr. Kong. “Accidental ingestion is increasingly common, especially where cannabis is legal. Awareness and prompt action are crucial in these situations.”

To help owners know what to do, the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association has published a guide. If an animal ingests cannabis, their recommendations include to:

…seek veterinary care promptly. While it’s rare for pets to ingest enough marijuana to be fatal, it can happen. Inform your veterinarian what the pet has ingested, as proper treatment can be administered only if the veterinarian is aware of the toxin. Treatment for cannabis toxicity can include decontamination of the GI tract, IV fluids, and anti-vomiting medication. In severe cases, it may include oxygen support, monitoring blood pressure, regulating the pet’s temperature, and ventilator/respiratory support.

Typically, acute symptoms can be well managed: “While immediate symptoms of cannabis intoxication are well-documented, the long-term effects are less understood and warrant further study. This underscores the importance of prevention and careful monitoring,” says Dr. Kong.

The best way to help pets is to prevent access to cannabis. “Education is fundamental here, with veterinary professionals playing a critical role. Preventive measures include secure storage and educating household members about the risks to pets. A proactive approach that includes awareness and prevention is paramount,” encourages Dr. Kong.

Kimmy Gustafson (Writer)

Kimmy Gustafson is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor's offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.