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Marijuana intoxication in pets


The owners are a young, bubbly couple.  They had just finished partying when they noticed their 10 month old puppy was acting very strangely. The dog suddenly became apathetic, non reactive, was stumbling and couldn’t bear weight and stand up, let alone walk. The oddest symptom of all was the dog’s hunched back and his inability to control urination. The owners were terrified and had no clue what had happened to their dog. They left him in my safe hands to run some tests.

Basic laboratory tests of the blood and urine did not reveal any remarkable abnormalities. Since I’ve seen numerous cases that were similar, before I proceeded to perform more expensive tests I called the owners and asked whether there was a chance that the dog had been exposed to Marijuana. The owners were shocked by my suggestion and they denied it completely. It was clear that the dog’s nervous system had been injured. My concern and aim was to locate the damage and assess its extent. X-rays showed no damage to the dog’s vertebral column. I called the owners again and after gaining their trust they finally hesitantly admitted that there were some cookies containing pot at their party and yes, four cookies were missing. This information shed light on the dog’s condition and allowed me to treat him accordingly. The dog consumed an overdose 10 times larger than what is considered safe for his weight. The dog reached full recovery after spending  two days in the veterinary hospital.

Smoking illegal substances is one’s personal choice. It is natural to assume that weed smoking people exclude their under age children from the situation, and prohibit their access to the drugs. Pets are very similar to young children in many aspects. They also are very curious, they test everything by mouth and they have no good judgement whatsoever. This is very important to remember and you should protect your pets from substances that may harm them. Marijuana intoxication is quite common in pets, especially dogs. The drug affects the animal’s nervous system and manifests by a very wide range of symptoms including depression, wobbliness, aggression, hallucinations, seizures and even coma. One of the most common phenomenon I’ve seen in these intoxication incidents is alternating episodes of depression and then excitement in which the dog seems normal to the owners. Other symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea may also appear.

There are specific tests that can detect the drug in the blood and urine, but in most of the cases the diagnosis is determined by the symptoms and the information given by the owner.

Tell your vet if your pet may have been exposed to marijuana. YOUR VET IS NOT OBLIGATED TO INFORM THE POLICE. Your vet’s main priority is the pet’s care and well being. Sharing the information with your vet will allow your animal to receive the right treatment promptly and will save you time and money. The treatment of marijuana intoxication is only supportive. There is no antidote for marijuana. If the animal gets to the vet within 30 minutes from the drug ingestion, vomiting can be induced. After 30 minutes from the ingestion the drug absorbency can be prevented and measures are taken to decrease the effect of the drug to a minimum. This can be done by feeding the pet active charcoal which binds to the drug and inhibits absorption.  Fluids are also administered by IV. With the right treatment most animals will make a full recovery.

Remember, your vet is on your side. The vet’s job is not to judge you so disclosing all the information is crucial for your pet’s best medical care.