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Dogs and Jazz Cabbage

Updated: Nov 22, 2023

Two dogs smoking up.

I worked overnights around Seattle for 7 years and saw at least a few stoned dogs a night (most cats don’t seem as interested in the stuff). Dogs love the smell and taste and will find it wherever you or your friends left it. So, one of the best things about practicing around Seattle is that Pacific Northwesterners are almost always open about what their dog got into.

While I know of plenty of people who enjoy herb, dogs don’t. Their liver doesn’t process weed the same way humans do and dogs don’t come close to getting spaced. Every veterinarian who’s spent any time in the ER can spot your dog is high from across the room (so don’t bother playing dumb). Their eyes are completely dilated, they freak out if anything goes anywhere near their face, and they are dribbling pee. Almost nothing else does that to a dog (but alcohol and antifreeze should be somewhere on the list… especially antifreeze).

A lethargic dog that needs help after getting into a toxin.

In big ingestions (picture your 2 an 1/2 pound Teacup Yorkie getting into a few squares of your 420 bar you just picked up at the local dispensary), your dog is going to be flat out, unresponsive, and about 96 degrees with no pulses to be felt anywhere. In other words, less than ideal (not compatible with life).

So, how do we confirm the dog got into marijuana? We ask you. Since dogs livers metabolize pot differently than people, those pee tests your parents bought at the local pharmacy usually give a false negative (they usually don’t work). When you’re not open and honest, we offer standard screening diagnostics for illness and toxins starting at around $1000 and we offer you an out: do you think your neighbors might be into weed? Did you have any house guests recently? That sort of thing. By some miracle, this usually gets people thinking harder and being a bit more honest about weed in the home.

Now, while it happens, there isn’t always the intersection of pot and cash in most homes. (But here’s the deal), we’re much more likely to go the extra mile if you just tell us without us asking. No one’s calling the authorities - we already have more paperwork than hours in the day and plenty of veterinarians are already struggling with enough of their own demons that they aren’t going to bother with yours. We just want to treat your dog.

A hyper-realistic image of a hospitalized dog.

So, what do we do about your dog being zonked? Well, the textbook (recommended) approach is we hospitalize your dog and monitor its heart rate, body temperature, and blood pressure until things are normal again. We treat anything that isn’t going well with IV fluids, injectable medications, warmers, and, depending on the toxicologist you talk to, some activated charcoal with or without something to speed the weed through the body and some intravenous intralipids to dissolve fat loving marijuana out of your dog's blood stream. We may even try to make your dog vomit or stick a tube in the stomach and suction and flush it out (we have about 6 hours between the time your dog ate something and having that something moving past the stomach where vomiting won’t work).

So when is your dog going to be back to normal? It depends on how much they ate. Usually about 12 to 24 hours. While death is possible, it’s rare with treatment. Sadly, there is no antidote - just symptomatic care and waiting for the drug to get used up and eliminated by the body. The upside of the textbook approach? You get the best chance of a happy ending. The downside? The textbook isn’t paying your bill.

So, what are some alternatives? I won’t recommend that you try any of this (and you may very well kill your dog if you do… so seriously, go see a veterinarian first if for nothing else than a physical exam before you go and mistake your dog being high when its actually bleeding to death… it happens, I’ve seen it). And while I can’t tell you what to do without examining your pet first, I can tell you about some of the cases I’ve seen where the pet owner couldn’t afford doing things the right way. I believe increasing the chance of life is always the best option, even if it takes some creativity and some informed consent.

A grandma mixing brownie batter.

So, back to Seattle… I learned from all the grannies who paid to have their dogs monitored overnight after getting into to some ever so delicious pot brownies that those dogs were fine. No signs of a marijuana toxicity, no signs of a chocolate toxicity. Nothing… even though there should have been something to treat. The thing is, these two poisonings, chocolate and marijuana, (as well as caffeine and marijuana) do more or less the opposite thing in a dog! While there really should have been a problem and we should have had to treat something, we never did. Thanks, Grandma!

And this brings me to two specific cases I’ve seen:

A puppy that needs help after a marijuana ingestion.

The first was a guy who came home to find his puppy lying on its side. The dog wouldn’t get up and was barely breathing. He, rightly so, rushed his dog into the ER. The dog was cold, the heart rate was low, the blood pressure was low. The owner was honest that the dog probably got into his vape liquid and honest that he had just enough money for the exam and not much more (you wouldn’t believe how that kind of honesty is appreciated by the entire ER staff). I explained to the owner that while things weren’t going well for his dog, there were some creative things that he could do within his budget that would give the dog a chance.

  1. Use your own body heat to keep the dog warm. Get a big sweater or a blanket and wrap you and your dog up in it together. Sure, you’re probably going to get some pee on you, but it’s the safest way to keep your dog warm at home. I’ve seen heating blankets and heating lamps cause terrible burns in a comatose dog… don’t use them.

  2. If you want to keep an eye on your dog’s temperature, get a rectal thermometer and some lube (vaseline or KY or some olive oil or something) and check the temperature regularly. A dog should normally be between 99.5 and 102.5 (37.5 to 39C for the rest of you) . It’s generally dangerous if the dog is under 97 and above 105 (36 to 40C).

  3. Trying to make a comatose dog vomit isn’t such a great idea. So don’t try it.

  4. You’re going to go to Walmart and get some unsweetened Baker’s chocolate. Your dog weighs 26 pounds. Why Walmart? Because I’ve already checked that it’s in stock, have written down what aisle it’s in for you, and printed a picture of what you are supposed to get.

  5. Now, I want to find a reliable chocolate toxicity calculator… like the one here. The goal is to cause a mild chocolate poisoning without killing your dog (it happens). On the back of the packaging, it tells me how many grams in a serving. In this case, 14 grams in 2 pieces at my local store in aisle A14. 12 pieces may cause death per the toxicity calculator while 6 pieces is going to cause your dog to have a really bad time if not on marijuana. In this case, I’m going to go with 8 pieces (and please make sure to get rid of the other 8 pieces so your dog doesn’t poison itself with what’s left over later on and we have to see each other again tomorrow… you seem like a nice person, but we really need to stop meeting like this).

  6. Here’s the fun part… the colon is a wonderful organ that can absorb all kinds of drugs when an animal can’t swallow. Mash up the chocolate with some olive oil into a runny paste and get it up your dog’s butt. If we didn’t provide you with a syringe and a tube to get it up there, a turkey baster will do. Lube it up with the olive oil or that KY from earlier and get that chocolate slurry up there (but don’t shove… tearing the colon is a really, really bad idea).

  7. And now we wait. Your dog’s heart rate should come up within about 30 minutes or so (above 60 and under 200 beats per minute is fine for most dogs) and this should help with the body temperature too. Sure, you now have pee on you and your dog will be leaking chocolate olive oil poo, but your dog also now gets a chance to live (and all for about $20).

  8. I reminded the client that this isn’t tested or ideal but it seems to work in some cases based on my clinical experience. I also, sadly, have to remind them that the dog may die and they should come back in if things are getting worse.

When I see a really small dog like this, I’ll switch to a semi-sweet or a dark chocolate instead of a bakers chocolate (lower chocolate content… the toxicity calculator will take care of the rest) and I may switch to a condiment squeeze bottle from a turkey baster depending on the size of the dog’s poop… all available at Walmart. My goal is finding an over-the-counter product and dummy proofing it as much as possible. Providing a picture of the product, writing down how many squares of the bar to give, and where to find it in the store. No guarantees on this approach, but it’s better than just letting the dog die without trying in my opinion. Especially when the money isn’t there and everyone is informed of the risks.

A cartoon rendition of a chihuahua smoking up.

The second case I’d like to cover was a dog that was still standing but having a really bad time and the owner also didn’t have much money. The dog got into some leaf form of weed two hours before coming to me. While I still offered the textbook approach, I told the owner that if the dog can stand, the blood pressure is probably still ok. They can check the rectal temperature at home and use their body heat to keep the dog warm as with the last case. I don’t recommend giving chocolate to this client but I do recommend keeping the dog in a dark, quiet room with them with minimal stimulation and then wait it out. Call us back if you get worried and we will talk about some of the other options if things are getting worse: less responsive, dropping body temperature, anything else that worries you.

While you can try to make the dog vomit at home, it can cause some really bad stomach ulcers and there is always a risk of an aspiration pneumonia with vomiting that is a much bigger deal than having a very bad high for a few hours. Plus, marijuana having some anti-nausea properties makes getting a stoned dog to vomit challenging.

That said, I told the owner, if you want your dog to vomit given these known risks, and our cost to use something safer than the home remedy ins’t an option: 3% hydrogen peroxide is your answer. Give about a teaspoon per 5 pounds and then massage the stomach, spin your dog around, and wait. It doesn’t always work.

And then there is the middle ground… what most of the grannies did in Seattle. We hospitalize and monitor the dog with an IV catheter and use warming blankets, fluids, and medications if needed. The big advantage at a 24 hour facility is that we’re awake all night, have the tools and medications to get the job done right, and we get to clean up the pee and not you. The downside is the cost.

A content woman spending time with her happy and healthy dog.

The lessons from all of this? Clean up after yourself, hide your weed, and your dog won’t get into your stash. If you don’t, your dog will definitely do this again… they never learn and are counting on you to be smarter than they are. Don’t let them down!

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A woman with her dog who is seeking help for herself.

Finally (albeit on a more somber note), chemical experimentation can lead to some tragic results… even for cannabis. Recent evidence that followed nearly 7 million people linked about 20% of schizophrenia cases to cannabis use disorder. While we’ve kept it fairly light on this subject, I’ve lost more than one close friend to drugs in my life and I care about you as much as I do your pets. If you, or someone you know, is struggling or in need of help, please reach out to the National Help Line or call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Thank you for spending some time with us here at Questionable Medicine. We hope you never need the Vet ER!


List of References (some good reading if you're having trouble sleeping at night!)

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