Last summer my husband was out hiking with our two dogs when one of them – a year-old rescue who weighs over 50 pounds, can climb steep hills like a mountain goat and has the speed and the grace of an Olympic athlete – suddenly collapsed.
Unable to stand, Dafna was disoriented and had also become incontinent. Was it a crisis? A cerebral vascular accident? A snake bite?
We piled into our car and headed to an emergency veterinary clinic. I held Dafna’s head in my lap, convinced that the end was near. This pup had destroyed two pairs of my prescription glasses, a new leather wallet, and had ripped slashes in my clothes. She had chewed through my daughter’s internet cables. Yet I loved her like no other.
At the clinic, staff rushed Dafna into a back room with the professionalism expected in a life or death situation. But we thought we also noticed a hint of fun? Even a smirk?
Moments later, we learned why. The vet explained that while they were performing a urine test to confirm their suspicions, they were pretty sure Dafna had ingested THC, possibly from a marijuana plant growing wild along from the trail, or maybe she had eaten a discarded cockroach.
Basically, our dog was stoned.
Turns out that’s not that unusual these days.
In Vermont, where we were and where the possession and use of marijuana was legalized in 2018, the vet said she is now seeing up to 10 cases a week of pot poisoning. According to ASPCApro and local veterinarians, this is happening nationwide.
“We are seeing a greater amount of marijuana/THC toxicities in dogs since legalization,” said Nastassia Germain, medical director of the Veterinary Emergency Group in Washington DC. “I’m also seeing more severe cases due to access to medical-grade THC/marijuana.”
Hanna Rosin, a podcast host who lives in DC, was on a walk this fall with her adult rescue dog, Brian, a possible beagle-chihuahua mix, when he suddenly became wobbly. “Like a wonky drunk,” Rosin said. She ended up at Germain’s clinic where “the vet looked at him and said ‘THC,'” Rosin said.
“My brain didn’t calculate,” Rosin said. “I was like, what is THC? Is that a common term for dogs that I don’t know? And then I was like, Wait, what? Like THC? And she’s like, ‘Yeah, like grass, like your dog ate grass.'”
Germain said his clinic sees an average of two or three intoxicated dogs a week these days, and with holidays and family gatherings, “we’re seeing more toxicities of all kinds,” including chocolate. , grapes, garlic, and prescription drugs, in addition to marijuana.
Intoxicants usually work their way into a dog’s system within a few days, during which time he may be sleepy or more lethargic than usual. And with some intravenous fluids and anti-nausea meds from the vet, they’re generally fine. But the level of danger can be correlated to the dog’s size, general health, and the amount and form of THC ingested.
According to information from the Veterinary Emergency Group website, eating the buds of a marijuana plant is more dangerous than eating the leaves. With gummies, it’s not just THC that’s a problem for dogs, Germain said. Often the gummies are sugar-free and use a sugar substitute called xylitol, which in the worst case can be deadly to dogs. Even in very small amounts, this ingredient can cause hypoglycemia, seizures, and possible liver damage or failure.
Likewise, marijuana brownies pose a risk to dogs for both chocolate and THC, Germain said. “Now we are dealing with two different types of toxins that may have different clinical signs,” she said.
Although there have been reports of pet deaths from THC, Germain said she hasn’t seen this in her clinic. “It can get serious when they can have low or abnormal heart rates, low blood pressure, and sometimes tremors that can lead to seizures and coma,” Germain said.
Germain said she has never encountered a cat that has ingested marijuana, although it’s theoretically possible that ingesting THC produces the same symptoms in felines. “They’re just a bit more selective about what they eat than our canine friends,” Germain said. “I mean, we can barely get them to eat their cat food sometimes.”
What about Colorado, one of the first states to legalize the sale of recreational marijuana 10 years ago?
Veterinarian Lily Davis, who recently completed a year-long internship at an emergency room veterinary hospital in Denver, said her team had seen dogs exhibiting THC toxicity at the rate “of at least a per shift or one per day, if not more”.
Yet even there, with potty in all its forms so widely available in Colorado, people were often surprised to learn why their pets were acting weird, Davis said. “We tried to say very politely, is it possible your dog ingested marijuana or products containing marijuana?” she said. “And almost always people were like, ‘Oh, I have no idea…we have nothing…'”