Thousands of pets accidentally eat marijuana. It happened to my beloved dog and cost me $700 in vet bills.
By Charles Passy
The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center reports that it treated more than 6,200 cases of potential marijuana toxicity in 2021
A few days ago I arrived home to find my beloved 12 year old dog in a semi-comatose state. She could not move her hind legs. She flinched when I touched her elsewhere. She was “out of it” in a way that almost suggested she might have a really bad trip.
In the end, that’s exactly what was happening. The 16-pound Lulu suffered from marijuana toxicity, as I learned after rushing her to an emergency vet.
At first I was confused: my wife and I don’t keep marijuana at home. But we take Lulu for two walks a day in our New York neighborhood. The vet suspected Lulu of finding the marijuana, either in plant or edible form, somewhere along our morning walk and then ingesting it, with the drug taking full effect a few hours later. The vet added that it’s becoming almost a daily occurrence in her practice: Dogs like to eat anything they encounter on the street – or at home – and the consequences can sometimes be medically serious.
I always knew that chocolate was dangerous for dogs. Same thing with the rat poison, which can also be found on the streets of the city. But marijuana? And did it really happen regularly?
The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center reports that it treated more than 6,200 cases of potential marijuana toxicity in pets in 2021, a 59.5% increase from the previous year. Similarly, a 2022 survey of 251 veterinarians in North America, published by the non-profit organization PLOS, found that cases of pet toxicity increased after 2018, with the report noting that the “Legalization of cannabis use in Canada and the United States is likely an important factor associated with the increase in cases of cannabis toxicosis.”
Indeed, the more prevalent this pot becomes – cannabis is already a $10.8 billion industry in the United States – the more likely our pets are to find it, whether on the streets or in our homes.
And marijuana can cause all sorts of problems for dogs. Problems associated with poisoning include vomiting, urinary incontinence, tremors, stupor, hypothermia and low heart rate, according to Dr. Tina Wismer, senior director of the ASPCA Animal Control Center. She adds that “although deaths are rare, we can see symptoms that require veterinary attention,” and she encourages those who suspect their pet has eaten something potentially toxic to contact their veterinarian immediately.
Part of the problem, says Jibran Khokhar, one of the researchers behind the 2022 PLOS survey, is that pets don’t ingest marijuana in the same conscious way people do. “Humans will grab a joint and smoke it at their own pace, titrating to the optimal effect level,” he says. Your dog, on the other hand, can just devour anything he finds, he adds.
Dr. Stephanie Liff, a veterinarian with a practice in New York, says she now sees up to five cases a month of pets suffering from marijuana toxicity. As recently as four years ago, she might have seen one at most. She says the problem is two-fold: Marijuana is “all over the streets” and “people underestimate what their pets will be interested in.”
Dr. Liff adds that most of the cases she sees involve dogs. The problem “is really rare in cats…they’re not likely to eat things” in the same way, she says. Still, the PLOS investigation reported a few cases of marijuana toxicity involving felines, as well as horses, ferrets, cockatoos, and iguanas.
Is there a solution to stop the overall increase in toxicity? Needless to say, veterinarians are warning pet owners to be careful not to leave marijuana out in the open where they live. And they encourage owners to keep a watchful eye when walking their pets and to train dogs to understand the “leave it” command as a way to avoid accidental ingestion of harmful substances.
Khokar also says manufacturers of cannabis products should consider warnings on their labels to keep these items out of reach of pets. “I think that would be helpful,” he says.
If there’s any good news here, it’s that most pets recover easily from problems related to marijuana toxicity. The vet we saw advised that Lulu would likely be back to her old self within a day – and she gave her fluids and anti-nausea medication to help with the process.
Sure enough, Lulu recovered in about 10 hours. I was down $700 in vet and taxi fees, but relieved it wasn’t the end of the line for our adorable pooch, as I initially feared. Naturally, we’ve started taking Lulu on her twice-daily walks again, but with our eyes ever more focused on what she’s trying to get into. Leave it, indeed.
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