Marijuana Toxicosis In A Puppy | The Number Of Cases Of Marijuana Toxicosis In Dogs Is Increasing
By Rachele Baker, DVM – “Dr. Baker, we have an emergency in the treatment room!” I hurried to the treatment room to find several veterinary nurses crowded around an exam table while one nurse lifted a small brown eight-month-old puppy named Charlie onto the table. Charlie’s eyes were opened wide but he appeared completely unaware of his surroundings. His legs were stiff and fully extended, and he did not seem to be able to bend his legs.
“The owner just found him like this!” the nurse said. I had seen a dog present like this once before. A little voice inside my head said “Marijuana toxicosis.” A veterinary nurse went into an exam room to talk to the owner to try to obtain details about what toxin Charlie might have ingested while I performed a physical examination of Charlie.
“Is there any chance that Charlie got into some marijuana?” the nurse asked the owner. When Charlie’s owner explained that Charlie got into his bag of marijuana, the nurse hurried back to the treatment room to let me know what we were dealing with.
“Let’s get an IV catheter into him and get him going on IV fluids,” I instructed the nurses. “What is his temperature?” I asked. “95.3 degrees,” one of the nurses answered. “Let’s get him on some heat,” I said. “We will need to recheck his temperature every 30 minutes until his temperature is back up to normal.”
I went into the exam room to talk to Charlie’s owner. He told me that he had a medical marijuana card and that he had left a bag of marijuana on the table when he went to take a shower at about 1:00 a.m. that morning. When he came out of the shower, he saw that the bag of marijuana was ripped open and a lot of marijuana was missing. He said that Charlie was running around the house but that he was acting “high.” When Charlie’s owner woke up this morning, he found Charlie stiff and unresponsive and rushed him to the veterinary hospital where I was working that day.
I advised Charlie’s owner that I recommended hospitalizing Charlie on IV fluids with supportive care and treatments as indicated. Charlie’s owner told me that he did not have very much money and he could not afford anything more than IV fluids and hospitalization for one day.
Thankfully, Charlie responded very well to IV fluid therapy and getting his body temperature back up to normal using a Bair Hugger (which supplies warm air to the patient). By mid-day, Charlie’s eyes were beginning to focus, he was starting to become aware of his surroundings, and he was able to bend his legs a little. By late afternoon, Charlie was alert and he raised his head and wagged his tail a little when I went over to talk to him. A nurse took Charlie outside and Charlie was able to walk around and balance while he lifted his leg to urinate on a bush.
I called Charlie’s owner and told him about Charlie’s progress. I warned him that some effects from the marijuana could remain in Charlie’s system for up to three days and that he should monitor Charlie closely and keep him in a safe area where he could not hurt himself. Charlie went home with his owner later that evening.
The Number Of Cases of Marijuana Toxicosis In Dogs Is Increasing
The number of dogs presented to veterinary hospitals for marijuana toxicosis has increased since the legalization of medical marijuana in certain states. Between January 1, 2005 and October 1, 2010, a retrospective study showed that the incidence of marijuana toxicoses in dogs at two large veterinary hospitals in Colorado (a private specialty referral hospital and a university teaching hospital) increased 4-fold while the number of people registered for medical marijuana in the state increased 146-fold.
Dogs are the most common pets presented to veterinary hospitals for marijuana toxicosis. In a retrospective study of 250 cases of marijuana toxicosis, dogs represented 96% of the cases while cats represented only three percent. Dogs and cats may become intoxicated by marijuana smoke inhalation or by ingestion of marijuana or products containing marijuana. The substance in marijuana that causes people to become “high” (and that causes toxicosis in dogs) is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (commonly known as THC).
There may be several factors contributing to the increase in the number of cases of marijuana toxicosis in dogs. One factor is simply that more people have marijuana or marijuana products in their homes due to the legalization of medical and/or recreational marijuana in certain states. In addition, the marijuana that is available today is much more potent than it was in years past. Dr. Mahmoud ElSohly, director of the Marijuana Potency Project, stated that since 1972, the average THC content of marijuana has soared from less than 1% to nearly 13% today. At the University of Mississippi in a laboratory that tracks the potency of marijuana seized by federal law enforcement officers, they found marijuana with levels of THC as high as 37%.
In states where marijuana is legal, there are a variety of products containing marijuana offered for sale. Marijuana may be found in many different specialty products including soda, chocolates and other food products, and lotions. Dogs may be attracted to marijuana or marijuana products and eat them. Marijuana may also be found in the form of marijuana extracts or concentrates which are used in devices called vape pens (vaporizers or e-cigarettes). Marijuana concentrates contain 40% to 80% THC whereas high grade marijuana usually only contains about 20% THC. Ingestion of marijuana concentrates could result in severe marijuana toxicosis in dogs.
Another especially toxic form of marijuana for dogs is marijuana butter. Although marijuana toxicosis in dogs does not usually result in death, in recent history two dogs from different families in Colorado died after ingestion of baked goods made with marijuana butter. To make marijuana butter, butter is melted in a saucepan over a very low heat and marijuana is added to the butter. This causes the THC to leach out of the marijuana and concentrate in the butter. After letting the mixture steep for a period of time, a large amount of THC has concentrated in the butter, and the plant material is then strained out. The marijuana butter is then used in recipes for cookies, brownies, or other edibles.
When a dog eats dried marijuana, it takes time for the THC to leach out of the plant material and cause clinical signs of toxicosis. Clinical signs may not become severe for several hours. However, when a dog eats marijuana butter, the THC is already leached out of the plant and the clinical signs of toxicosis may come on more quickly and be more severe.
Clinical Signs and Treatment Of Marijuana Toxicosis In Dogs
Dogs are more sensitive to the effects of marijuana than people. The THC in marijuana is rapidly absorbed after dogs either ingest marijuana or inhale marijuana smoke. The toxins in marijuana are eliminated from the dog’s body via the liver and bile (55%), feces (45%), and urine (17%). Clinical signs of marijuana toxicosis in dogs are usually seen within 30 to 60 minutes of ingestion of marijuana or inhalation of marijuana smoke. However, clinical signs may be seen as soon as 5 minutes after exposure or be delayed for up to 12 hours. Clinical signs can last for up to 3 days but 18-24 hours is the average. Because THC is stored in the body’s fat deposits, the effects of marijuana toxicosis can last for days.
Some of the more common clinical signs of marijuana toxicosis in dogs include CNS (central nervous system) depression, ataxia (loss of coordination), mydriasis (dilated pupils), hypothermia (subnormal body temperature), hyperesthesia (abnormally increased sensitivity to stimuli such as touch or pain), ptyalism (drooling), tremors, seizures, and urinary incontinence.
Treatment of marijuana toxicosis in dogs in the veterinary hospital is largely supportive care. If less than 30 minutes have passed since the marijuana was eaten, it may be possible to induce vomiting, but after clinical signs of toxicosis have begun, the nausea control properties of THC make it very difficult to induce vomiting. Furthermore, inducing vomiting is not recommended in clinically depressed dogs because of the risk of aspiration of the vomit which can lead to aspiration pneumonia.
Activated charcoal may be given to help adsorb the toxins in the GI (gastrointestinal) tract which will help to reduce systemic absorption of the toxins and reduce the severity and duration of clinical signs. IV fluids may be administered to support blood pressure, to maintain hydration and urine output, and to assist in elimination of the toxins from the dog’s body. Regular monitoring of the dog’s respiratory function, cardiac function, and body temperature is performed.
What To Do If Your Pet Has Eaten Marijuana Or Inhaled Marijuana Smoke
If your pet has eaten marijuana or inhaled marijuana smoke, take him or her to your veterinarian right away. It is important to let your veterinarian know that your pet has eaten marijuana or inhaled marijuana smoke so that your veterinarian will know how best to treat and care for your pet.
If your pet ever eats something that could potentially be toxic or is exposed to a toxic substance in any way, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control is a wonderful resource. They are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control at 888-426-4435. A consultation fee will be charged to your credit card.