Written by David Reich — Fact checked by Piet Hellemans, DVM
In a nutshell:
Cats can get high from cannabis. Protect them from accidental exposure to marijuana or cannabis leaves, edibles, or smoke.
Cat owners who use cannabis for personal use, must stash cannabis products or accessories in closed containers and keep them out of reach of pets.
Secondhand smoke does affect cats. It does not make them high but leads to unpleasant health hazards.
CBD oil and cannabis oil are different. CBD is non-psychoactive and does not make your cat high.
Why is my cat acting weird?
If you notice your cat rolling, twisting, rubbing, losing consciousness, disoriented, walking like a drunk, or purring, stop filming them and take a closer look. It could probably be because your cat ingested cannabis and needs your help!
So what caused them to act weird? As a cat owner, what precautions do you need to take?
Let us discuss more.
Do cats get high?
Cats do like getting high! Puzzled?!
Yes, by instinct cats prefer being seated or sleeping on a high spot just to take advantage of pouncing on their prey or to swiftly escape from potential danger. Secondly, they produce different kinds of high-pitched meows to draw their owners’ attention or communicate to them.
On the flip side, there is a high that cats do not prefer. The high that comes through intoxication when accidentally getting exposed to substances like marijuana or cannabis leaves, edibles, or smoke.
It leaves them disorientated, uncoordinated, increased, or abnormal vocalization. Other reported symptoms include sleepiness, wobbling, inappropriate urination, changes in heart rate, diarrhea, vomiting, seizures, and convulsing.
Plants that are toxic to cats
We are well aware that our feline companions are curious beings. Kittens or young cats love to chew anything that attracts them. They could get attracted to a Lily flower in a vase on your table, ivy climbing up from your window, or the bright red holly shrubs in your garden.
Be aware that these plants are not cat-friendly. Sniffing them, eating a tiny part of a leaf, or while rubbing or rolling on them, the pollen could stick to their fur. And these could be ingested while cats groom themselves.
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Similarly, Holly shrubs, Hydrangea shrubs, lily varieties, oleander, Norfolk pine, Sago palm, Hibiscus, and many more plants could cause mild to severe toxicity in cats leading to tremors, organ failures, gastrointestinal issues, vomiting, etc.
With this in mind, some overly concerned cat owners do not let their cats outdoors in fear of exposure to these dangerous plants. But depriving their natural exploratory trait could leave them lonely, inactive, or depressed.
How about setting up a garden filled with catnip, ponytail palm, tillandsia varieties, and selected cat-friendly plants? Does catnip not intoxicate your cat?
Effects of catnip
Unlike marijuana intoxication, catnip is not dangerous to cats as long as it is used in moderation and under your supervision.
By the way, how did this plant get its name as catnip? Probably Jerry mouse used it to stop Tom cat from chasing him?!
Catnip or Nepeta cataria belongs to the mint family and is also known as catmint. These plants are native to Europe and are also commonly found in North America. Recently some farms and independent cat lovers in Ireland are showing interest in cultivating catnip.
Research says cats show some fondness for these plants as they are naturally attracted to them. They approach the plant by rubbing against them, expressing gestures similar to when they are in heat. Nepetalactone, the active chemical in catnip, is responsible for the narcotic effect stimulating their sensory neurons and induces behaviour of courtship and mating.
Although cats show express actions such as rolling on the floor, running around in excitement, or hunting gestures, there is no permanent alteration or damage, reports studies.
Some veterinarians suggest the use of catnip to calm down cats’ anxiousness. Besides dried leaves, nowadays you could find catnip used in play toys, scratcher mats, sprays, or you could make a toy on your own too! These aids support keeping your cats active or stimulate cognition, or probably a reward for positive conduct.
On the whole, although catnip brings a euphoric state in cats, it does not cause unpleasant effects. Moreover, not all cats respond to catnip and do not show any addictive tendencies towards these plants. Therefore, as a responsible pet owner, be aware that continuous exposure could lead to aggressive behaviour. To prevent such adverse effects, practice moderate usage and administer under the owner or guardian’s supervision.
Despite being cautious with the choice of plants and caring for creating a safe environment for our feline companions, how do they get exposed to accidental intoxication? What could be the reason(s)?
How do cats get exposed to marijuana intoxication?
The two most common causes of cannabis exposure in pets are:
Unintentional or accidental ingestion
Generally, cats are indifferent to sweets, so the probability of unintentionally ingesting edibles such as cookies, brownies, gummies, or baked goods is comparatively less than dogs. Nevertheless, you can never take a chance with young cats or kittens.
Next is the prevalence of accidental exposure, where cats ingest cannabis buds or leaves. For the simple reason, dried cannabis buds resemble dried catnip.
As more countries are relaxing legalisation rules for medical cannabis, pet owners using them for their personal medical needs must exercise caution.
For example, stash cannabis products or accessories in closed containers and keep them out of reach of pets. Be vigilant about changes in the behaviour of your pet. If they show signs of poisoning (as mentioned at the beginning of this blog post), report to your veterinarian and seek professional help immediately.
On a positive note, you could contribute as a good citizen and help improve your community by educating your neighbours, friends, and family about preventing pets from accidental cannabis exposure.
For example, the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) supports preventing animal cruelty and promotes kindness to animals.
Its 2018 annual report compiles several types of animal cruelty cases that they investigated. It included an abuse case of a Marmoset exposed to cannabis smoke because of purposely smoking cannabis in the room where it was caged. A forensic examination of its hair tested positive for cannabis. However, the team rescued, cured, and housed the animal in a specialist centre.
That brings us to the next cause of concern for pet parents and veterinarians, exposure to secondary smoking.
Exposure to secondary smoking
When cats get exposed to tobacco or cannabis smoke, toxins or carcinogens accumulate on their fur. Eventually, while grooming, they get licked up and enter their oral mucosa tissues, leading to intensified effects of passive smoking, as reported by a study.
Clinical signs of THC intoxication in cats are different from humans. They show signs not limited to agitation, hypothermia, disorders of consciousness, convulsions, and vomiting, depending on their rate and duration of exposure.
Surprisingly, in a reported case, marijuana smoke was exhaled directly in a cats’ face as a joke by the cat owner’s partner. (in the owner’s absence)
What is secondhand smoke?
The WHO defines “secondhand smoke is a mixture of the smoke from the burning end of a cigarette and the smoke exhaled by the smoker.”
Therefore, people who smoke marijuana for medical or recreational purposes in closed spaces must be mindful that it exposes both smokers, non-smokers, and pets in the same room to its effects. What might be medically necessary for humans need not be suitable for pets.
Given these points, cats, dogs, birds, or any pets, may get exposed to marijuana smoke and get affected. That includes if they are in the same room or house. Moreover, pets could be affected by smoke by clogging their airways and lungs, leading to inflammation, pain, and respiratory issues.
In essence, as a responsible pet owner, avoid smoking (cannabis/ tobacco) when your pet is around and educate the same to your friends visiting you.
Is Cannabis oil the same as CBD oil?
No cannabis oil and CBD oil are not the same. You must have a precise understanding of cannabis oil and CBD oil, so you know what to give your pets and what to avoid.
Cannabis is an umbrella term for all the different species of the plant family and contains high amounts of THC. Hence if you find a product that says cannabis oil, it means that it is an extract from the cannabis plant that is unrefined and contains all the compounds, including THC and CBD. And is not intended for pet use.
On the other hand, CBD oil comes from the hemp variety of Cannabis Sativa plants. CBD is separated from the plant using standard extraction methods and delivered through MCT oil or hemp seed oil. Therefore CBD oil is non-psychoactive and does not pronounce any psychotropic effects on pets.
Most importantly, CBD oil for pets is specifically manufactured to suit them and comes with added per-friendly flavoring.
Can cats get high from CBD?
As mentioned above, due to the non-psychoactive nature of cannabidiol, it does not intoxicate or create a high in cats.
- We spoke about plants, pollens, or terpenes that might be toxic to cats, but not all plants or terpenes are dangerous.
- While using catnip, keep in mind moderation and supervision.
- Some cat owners feel moderate use of marijuana smoking (medical, recreational) in the presence of their pets may not affect them. Keeping in mind the rapidly changing legal landscape of marijuana use, users should educate themselves about its handling and its effects on their personal and pets’ safety.
- Cat owners who use cannabis for personal use must stash cannabis products or accessories in closed containers and keep them out of reach of pets.