North Coast veterinarians report dogs harmed after ingesting marijuana

by Symptom Advice on May 24, 2012

Animals, mostly dogs, are being brought staggering into veterinary hospitals high on pot, a toxic and potentially lethal condition. Sometimes they’re just sleepy, disoriented and unable to control their bladders. Other times they’re vomiting, having seizures or are comatose.

The symptoms “depend on how much they have,” said Dr. Nicholas Davainis, a Sonoma County veterinarian.

Some animals just need to sleep off the effects, but others suffer dangerous symptoms, including extremely slow heart rates and seizures, that require treatment.

Davainis sees as many as 10 cases of canine marijuana toxicity a month. Farther north, the number of cases climbs, coinciding with increased marijuana production.

Veterinarians at Mendocino Animal Hospital usually see two or three cases a week but last Friday alone had three, said Dr. Jennifer Bennett.

The incidents peak in Humboldt County, the heart of marijuana country.

“I see at least one a day,” said Dr. Joe Humble, and it’s not uncommon to get two or three cases a day at his emergency clinic in Eureka.

“we see more cases than anybody in the world, said Humble, who belongs to the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society.

When he told veterinarians at an international convention in Nashville last year how many cases he sees, they wanted to know where he worked. When he told them Humboldt County, they “went wild” with recognition.

“We’re well known up here,” Humble said. “It’s kind of an embarrassment.”

Nearly all of the affected patients are dogs. The poison hot line run by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals received 361 calls in 2011 about animals ingesting marijuana. Ninety-six percent of those involved dogs.

“Cats don’t tend to eat indiscriminately like dogs do,” said Bennett, although she has treated a few cats with suspected marijuana toxicity.

“We’ve got a dog here who’s eaten laundry. They eat anything that seems interesting to them,” she said. Dogs will ingest a variety of forms of marijuana. They’ll eat the plants, dried marijuana, joints and food made with pot, Bennett said.

The items they eat can become even more unusual when they get pot-induced munchies, Humble said.

He recalled a dog that was brought to his clinic, limp and unresponsive.

“The dog’s mouth was jammed” with baking soda, Humble said. The owner thought that’s what was making the dog sick, but it turned out it first had eaten a bag of marijuana-laced cookies. Marijuana food products can pose particular problems because they taste good and contain concentrated amounts of pot.

The dog’s heart rate was in the 30s, dangerously low, Humble said. The normal range is 60 to 160, depending on the size of the dog.

Animals with marijuana toxicity also may exhibit very high or very low temperatures, Davainis said.

Treatments vary with the symptoms. They include induced vomiting, administering activated charcoal to bind the toxins, intravenous fluids and anti-seizure medication. Humble is experimenting with a therapy that binds lipid-soluble toxins.

Animals find pot to eat in a variety of places. They may find discarded marijuana while on a walk, at a neighbor’s house or in an ashtray in their homes.

“some people are a little cagey,” with their explanations,” Davainis said. “It’s always the neighbor and the roommate,” whose pot was devoured. “we don’t ask too much.”

Owners also have been known to administer medicinal marijuana to their pets, erroneously believing that what alleviates their ailments will help their pets.

While marijuana toxicity in pets occurs in other places, it’s more common in California, the doctors say.

“I went to veterinary school in Wisconsin. we never saw it,” Bennett said. “Here, it’s common.”

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or

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