Cases of marijuana poisoning in animals is on the rise in Oregon ever since the state legalized recreational pot. The issue is more serious than it may initially appear. Dr. Adam Stone, a veterinarian at Bend Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center, was working at an animal hospital in Portland when weed sales became legal.
“We saw more cases of marijuana toxicity in the first couple months of 2016 than we had in the previous year,” Stone explained. “There was a pretty severe increase once it was legalized recreationally.” The same is happening in Central Oregon, where Stone now works at the Emergency Clinic in Bend.
“We see anywhere from one to three in a 12-hour shift that present with signs of toxicity that could be attributed to marijuana,” Stone relayed. “We usually see it solely in dogs. A classic subset of signs is evident in dogs. Cats are not nearly as common, although sometimes it is suspected.” A 24-hour animal poison control center, Pet Poison Helpline, reports a 448 percent increase in weed cases over six years.
Veterinarian at the Redmond Veterinary Clinic, Dr. Curt Nitschelm, said, “It is definitely more frequent with the recent laws. It is usually dogs, and it is usually edible products. From what I understand, they have a higher concentration of marijuana, or the active ingredient.” The psychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana plants responsible for affecting pets is none other than tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.
Nitschelm explained, “For most of the cases that we see, it has been the higher concentrated products, like butter, and edibles, brownies, those types of things.” However, baked delights and oils are not the only weed products that can harm our four-legged friends. Raw cannabis leaves and stems can make dogs “high” too.
For the human body to absorb THC and feel its effects, THC must first go through decarboxylation, or the process of heating, such as smoking it or dissolving it in fat. This is unnecessary for dogs, who can simply swallow part of a bud and feel intoxicated. They really do not need much either. Stone says, “In rare cases, the ash from a joint can cause some dogs to react.”
With dogs being dogs, Stone continued, “Someone will toss out a roach, or the end of a joint, and a dog on a hike will just snack on that. And just that little, tiny quantity, in some cases maybe a quarter of a gram, a tenth of a gram, can cause severe signs in some animals.” Since animals cannot understand they are “high,” symptoms are unfamiliar and extremely frightening.
Nitschelm says that dogs intoxicated by marijuana can be “blasé all the way up to nonresponsive.” Tandi Ngwenyama, a clinical instructor of emergency and small animal critical care at Washington State University, has seen a number of pot toxicity cases in her career, especially since the legalization of recreational weed. She says that dogs poisoned with ganja have abnormal mental activity.
“They might be a little bit more depressed or agitated; they will walk around like they are drunk,” Ngwenyama explained. “Also pretty classic is they seem to be dribbling urine.” Depending on how much THC a dog consumes, affected dogs can have difficulty breathing, breathing ineffectively or very slowly. Some may even become comatose.
“When we see a dog that comes in and it is lethargic, dribbling urine, and having trouble standing, it is almost a sure-fire sign that the dog has gotten into marijuana,” Stone said. Although cannabis toxicity does not kill dogs, complications can still prove fatal. “They can get quite nauseous,” explained Stone, which can have dire consequences.
“A lot of people think that you can use marijuana in dogs to treat them for nausea, and it actually causes pretty severe nausea is almost all of them. What can be life-threatening is that they get very sedate, and they can vomit and breathe in that vomit and aspirate, and get a pretty horrific pneumonia,” Stone continued. The higher the concentration of THC an animal consumes, the worse the effects can be.
Both Stone and Ngwenyama noted cases of seizures in dogs who consumed massive quantities. “I have heard very rare instances of seizure activity in dogs on incredibly high doses, but we have no idea what causes that,” Stone said. “They could be so sedate that they stop breathing and get a seizure, or that they fall over and get head trauma and have a seizure.”
Regardless of whether they use weed or not, pet owners must know the symptoms of toxic pot ingestion. Events such as festivals, fairs, and concerts will likely expose them to a variety of dropped edibles. Exposure to marijuana products can occur any time a dog leaves the house, for a hike, a walk, or a trip to the park.
In fact, the total solar eclipse last summer and the events celebrating it caused a major spike in THC poisoning cases at Nitschelm’s Redmond Clinic. Both Nitschelm and Stone recommend calling a veterinarian the moment you suspect your dog ate weed, and then induce vomiting according to the instructions given. Waiting until full effects kick in may make your pet too sedate to vomit safely.
Once the animal vomits out all the toxins, take it to the nearest open veterinary clinic immediately. “The typical treatment is inducing vomiting and then you give an anti-nausea medication to keep them from vomiting overnight,” Stone explained. Marijuana is not the only substance poisoning pets, however. Vets are treating dogs for drugs like Ibuprofen, which damages liver, kidneys, even brains, and causes acetaminophen in cats, which is fatal.
Macadamia nuts, dark chocolate, raisins, grapes, onions, and garden are also highly toxic to dogs. More specifically to Central Oregon are cases of toxicity from poisoned salmon and mushrooms. “If the fish can go to the ocean,” Nitschelm explains, “they may potentially carry the bacteria in their blood.” If dogs ingest poisoned salmon blood, it could prove fatal.
Stone admits seeing a rise in poisonous mushroom cases too. “We have several different types of toxic mushrooms in the area,” he warned. “Some of them are on the rare side, but we can see liver failure happen really quickly with ingestion of a certain type of mushroom in the area.” With legalization spreading across the United States, keep your weed out of reach of your animals and be vigilant.