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Can Marijuana Help My Cat?

A reader wonders whether cannabis will stimulate her cat's appetite. Our vet is not so sure.

 |  Feb 27th 2013  |   6 Contributions


Dear Dr. Barchas,

My cat Zorro is suffering from feline hepatic lipidosis, which came on as a result of switching over to canned food to lower his blood sugar. I am feeding him a diluted and strained high-calorie food by mouth, and it's very hard on both of us. He seems to be getting a little better, but his first response to each feeding is to regurgitate what hasn't yet been processed from the last feeding.

Reading online, it seems that a cat's response to pot is similar to a human's, and that most reports of toxicity are a result of overdose. Do you have any advice about whether it might work to use a tiny amount of pot as an anti-vomiting drug/appetite stimulant? My vet didn't have any idea about this, but you seem to have made a study of animals' reaction to THC, the drug in marijuana.

Any help would be very welcome,

Peach

Will weed help a sick cat's appetite? Photo: A sleepy kitten lying on a hardwood floor by Shutterstock.com

First and foremost: I have not made a study of animals' reactions to THC. I have developed a relatively unfounded Internet reputation as an animal marijuana guru simply because I have discussed the subject openly and nonjudgementally. I don't support "veterinary marijuana," and I don't recommend administering marijuana to animals.

Cats and dogs do not, from what I've seen, react to marijuana in a fashion similar to humans -- unless you consider only those humans who have bad reactions to the drug. I have treated an awful lot of stoned dogs (and a smaller but not inconsequential number of stoned cats), and none of them has given me any reason to believe that they were enjoying the experience.

Furthermore, I have yet to see THC stimulate appetite or suppress nausea. In fact, many animals vomit as a result of THC exposure. And intoxicated animals usually require hospitalization for IV fluids and supportive care precisely because they are too severely intoxicated to eat or drink.

"I have the munchies!" Not really. Photo: Cat stealing a hunk of ham by Shutterstock.com

Might a low dose of THC in a cat cause the effects that you desire? I am aware of no evidence to support or refute the notion. But I do know that it is virtually impossible to define a "low" dose in a cat. Cats are small creatures with unique metabolisms and responses to pharmacological agents. I am aware of no research on the subject.

Peach, it will be very easy to overdose Zorro with THC -- this would probably lead to the opposite of what you desire. I believe the risks of your proposal decisively outweigh the benefits.

Hepatic lipidosis, also called fatty liver, is very serious metabolic problem in cats. It can occur due to illness or due to periods of poor appetite, especially in heavier cats. Its treatment is complex. Many affected individuals require feeding tubes, inpatient veterinary care, and possibly nutrition supplied through a central intravenous line.

Just leave it at catnip. Photo: A cat chewing grass by Shutterstock.com

Nutrition is the key to treatment of hepatic lipidosis. Cats who are not severely afflicted sometimes respond to appetite stimulants (THC is not used, but agents called mirtazapine and cyproheptadine often work). Vomiting and regurgitation prevent absorption of nutrients from food. Peach, you need to explore the regurgitation more thoroughly and find out what's causing it. Zorro may have a problem that is causing him to vomit, and also causing or contributing to his hepatic lipidosis.

Also, what's going on with Zorro's blood sugar? Is he diabetic? Does he need insulin? Might he be suffering from ketoacidosis (a severe, life threatening complication of diabetes)?

There are no two ways about it: Zorro doesn't need THC. He needs aggressive intervention by a qualified veterinarian. Right now.

Got a question for Dr. Barchas? Ask our vet in the comments below and you might be featured in an upcoming column. (Note that if you have an emergency situation, please see your own vet immediately!)

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