In Colorado, marijuana edibles increasingly sending dogs to the animal ER
November 16, 2016
About a month ago, Summit resident Heidi Sodetz was trail running with her two golden retrievers on Tenderfoot Mountain. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary with the dogs until about an hour after she got home, when one of them, Lenni, started acting strangely: she was barely moving, not responsive and even peed herself on the carpet, something she never does.
Sodetz took her to the Buffalo Mountain Animal Hospital in Silverthorne, thinking Lenni might've eaten a wild mushroom or something else that could have made her sick. The veterinarian, however, had a different theory: Lenni was high.
They ran a test and, sure enough, the dog tested positive for THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Sodetz said she doesn't use the drug, so the only plausible explanation was that Lenni had eaten a marijuana edible that someone had dropped on the trail.
The cannabis-infused goodies, which range from brownies to gummies and even beef jerky, have soared in popularity since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012; industry watchers estimate that the once-obscure edibles now make up half of the $5.4 billion pot business.
Edibles gained notoriety quickly after legalization, as some raised concerns that kids might unknowingly ingest pot-laced candy. Others also worried that adults might not understand the milligram dosages and get a lot higher than they bargained for.
Those concerns prompted the state to issue regulations for marijuana edible labeling. Among them: a warning to keep away from pets and children.
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Inevitably, however, some people don't heed that warning, and according to local veterinarians, they've been seeing a lot more cases of cannabis-spiked canines. When Lenni was in the hospital, Sodetz said there were two other stoned dogs there as well, including a tiny Chihuahua.
"For me, lately it's been about one or two a month, but it used to be maybe once a year," said Dr. Michelle Gross, a Dillon veterinarian and Lenni's primary care provider. "I've had owners say, 'Oh now it makes sense,' because they had candies go missing or something," she said.
She added that many more cases probably wind up at the emergency animal hospital, not smaller practices like her.
In very rare cases, marijuana can kill dogs, but usually they just get extremely impaired for a very long time. Gross said the reactions run on a wide spectrum, from being virtually catatonic to hyper-responsive to the smallest stimulus. Dogs also tend to lose bowel control when they're high.
"It definitely depends on the dosage, the dog's size, age," said Gross. "We had an older dog who was out of it for way longer than most."
Typically, if it's caught quickly vets will induce vomiting, but if it's been time since exposure that won't do much. Either way, vets will usually put the dog on fluids, keep it warm and monitor its condition while waiting for the effects to wear off. Gross said that she has seen that take as long as 10 hours.
There can be other, lasting effects for dogs exposed to marijuana, however, as was the case with Lenni. She had elevated liver numbers when Sodetz first took her in, and they were up even more at a follow-up appointment, so her veterinarian recommended a diagnostic ultrasound at Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital in Denver.
Sodetz has already spent more than $1,000 on the ordeal, and the Friday trip to the Front Range will tack on even more. While that's a lot to shell out because of a loose candy on a trail, she said she isn't mad but just hopes people will keep a closer eye on their edibles.
"Now I think about wildlife and how vulnerable they'd become (if they ate an edible)," she said. "They lose control, they can't stand up, can't do anything."
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