Dogs susceptible to marijuana smoke
Health: Veterinarian speaks out over dangers of drug, signs of intoxication in pets
Wednesday, Jan 24, 2018 06:00 am
Foothills veterinarians are expressing concerns animals could be exposed to marijuana when the drug is legalized in July.
Dr. Tony Gerrow, at the Okotoks Veterinary Clinic, said he’s seen several cases of intoxicated dogs over his 35 years and anticipates more with legalization looming.
“If there are marijuana products available to the pets, whether it’s accidental ingestion or it’s second-hand smoke, I’m sure we’re going to see more of those cases,” said Gerrow.
He said dogs and cats are both sensitive to marijuana and show signs of heavy intoxication at lower exposure levels than humans.
“If you look at concentration of the active agent per body mass, you’ve got say a 40-pound dog getting the same amount of smoke as an 80-pound human so it can be quite dramatic,” said Gerrow.
Once marijuana is legal, it will be more readily available in many homes and pets could have access to it, he said. He equated the possible ramifications of marijuana legalization with the influx of chocolate intoxications that occur with dogs around holidays like Easter and Christmas.
The key will be prevention, he said.
“Keep it out of reach,” said Gerrow. “If it’s going to be smoked, keep pets out of the immediate room at least. And watch for accidental exposure – if you’re very relaxed and you leave some of your stash on the coffee table, you can expect your cat or dog to get into it.”
Clinical signs of marijuana toxicity, overdose or ingestion are similar to humans, he said. They include being weak, wobbly, or disoriented. Symptoms sometimes include being hyper-excitable if animals have not ingested marijuana before and suddenly lose control of their senses, making them anxious, he said.
The result can sometimes be worse.
“One of my major situations in the past was when I had a large dog become quite violent,” said Gerrow. “The people were smoking hashish and it got a good dose of that and hurt somebody because it was so upset and didn’t know what was going on. It just started lashing out.”
One case last week involved a dog that consumed some containers and wrappings used to make edible marijuana products in a home, he said. It was brought to the Okotoks Veterinary Clinic for emergency treatment in the middle of the night twice due to the effects of the drug, Gerrow added.
It can get dangerous for the animal and expensive for the owners, who are paying high vet bills to treat for exposure, he said.
Once an animal is brought to emergency, Gerrow said it can be a challenge to get the owners to admit the truth about their dog being exposed to drugs.
“It’s sometimes hard to come to a diagnosis because we see a dog that’s wobbly and anxious and has behaviour abnormalities, panting, a whole bunch of clinical signs that could be attributable to a number toxins or other medical issues,” said Gerrow.
The result, he said, is trying to determine whether dogs have had seizures, are going into diabetic crisis, or have gotten into something else.
“Then we go down the wrong pathway and it can lead to not only the pet not being treated properly but it can also cost the owners more money and tie up our precious time chasing wild geese,” said Gerrow.
Some veterinarians have begun prescribing medical marijuana for pets dealing with chronic pain or seizure activity, he said. While there has been some use of it with positive effect, he said the results haven’t been medically proven – much like medical marijuana for humans.
“We’re in medicine so we’re not supposed to prescribe something that hasn’t been scientifically studied and proven to be beneficial, but we’re going into that area,” said Gerrow. “Just the same as human medicine, where some will prescribe it and others say it hasn’t been proven yet, we’re in that ballpark as well.”