Is Secondhand Marijuana Smoke Dangerous to Dogs?
When I started writing for Dogster and Catster eight years ago, I dreamed of fame and fortune. Okay, I confess that my expectations were a tad more realistic. Nonetheless, I hoped for that one-in-a-million lucky break, leading to some awesome book and TV deal.
It turns out that I'm not famous and I'm quite sure I never will be. However, there appears to be one exception: I seem to be the Internet's go-to guy when it comes to questions about pets and marijuana.
It started when I wrote a few blog posts (those with long memories will recall that I used to write the Vet Blog) about what to do if your dog breaks into a stash of marijuana. At around the same time, I also composed a comprehensive website with 100 articles on dog and cat diseases, syndromes, and treatments. One of the covered items was marijuana intoxication. None of the other 99 articles made much of a splash, but the article on marijuana really got noticed.
I have been quoted -- always without permission, always without making any effort to contact me, and sometimes out of context -- by newspapers (including SF Weekly) and a bunch of pro-cannabis websites, which I try to ignore. I talk about canine marijuana intoxication in a straightforward and nonjudgemental way; this has unfortunately led some folks to the misconception that I endorse getting dogs stoned. For the record: I do not.
Because of this "fame," I receive a stream of questions about dogs (and other animals) and marijuana. Many of them are ridiculous to the point of absurdity: Is it a good idea to put a cat in a pillowcase and pass her around the room blowing secondhand smoke into the case? Is it a good idea to blow hits into an iguana's tank? One needn't be a vet to know that these are bad ideas.
But not every question I receive is absurd. Consider the following one:
I read Dr. Barchas' posting about dogs ingesting marijuana by eating it, but what are the effects of a dog (in this case a 10-month, 50-pound Basset Hound) inhaling the secondhand smoke from someone who smokes marijuana in his bedroom?
The good news is that, unless an animal is confined in a pillowcase (as above) or in a room with extreme amounts of smoke, inhaling secondhand marijuana smoke is not likely to lead to intoxication. If this were a concern, it would be hard to walk the streets of San Francisco without catching a secondhand buzz.
However, the bigger concern here is the smoke itself. Dogs have exquisitely sensitive lungs, and smoke can damage them. If the dog is being "hotboxed" in a thick cloud of smoke all day every day, his respiratory function can be compromised. On the other hand, if the person doing the smoking does not go overboard, doesn't smoke every day, and keeps a window open while smoking, it is not likely that much harm will come to the dog -- from the smoke at least.
Bear in mind that although I've never seen a dog die from marijuana intoxication, I have seen dogs die as a direct result of their owners getting stoned. Everyone knows that intoxicated people frequently exercise poor judgment. Consider a dog I worked with several years ago. The owner's boyfriend got stoned and decided to hang out on his apartment building's roof with the dog. The dog fell four stories and broke his back. The horrified owner elected to euthanize the dog (and, I imagine, dump her boyfriend).
It's fun to write and joke about marijuana on the Internet, but remember that situations involving dogs and marijuana can end poorly. Everyone, please be careful. Don't get your dogs stoned. Be cautious when you have been smoking. And, above all, please start focusing on some of those other 99 articles on my website.