Marijuana Presents Problems for Dogs

A February New York Times story reported that the Animal Medical Center in New York City saw a 144-percent increase in pet marijuana overdose calls from 2010 to 2015. New York generated more calls than any other state except California.

There is a warning to pet owners not to leave marijuana edibles, of any description, where a pet has access to them. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine — National Institutes of Health, the plant contains more than 400 chemicals but the major psychoactive element is cannabinoid δ-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Canine marijuana overdose is on the rise around the country. Photo: Sue Pascoe
Canine marijuana overdose is on the rise around the country. Photo: Sue Pascoe

According to the National Institutes of Health, “In animals, following oral inges- tions, effects begin within 60 minutes. Clinical signs include depression, hypersalivation, mydriasis, vomiting, urinary incontinence, tremors, hypothermia, and brachycardia.

“Higher dosages may additionally cause nystagmus, agitation, tachypnea, tachycardia, ataxia, hyperexcitability and seizures. Treatment of marijuana ingestion in animals is largely supportive. Vital signs including temperature and heart rate and rhythm must be continually monitored.”

Additionally, some sources say that “stoned” pets may lack the coordination necessary to consume food and water.

In the Times story, a person whose pet had ingested marijuana reported, “He wouldn’t eat, he wouldn’t drink, his head was bobbling back and forth.” When he tried to get up, the owner reported, “he staggered and fell.”

Some vets recommend inducing vomiting within 30 minutes of ingestion, to minimize the amount of TCH that can be absorbed. But, inducing vomiting, may cause aspiration pneumonia, which occurs when vomit is inhaled into the lungs. Dogs at risk for aspiration pneumonia can be given activated charcoal to help reduce the absorption of THC from the gut into the bloodstream.

After ingestion of marijuana, pets may lose bowel and bladder control, and may experience extreme responses to noises, movements and other forms of sensory stimulation. These responses can manifest as trembling or jerking of the head or extremities. In severe cases, the responses may look like seizures.

“Overreacting to sound and light and movement is not life-threatening,” according to the Times article, which noted that symptoms gradually clear over several days.

“I’ve had owners come in and they are stoned and they recognize some of the severity, but they just think it’s the funniest thing and they can’t stop laughing in the exam room,” said Brett Levitzke, medical director of the Veterinary Emergency and Referral Group in Brooklyn. “To the poor dog, it’s not very funny.”

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