Now that Breckenridge has legalized possession of pot for personal use and medical marijuana dispensaries are popping up faster than mushrooms in a wet cow pasture in Fort Collins, I figured it's time we had a little heart-to-heart talk about the subject.
I'm not here to weigh in on the subject of whether pot should be legalized for recreational use by humans. As a veterinarian, I'll leave that for the folks on the editorial page. But as marijuana becomes more accessible, it's inevitable that more pets will be poisoned by it.
Marijuana poisoning typically occurs by accident in dogs when the dog gets into someone's stash. The chemical in marijuana - 9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC - produces toxicity in dogs when they ingest it. Signs typically occur 30 to 90 minutes after ingestion and include those who have seen a Cheech and Chong movie - listlessness, incoordination, stupor, dilated pupils and a slow heart rate. Occasionally, gastrointestinal ( GI ) signs such as vomiting and diarrhea occur.
Marijuana ingestion is rarely fatal, even at high doses. But the symptoms of toxicity can be quite severe, including seizures that are difficult to control. If the ingestion has occurred within 30 minutes of the animal being seen by a veterinarian, making the dog empty its stomach by inducing vomiting may significantly decrease the effects of the ingestion. Unfortunately, one of the properties that makes marijuana a viable drug for use in human medicine, nausea control, can often make it difficult to induce vomiting in a dog that has ingested it.
Here's the catch: People who have marijuana in a spot where it might be accessible to a nosy canine might also have been partaking of the substance themselves, potentially rendering them slow to react to the situation. The sooner the dog can be taken to the vet, the better for the dog. And the single most important thing to remember is to come clean with the veterinarian and tell them if there's a chance that the animal's symptoms could be attributable to marijuana ingestion. The veterinarian is under no obligation to report the incident to law enforcement. Most don't care about your personal substance habits; they just want to help the animal.
Treatment for marijuana ingestion is similar to that for other toxins. Activated charcoal is given by mouth, often every four to six hours, in order to absorb the THC that is in the GI tract and prevent it from getting into systemic circulation. Therapy with intravenous fluids also helps to clear the toxin from circulation. Some dogs need sedation to control agitation and must be kept quiet in a darkened environment away from loud noises.
Because intoxication with marijuana is such a bewildering and potentially dangerous situation for animals, hopefully it goes without saying that animals should never be encouraged to ingest it.
Christie Long is a veterinarian at the VCA Fort Collins Animal Hospital. Once a month, she will answer questions from her readers regarding pet health issues.
December 3, 2009
Fort COllins Coloradoan