Bentley seemed to be in a haze. Normally this 12-pound Chihuahua-terrier mixwould never refuse hot, fresh French fries from a drive-through fast foodjoint. But on a recent warm afternoon, he turned his head away at his owner’soffer.
“He wouldn’t take them, so I knew something was wrong. He was just out of it,”said Dana Long, a resident of Tiburon. Long eventually took his dog to theveterinarian, who informed him that his typically sprightly and voraciousBentley was stoned. He had likely picked up a chocolate edible on the fieldsof a nearby middle school, where Long’s daughter was playing softball.
While excess cannabis consumption by canines is not new, cases are growing asmore and more states legalize the drug, and its use becomes more widespread,according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.The group’s poison hotline suggests that as more and more states havelegalized recreational marijuana, reports of marijuana toxicity in dogs havealso grown.
Between 2017 and 2020, national call volume for cannabis ingestion rose from1,436 to 3,923 cases, said Tina Wismer, a veterinarian and senior director ofthe New York-based ASPCA Poison Control Center.
Those numbers are likely just a fraction of the true incidence of marijuanapoisonings — reporting to the control center is voluntary — but the trend isclear. In California, where recreational marijuana was legalized in November2016, call numbers grew by 276% between 2016 and 2020. In Colorado, thosenumbers have risen eleven-fold since legalization in 2012.
“If you ask any of our emergency room veterinarians, they would all say thatthe number of cannabis-intoxicated dogs has increased by leaps and boundssince legalization of medical and then recreational marijuana for humans,”said Karl Jandrey, a professor of veterinary sciences at UC Davis.
It might sound funny that so many pooches are getting into the hooch. But fordogs who accidentally ingest potent edibles intended for a human several timestheir weight, the narcotic effect can be serious. In addition, if dogs arechewing on drugs found outdoors, it is possible those drugs are laced withchemicals other than THC, the active ingredient in pot, said severalveterinarians.
Some of the reported cannabis incidences, possibly the majority, are home-grown — dogs stumbling across their owner’s stash on the counter or couch. Buta growing number of poisonings are also occurring in the “wild.”
On the app Nextdoor, dog owners across Marin County chimed in recently withtheir own stories of dogs inadvertently getting “baked” on walks around theneighborhood, in nearby parks, at schools and public beaches.
One woman, who resides in Stinson Beach, wrote that her toy poodle has been tothe emergency room four times as a result of eating cannabis while beingwalked around the neighborhood. The first time was on the beach in Bolinas,the second on a neighborhood walk on Mill Valley, and the other two times onwalks above the market in Stinson.
“Dogs like the taste and smell of pot,” she wrote. “It makes themextremely/scary sick.”
It’s happening so frequently, some of those posting wondered if somebodywasn’t intentionally leaving edibles out to hurt dogs.
“Seriously. Why else would there be this issue? Who drops their edibles allover the ground???? They’re expensive. And why so many????” posted anotherneighbor.
In Aspen, Colo., dogs experienced a rash of cannabis poisonings in 2019. Atthe time, local vets surmised dogs were eating human feces laced with pot.
But stoned dogs are becoming so common, said Long, that both the veterinariantechnician and veterinarian at his local animal hospital recognized Bentleywas high, immediately.
“I had thought maybe he was overheated,” said Long, recalling that afternoon.After the French fry episode, he brought Bentley home, and it quickly becameclear that something was very wrong: Bentley could barely walk and seemedalmost unresponsive. Long said he wrapped him in cool towels before his wifeconvinced him to go the emergency vet.
When he got to the hospital, he said, the vet tech came out to greet him andgave Bentley a quick look, and asked Long if he had any pot in the house.
“I said no, because we don’t use pot. It’s not that we morally disapprove,”Long said. “It’s just not our thing.”
Jandrey and Wismer said classic signs of marijuana toxicity in dogs include:unsteadiness on their feet, depression, dilated eyes, dribbling urine,sensitivity to touch and sound, slow heart rate and even low body temperature.Symptoms usually begin to present about 20-40 minutes after exposure.
Wismer said if a dog owner suspects cannabis poisoning, they should contacttheir veterinarian immediately — in some cases, the vet will want to see thedog right away, in milder cases, they’ll suggest your pet just ride it out athome.
In Bentley’s case, clinical tests revealed that he had likely ingested achocolate edible; a tox-screen showed the presence of chocolate.
Long said he won’t stop walking Bentley, but thinks it is important people areaware their dogs could be exposed to discarded drugs as they walk around theneighborhood. He said he’s also not inclined to take him to a school or publicpark again.
“Avoidance is the only prevention,” said Jandrey, who urged dog owners tomodify their pet’s behavior, through training, while out on walks. “Dogs getinto many things outside and inside the house.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
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