With Legalized Marijuana Now Available In Many States, Pets Are Showing Up To Vet Clinics Intoxicated
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’re seeing more marijuana/THC in dogs since legalization,” said Nastassia Germain, medical director of the Veterinary Emergency Group in 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 dog term 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.
We are seeing a greater amount of marijuana/THC toxicities in dogs since legalization.
— Nastassia Germain, Medical Director of the Veterinary Emergency Group
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…'”
Trying to determine where an affected dog might have found the substance and in what form may require diplomatic skills on the part of veterinarians. Germain said she tells people, “We’re not the cops, we’re not going to report you, our job as vets is just to help pets.” She described situations where family members had to be separated for someone – parents or children – to admit to possessing the ingested stash.
Davis described an incident in which a schnauzer entered the clinic shaking uncontrollably. Although the owner admitted to having marijuana in the house, she was certain that it was in a dog-proof container. Eventually, it became clear that the dog had gone into the trash can and consumed a cotton swab the owner had used to clean his smoking device, which still had enough THC residue to have an effect.
Since the signs of poisoning are fairly easy to spot and in most cases the animal’s system will naturally eliminate the toxins, is it necessary to rush to the vet like we did ?
“That’s a good question,” said Davis, who is currently doing a residency in veterinary anesthesia at the University of Tennessee. “I think, humanly, from an empathy perspective, to see them feeling nauseous and dizzy and just not well, it would be nice if people could afford to come to the vet and get treatment from support just to help them feel better and get through it.”
Dafna’s full recovery took a few days. We ended up with a $317.98 bill and a slew of really bad jokes from our adult children.
As a general rule, if the smell of marijuana is in the air – as is increasingly the case in the 21 states, DC and Guam, which have legalized recreational use – the substance is also likely to be on the street. And if you happen to have the substance at home, store it carefully away from pets, vets said.
“We think the dog can’t get on this table. They can, they are like toddlers. As if there was a way and there was a will, they would do it,” Germain said.
A few days after Hanna Rosin’s dog became wobbly, a 3.5-year-old dog mix owned by her partner, podcast host Lauren Ober, suddenly started listing and struggled to get up. This time, they didn’t rush to the vet; it seemed clear that there was something growing in their neighborhood or that the dogs had teamed up to get into the same dumpster – or hiding place.
In our case, Dafna’s full recovery took a few days. We ended up with a bill of $317.98 and a slew of very bad jokes from our adult children: we should buy a large pizza for Dafna, our children recommended it to us. Also stop at a convenience store to buy a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. And play some Grateful Dead on the way back.
Dafna spent that first night lying on the deck, looking up at the starry Vermont sky. She seemed to be thinking about the cosmos. By day three, she was sprinting through the woods, hopefully not looking for her next fix.