Ever since medical marijuana became legal in some states, and after the recreational use of marijuana was decriminalized in Colorado and Washington last November, veterinarians have reported an increase in the number of canine patients that have ingested it.
A Colorado State University (CSU) study published in December 2012 confirms that: It found that the number of dogs being treated for marijuana toxicity has quadrupled since 2005. And according to The VIN News Service, in 2011 the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center received 309 calls regarding dogs ingesting marijuana – more than triple the number received in 2001.
In almost all of these cases, the dogs ate baked goods containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. THC is potentially toxic to dogs. Fortunately, if a dog ingests just a small amount, it is usually easily treatable (95 percent of the dogs in the CSU study survived).
But should a dog eat THC in brownies or other baked goods that contain a lot of chocolate (which is also toxic for dogs), butter and oil, it can be more serious.
Stacey Meola, one of the study’s authors, told 9NEWS that two dogs who ate these treats died due to what she calls “marijuana-related causes.”
“They can’t actually protect their gag reflex, which is the reflex when you vomit that keeps you from aspirating that down into your lungs,” she said. “Marijuana absolutely contributed to the death in these two dogs, but I would not go so far as to say it killed these two dogs.”
Some vets believe small amounts of THC can help dogs with chronic pain and other health issues. Dr. Doug Kramer told Vice.com that when his dog, Nikita, was suffering from untreatable cancer and traditional pain medications weren’t helping her, he gave her THC via a glycerine tincture.
“At the first dosage, she was up and around,” he said. “I didn’t cure her. It was just a question of increasing her quality of life and putting off inevitably euthanizing her.”
What are the Symptoms of Marijuana Toxicity?
“Clinical signs can occur within minutes to hours and can last for hours to days, in part due to body fat storage of the active ingredients in marijuana,” Dr. Patrick Mahaney, i Love Dogs’ Ask a Vet, wrote in a June 2011 article for Veterinary Practice News.
The severity of the symptoms depends on the amount of THC ingested and the size of the dog.
Pardon the pun, but in mild cases your dog will look “dopey,” CSU veterinarian Dr. Timothy Hackett told The Coloradoan.
Your dog may also show the following signs, according to Hackett and Mahaney:
- Hypersensitivity to visual and verbal stimuli
- Bloodshot eyes
- Dilated pupils
- Behavior changes
In more severe cases, your dog may show these symptoms:
- Lack of coordination and difficulty walking
- Low body temperature
- Low blood pressure
- Slow heart rate
- Urinary incontinence
How is Marijuana Toxicity Diagnosed?
Be sure to tell your vet if you think your dog has ingested THC, regardless of whether marijuana is legal where you live. “Your vet is not under any obligation to report these events to the police, and needs to know what they are dealing with early to avoid unnecessary tests and help the dog recover as quickly as possible,” notes Michigan Veterinary Specialists.
Your vet may perform blood work to check your dog’s organ function. “Knowing the status of the liver, kidneys and other body systems helps to rule out other underlying metabolic derangement that could contribute to the presenting clinical signs,” Mahaney wrote.
A urine sample may also be analyzed, and X-rays may be taken to check for gastrointestinal issues.
How is Marijuana Toxicity Treated?
It is very important to take your dog to the vet and induce vomiting within two hours after he has ingested marijuana. Because THC is absorbed by a dog’s body so quickly, its anti-nausea properties can make it difficult for your dog to vomit and get it out of his system.
Once your dog stops vomiting, he may be given activated charcoal to “reduce absorption of certain toxins and speed their evacuation through the gastrointestinal tract,” Mahaney wrote.
Dogs showing more severe symptoms may need to be hospitalized, where they will be given fluids and medications intravenously. According to The VIN News Service, dogs may receive lipid therapy, which draws the THC out from their body fat.
Your dog should fully recover after treatment. To prevent this from happening again, be sure to keep marijuana treats far out of your dog’s reach.
“People know that it’s used for medicinal purposes, can be good for some people and is recreational, so they think it’s not a big deal for their pets,” Ashley Harmon, a Denver veterinarian, told The Coloradoan. “People don’t leave antifreeze or chocolate on their coffee table, but, unfortunately, there’s not that same caution with marijuana.”
To help your dog fight off the effects of THC and other toxins, give him i Love Dogs Multivitamin with Green Tea and Reishi. Green tea contains antioxidants, while reishi gives your dog’s immune system a boost.
PHOTO: Willie Lunchmeat
Find A Vet HOW TO articles are intended for informational purposes only. You should always consult with your veterinarian about any health issues affecting your dog.
Do you have a question about marijuana toxicity? Submit it to i Love Dogs’ Ask a Vet here.