More dogs than ever are getting high by accident, according to a report in The New York Times. And their owners are paying the price — literally.
I know this from personal experience. A few months ago, I arrived home to find my beloved 12-year-old pup, Lulu, in a semi-comatose state. She couldn’t move her back legs. She flinched when I touched her. She was out of it in a way that almost suggested she might be experiencing a very bad trip.
And that’s exactly what was happening. My dog was suffering from cannabis toxicity, as I learned after rushing her to an emergency vet.
At first, I was confused. My wife and I don’t keep pot in the house. But we do take Lulu out for two walks a day in our New York City neighborhood. The vet suspected Lulu probably found the cannabis, whether in plant or edible form, during our morning stroll and ingested it, with the drug taking full effect hours later.
The vet told us that this is becoming almost an everyday occurrence in her practice. Dogs like to eat whatever they come upon in the streets — or in the home — and the consequences can sometimes be medically serious.
The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center reports that it handled more than 6,200 cases of potential cannabis toxicity in pets in 2021, an increase of 59.5% over the previous year. Similarly, a 2022 survey of 251 veterinarians in North America, published by the nonprofit PLOS, found that toxicity cases in pets surged after 2018, with the report noting that the “legalization of cannabis use in Canada and the U.S. is likely an important factor associated with the increased cannabis toxicosis cases.”
In effect, the more prevalent pot becomes — cannabis is already a $10.8 billion industry in the U.S. — the more likely our pets will be to find it, whether on the street or in our homes.
And cannabis can pose all sorts of problems for dogs. Issues associated with intoxication include vomiting, urinary incontinence, tremors, stupor, hypothermia and low heart rate, according to Dr. Tina Wismer, senior director of the ASPCA Animal Control Center. “While fatalities are rare, we can see symptoms that do require veterinary care,” she says, adding that she encourages people who suspect their pet has eaten something potentially toxic to contact their vet immediately.
Part of the problem, explains Jibran Khokhar, one of the researchers behind the 2022 PLOS survey, is that pets don’t ingest cannabis in the same conscious way as people do. “Humans will grab a joint and they will smoke it at their pace, titrating to the optimal level of effect,” he says. By contrast, your dog may simply devour whatever it finds.
Stephanie Liff, a vet with a practice in New York City, says she now sees as many as five cases a month of pets suffering from cannabis toxicity, while as recently as four years ago, she might have seen one at most. The problem is twofold: Pot is “everywhere on the streets,” she says, and “people underestimate what their pets will be interested in.”
Dr. Liff adds that most of the cases she sees involve dogs. The issue “is really rare in cats … they’re not likely to eat things” the same way, she says. Still, the PLOS survey reported some instances of cannabis toxicity involving felines, as well as horses, ferrets, cockatoos and iguanas.
Is there a way to stop the overall surge in toxicity? Vets caution pet owners to be mindful about where they leave cannabis products in their homes — and to keep a close eye out when walking their pets. It’s also helpful to train dogs to understand the “leave it” command to help prevent accidental ingestion of harmful substances.
Khokar also says that the manufacturers of cannabis products should consider putting warnings on their labels about keeping these items out of the reach of pets. “I think it would be helpful,” he says.
If there’s any good news here, it’s that most pets do readily recover from cannabis toxicity-related problems. The vet we saw advised that Lulu would likely be back to her old self within a day. She gave Lulu fluids and an anti-nausea medication to help with the process.
Sure enough, Lulu recovered within about 10 hours. I was out $700 in vet fees and cab fares but relieved this was not the end of the line for our sweet pooch, as I initially feared. Naturally, we’ve resumed taking Lulu on her twice-a-day walks, but we’re much more focused on what she’s trying to get into. Leave it, indeed.