By Dr. Becker
Veterinary clinics in Colorado are seeing an increase in the number of pets – mostly dogs – with marijuana toxicity. Veterinarians haven’t determined if pets are actually getting into marijuana more frequently, or if their owners feel freer to seek treatment now that Colorado has made possession of small amounts of the drug legal.
Last November, voters passed Amendment 64. A64 made it legal for adults 21 years and older to possess up to an ounce of pot for recreational purposes, and to grow up to six marijuana plants at home. Growers can’t sell their product, but they can give other adults up to an ounce as a gift.
Thousands of the state’s residents also now carry medical-marijuana cards.
Marijuana Toxicity Cases Have Increased Dramatically in 2013
At Mesa Veterinary Clinic in Pueblo, CO, marijuana toxicity cases have increased by 30 percent so far this year. In Colorado Springs, the Animal Emergency Care Centers are seeing 10 to 20 cases a month.
In a study conducted by Colorado State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital, researchers learned that marijuana toxicity cases quadrupled between 2005 and 20101. The increase is directly linked to the growth in the number of medical-marijuana users during the same five-year period.
At Community Pet Hospital of Thornton, CO, veterinarians now “ask owners very specifically and multiple times” if their dog has ingested marijuana. The hospital sees four to six cases a month, up from one case every couple of months.
The increase in marijuana toxicity cases is evidently not due to owners deliberately giving their pets the drug. It’s more an issue of poor storage choices. Marijuana needs to be kept where family pets have no access to it. And once an animal gets into a stash of pot, he’ll become a “repeat offender” according to Dr. Natalie Adams of Community Pet Hospital.
Fort Collins Veterinary Emergency and Rehabilitation saw three confirmed cases of marijuana toxicity in October 2012, a month before the passage of Amendment 64. In March 2013, the hospital saw 13 confirmed cases, and now expects to see at least one case of toxicity each night.
According to Dr. Ashley Harmon, a vet at the Fort Collins hospital, most cases involve a pet getting into either loose marijuana or edibles containing the drug. Harmon has seen two pets – both small-to-medium sized dogs – die from marijuana toxicity after consuming baked goods. One ate an entire pound of pot brownies. The other ate a pound of THC-infused butter.
Both these deaths were tragic and preventable, had the dogs’ owners properly stored the food containing marijuana.
Symptoms and Treatment for Marijuana Toxicity in Pets
Symptoms of marijuana intoxication in dogs include agitation, lack of coordination, altered mood, and sometimes loss of bladder control and a slower heart rate.
If the pet is discovered within about 30 minutes of having ingested marijuana, either the owner or a vet should induce vomiting to minimize the amount of toxin available to be absorbed. Unfortunately, sometimes the anti-nausea effects of the drug can make it hard to induce vomiting.
If the pet is having symptoms or it has been longer than 30 minutes since ingestion, the vet should give activated charcoal that will help to reduce the amount of toxin absorbed.
Minor exposures, if treated promptly, usually don’t leave any lasting effects. But in cases where a dog consumes a large amount of the drug, the THC (the psychoactive chemical in marijuana) can cause seizures, coma, and death. And if a pet must be hospitalized during decontamination and recovery, treatment costs can run into hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
There are no laws governing exposing a pet to marijuana. According to Meghan Hughes of the Denver Environmental Health Department, this is uncharted territory. “We just recommend that vets or members of the public contact Animal Control if an animal is in harm’s way,” says Hughes.
Vets at Mesa Veterinary Clinic have had clients ask for medical-marijuana cards for their pets. Apparently some pet owners believe the drug can help chronic pain in pets just as it does in humans. However, there is no scientific evidence to suggest dogs or cats benefit in any way from marijuana use.