Fuzzy Side Up: Say no to pot – for your pet
Cisco looked terrible. His owners were scared to death, they had just witnessed their beloved lab having what looked like a seizure. Now, he was lying on his blanket, reluctant to get up. Cisco was only three years old, a happy, energetic dog.
“He was fine this morning, I just don’t understand it,” lamented his owner, Sam.
The veterinarian looked closer – Cisco had a low heart rate, his body temperature was several degrees too low, his limbs were cold. When they helped him up to see if he could stand, he was very weak and wobbly, stumbling and falling. They had to catch him before he fell and hurt himself. Cisco also appeared to have lost control of his bladder. Every time he moved, he would leak pee, and seemed unaware of it. In fact, he seemed very “out of it” in general.
“Are you sure he couldn’t have gotten into anything? Antifreeze? Something in the garage?” asked the vet.
The family swore he couldn’t have, nothing in the house was chewed up, and snow blanketed the yard. Nothing seemed amiss.
“Is it possible he could have been exposed to marijuana?” she probed.
“No way,” said Sam, “no one at our house has that.”
His wife gave him a sideways look.
“Your brother was here last night, are you sure he didn’t give him something? Remember he has that medicinal use thing.”
A quick phone call to the brother revealed that he had some marijuana with him last night, and now he couldn’t find it. It was a very small amount, and it was possible he dropped it somewhere.
“Oh no, doc, is he going to be OK? What can we do?” asked Sam.
The vet looked at Cisco.
“Well, if he ate a lot of it, he could be in trouble. But it sounds like he didn’t get that much, so if we treat right away, he should be fine. We’ll need to force-feed him some activated charcoal to absorb anything that may still be in his stomach or intestines, and keep him here so we can treat and closely monitor his heart rate and blood pressure, and keep him warm. If all goes well, he should be back to normal in about 12 hours or so.”
The family felt some relief, it sounded like Cisco was going to be OK.
Since the laws regulating marijuana were relaxed in Colorado, veterinarians have seen an increase in accidental poisonings. Most of the time it is because the family pet found the owner’s supply, or ate the pan of “special” brownies. Our clinic has treated an 80-pound pit bull that acted just like Cisco, and all he had was half of a medical marijuana brownie.
Pets do not react the same way people do; they don’t just relax and get the munchies. Deaths have been seen after ingestion of food products containing the more concentrated, medical-grade THC butter.1 Some of these deaths are because the pet throws up, and then aspirates it into their lungs because they are too sedated to swallow.
Things to look for include depression, drooling, dilated pupils, high-stepping when walking, vomiting, dribbling urine, tremors, hypothermia and a very slow heart rate. Higher doses of marijuana may also cause their eyes to twitch back and forth, agitation, rapid breathing, high heart rate, walking like they’re drunk, hyperexcitability and seizures.2
The benefits of medical marijuana are well documented in people. But companion animals metabolize things differently, and no published research has been done about what a safe dose would be in our pets. All marijuana is not the same; there are different kinds, and different preparations can have different strengths. Meanwhile, please do not feed your pet that last bite of brownie, and keep all marijuana in a safe place, away from children and pets.
Rebecca Lemmon is a veterinarian at The Valley Veterinary Clinic in Rifle. 1. Pot for Pups? Dog Fancy, Fall 2013, Kyra Kirkwood. 2. Top Companion Animal Medicine, February 2013; 28(1):8-12. Kevin T. Fitzgerald, Alvin C. Bronstein, Kristin L. Newquist.
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