If Bruno or Fluffy is acting a bit strange, perhaps depressed, wobbly on their feet or sensitive to light or sound — and you are missing a few THC-infused brownies or other pot-laced edibles — chances are your pet is stoned.
As marijuana becomes legal in more states, more pets — mostly dogs — are being treated for marijuana intoxication.
“It’s definitely something we’re seeing a lot of. It’s probably one of our most common toxicities,” said Dr. Elizabeth Rozanski, emergency and critical care veterinarian at the Henry & Lois Foster Hospital for Small Animals at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in Grafton. “We see 20 to 25 cases a month.”
And, Dr. Rozanski said, this is not something new.
It was happening before legalization of marijuana, but less frequently. Previously, an owner would be too embarrassed to tell a veterinarian the illicit source of the animal’s problem. It was not something the clinic would have reported, she said. Consequently, expensive tests such as blood work and MRIs sometimes were used to rule out serious neurological diseases, including strokes and brain tumors.
Now that it is legal to have marijuana in dozens of states, veterinarians and animal clinics are seeing more owners being honest with them when they bring in their stoned pets.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recently reported that the number of marijuana-related calls that its 24-hour Poison Control Center receives are climbing significantly as more states legalize marijuana. Nationally, in 2008, the center received 208 calls, compared with 978 in 2016; 1,486 in 2017; and 1,800 last year.
There were 11 calls from Massachusetts in 2008, 23 in 2014, 29 in 2015, 52 in 2016, and 99 in 2018.
Symptoms of marijuana intoxication in dogs include depression, vomiting, urinary incontinence, ataxia (a degenerative disease of the nervous system), tremor, stupor, bradycardia (slow heart rate) and hyperthermia. While fatalities are very rare, the drug can affect the heart and gastrointestinal tract, according to the ASPCA Poison Control Center.
Dr. Rozanski said some dogs will eat marijuana. But most often they like the dessert-type products: brownies, cookies and candies infused with THC.
Revealing how many marijuana-infused products your pet ingested is valuable to treatment. A 200-pound man might eat three or four brownies and get high. A 30-pound dog might eat the whole plate of brownies, she pointed out.
“The dog will say, ‘This is great’ and they eat all of those. Again, if people are choosing to use marijuana, it’s really important they keep it away from their dogs,” Dr. Rozanski advised.
If a dog hasn’t consumed a lot, the general treatment is to provide supportive care, including IV fluids to keep them hydrated and help flush the drug out of their system. In severe cases, lipid therapy is administered through an IV. Fat molecules bind with the THC in the pet’s bloodstream, allowing the body to shed a large quantity of the chemical faster.
The most serious cases she has seen are dogs that were basically unconscious and have required several days to recover.
Dr. Rozanski said she has never treated a cat for marijuana intoxication — probably because “they are smarter.”
But Dr. Bart Murphy, a veterinarian at Westside Animal Clinic on Mill Street in Worcester, thinks he has.
“We’ve seen one or two cats we were suspicious of. I don’t know if we’ve had anyone tell us their cat actually ate (marijuana or THC-infused edibles),” he said. “Cats are more suspicious about what they eat, but they will still try things.”
Dr. Murphy said the clinic sees a couple of dogs a month for marijuana-related problems. If the owner is honest about what happened, vomiting is usually induced, IV fluids administered and activated charcoal given to the animal to decrease the absorption of the drug through the GI track.
He said the problem with pets eating THC-laced brownies is twofold because chocolate, particularly that used for baking, is toxic to pets.
He noted that pet owners are also giving their dogs hemp oil and other byproducts of cannabis that don’t have THC for pain control and mental awareness.
“There hasn’t been any good research to let us know if they work or not,” he cautioned. “People say, ‘I put my dog on this, and they seem better.’ As it becomes more popular, we’ll see if it causes problems.”
For more information, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center can be reached at (888) 426-4435.