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Protect Your Dog from Marijuana Overdoses

By, Michele C. Hollow

With cannabis now becoming legal in more regions, you may no longer need to keep your stash hidden from the police, but it is crucial that you keep it away from your pets, especially dogs.

Most dogs are curious. They explore their world with their mouths. Case in point is Bella, an adult Labrador retriever. Her owner, who lives in Millburn, New Jersey,  where medical marijuana is legal, left half of a joint on a coffee table.

“I had no idea she’d eat it,” Bella’s owner, Marilyn Sanders, told Marijuana.com. “She’s a large dog. Within a few minutes, her gait got sloppy. I watched her to make sure she’d be OK.  Fortunately, it was such a tiny amount for a large dog. She was fine in a couple of hours.”

Other dogs aren’t so lucky. While most cases are mild, with more potent cannabis products available, some reactions can be severe. A 2012 study from Colorado reported two cases of dogs dying after consuming medical-grade THC butter in baked goods.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ (ASPCA) Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) has seen a significant increase in the number of calls about pets and marijuana.“Dogs are certainly the most likely pets to get into marijuana, but we’ve also received calls about cats, birds, ferrets, and rabbits,” said Grace Munns, coordinator of media and communications for the ASPCA.

Munns, who gathered information from ASPCA staff veterinarians, reported the APCC handled nearly 52 percent more cases involving cannabis in 2017 compared with 2016, increasing from 979 cases in 2016 to 1,486 in 2017. “Veterinarians across the country have indicated an increase in the number of cases they are seeing,” she said. Two veterinary hospitals in Colorado saw a fourfold increase in marijuana toxicosis from 2005 to 2010 in a retrospective study published in 2012 in the Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care.

The APCC veterinarians said these numbers are relatively small compared with calls for dogs ingesting ibuprofen or chocolate, which is toxic to dogs. Many dogs prefer consuming chocolate-based edibles, which puts them at a higher risk than animals that eat plant material.

“We’ve found around 10 percent of marijuana toxicity claims are paired with chocolate toxicity,” said Michael Nank, a spokesperson for Trupanion, a medical insurance company for dogs and cats. “On their own, substances such as chocolate, butter, and oil can be harmful to pets. When combined with marijuana, the results are worse.”

“THC is toxic for pets,” he told Marijuana.com. “It can cause balance problems, irregular heartbeat, incontinence, or worse. Even inhalation through second-hand smoke can be dangerous.”

While insurance claims have risen, Nank noted, “We see the highest frequency of marijuana toxicity claims in Washington, California, and Colorado.”

If your dog may have ingested cannabis, here are symptoms to look for:

  • A drunken gait, lethargy, and urinary incontinence
  • About 25 percent of dogs will overreact to stimuli and be disoriented.
  • Dilated pupils and tremors
  • THC concentrates can cause dogs to become comatose.

What Should You Do if Your Pet Consumed Marijuana?

The amount of cannabis ingested and the size of your dog directly influences your decision about whether you should take your dog to a veterinarian.

Some animals may be only slightly affected and can be managed at home if they can still walk without help. These pets should be kept in a safe, quiet space where they will not be able to fall and hurt themselves. Check on your pet frequently to be sure his or her condition is not worsening.

If your pet is severely affected and cannot walk or is comatose, see a veterinarian immediately.

If you’re unsure, call the APCC at 888-426-4435, or contact your local veterinarian.

Following the Law

None of the existing or proposed laws address the use of marijuana for veterinary patients. In 2015, Democratic Nevada state Sen. Richard “Tick”  Segerblom sponsored a bill to authorize veterinary use. “The theory was that veterinarians could prescribe it for dogs with the thought that they would try to do some independent research to determine what works,” Segerblom told Marijuana.com.

The bill didn’t pass because in states where cannabis use is legal, the law applies only to humans. In states where it’s legal for people, veterinarians are not protected to recommend its use.

Yet, even with anecdotal evidence of benefits from dog owners who have given their pets cannabidiol (CBD) oil products, no states allow veterinarians to use the plant extract in treatment.

Treating dogs with weed toxicity can be expensive.

“After munching on some elevated brownies, a [Shetland] sheepdog in California spent five long days and nights being treated at their local veterinary hospital,” Nank said. “After induced vomiting, IV fluids, assorted medications, and ICU monitoring, the Sheltie went home clear-headed and happy. The cost of care was just over $6,000.”

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