Stoned dog? Photo: Cary Bass-Deschenes (CC)
By Bill Barboni, DVM and Chris Pitts, RVT, Marin Pet Hospital, San Rafael, CA
Marijuana has been getting a lot of press lately. Now legal in several states, marijuana use is on the rise, and so are the incidences of canine marijuana toxicity. Touted as a treatment or cure for illnesses as varied as vertigo and cancer in humans, marijuana has been shown to be quite toxic to dogs.
As little as three years ago, marijuana toxicity was relatively rare in our Marin County practice. We might have seen one case a year. The owners would come to the hospital with a staggering dog who dribbled urine and who had a strong flinch reflex when fast-moving objects came towards the face. After a lot of coaxing, we would occasionally get an owner who would reluctantly confess that perhaps the dog may have gotten into a small, personal stash of whole marijuana. Basically, these patients experienced a reversible drug overdose. These dogs required supportive care of fluids, and a place to sleep it off.
However, the rate of incidence of marijuana exposure has increased from the rare, once-a-year, “slightly stoned” case, to a monthly occurrence at our practice. Additionally, the form of marijuana that the dogs are exposed to is quite different than in the past. What used to be an exposure to a small two-inch by two-inch bag has increased to several bags, or in one case, a brick of marijuana found on a hiking trail. In addition, different forms of marijuana have surfaced – extracts of the marijuana plant that contain highly concentrated amounts of THC.
Marijuana butter is another common form of marijuana used in edible marijuana products such as brownies and lollipops. These concentrated, edible forms seem to have a more potent effect on dogs. A dog who has eaten marijuana butter, for instance, can arrive at the hospital with full seizures. These seizures can require multiple doses of injectable anti-convulsants to calm the seizures; and several days of hospitalization on IV fluids before the seizures clear.
A normally sweet and gentle dog can become aggressive and unpredictable when under the influence of some forms of marijuana. One may think of a person under the influence of marijuana as crashed out on the couch and eating lots of snacks. However, the canine counterpart will be showing severe neurological signs – ataxia (lack of balance), exaggerated startle reflex, loss of bladder control, nausea and possibly seizures. Canines just do not seem to process marijuana like people do. The canine has a much higher tendency to go into an overdose situation.
From what we have seen at the hospital, although marijuana may be therapeutic to humans, it can cause quite a few negative issues for your dog. When out on the trail keep an eye out for random little packages that may have fallen out of someone's bag. And if you indulge, keep your stash and your edibles out of Fido's reach and you will both be happier.