When Pets Do Pot: A High That's Not So Mighty

When Pets Do Pot: A High That's Not So Mighty

12:22pm Sep 08, 2015
Hard to resist. But if they're marijuana edibles, not such a treat.
Hard to resist. But if they're marijuana edibles, not such a treat.
James A. Guilliam/Getty Images

"What's wrong with you, buddy? What's wrong?" a man says to his dog in a video uploaded to YouTube last month. The pup moans pitifully and trips over himself. He's having trouble blinking. He gazes into nothingness; his eyes are a deep, black abyss. He's wobbling on his paws. The man's words dissolve into laughter. He knows the dog is high as a kite after thieving a potent marijuana brownie.

It's a sad state that's becoming increasingly common.

The Pet Poison Helpline, a 24-hour pet poison control center, has seen a fourfold increase in calls concerning pets experiencing marijuana intoxication over the past three years. The most dramatic rise has been over the past 12 months.

This little guy got into his owner's stash of marijuana-laced brownies.

YouTube

"Over the past year alone, we've had double the marijuana exposures," says Dr. Ahna Brutlag, senior veterinary toxicologist at the Pet Poison Helpline.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has seen a similar increase. In 2014, the ASPCA's poison control centers received calls on about 539 cases of animals accidentally consuming cannabis, up from 320 in 2013.

"What's worrying to us is the severity of cases now," says Dr. Heidi Houchen, a veterinarian at Northwest Veterinary Specialists in Clackamas, Ore. "We still see the classic case: red eyes, wobbly, urinating on themselves, a little twitchy ... but they can progress through the sedate, leaning, urine-dribbling stage to becoming completely comatose or absolutely rigid. They've come in and had seizures. They can come in a panic, really sensitive to noise and touch. They can pass away."

Part of the problem is that pets are sneaking away edible cannabis products. "If a brownie is sitting on the coffee table, that dog is going to eat it whether it has marijuana or not. I think the enticement and the opportunity for a pet is greater [with edibles]," Brutlag says.

That poses a special danger for gluttonous pets. "It's not just going to eat one brownie; it'll eat the whole pan," Brutlag says. "The dose of what a dog would ingest relative to a human would be much greater."

Dogs and cats might also be more susceptible to marijuana intoxication than humans. "Every species metabolizes drugs differently," says Dr. Stacy Meola, an emergency veterinarian at Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital in Wheat Ridge, Colo.

In 2012, she reported on the deaths of two dogs from marijuana intoxication, in a study that tracked increased numbers of dog intoxications in Colorado. Still, she says, serious complications and deaths are rare. The dose it takes to kill an animal like a dog or cat far outstrips the dose it takes to begin acting stoned. "The two we saw die had other confounding factors, like eating chocolate as well," says Meola. (Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, is toxic to dogs.)

And problems with marijuana are still far less common than toxicity from things like over-the-counter medications, insecticides and rat poison, pet poison control centers say. All of those can kill animals far more easily than pot.

It's possible that emergency animal care centers and poison hotlines are getting more cases simply because more states have decriminalized marijuana possession. "The stigma is being dissolved, people are just more forthcoming that their pet is getting into marijuana," Brutlag says. And she thinks it's also the case that as more states legalize medical and recreational marijuana, the drug is becoming more ubiquitous in people's homes.

That raises the risk for poisonings, Houchen says, no matter what form the plant is in. Pets will munch on edibles or graze on stashes of dried buds without prejudice. "I've heard of animals getting into growing operations and eating so much that they're defecating undigested plant material," says Houchen.

That kind of unchecked ingestion of marijuana can potentially be very dangerous. "Once you bring marijuana into the house and it's available, it should be kept up and away from the pets just as the kids," Houchen says. "If you want to use it, you have a medical license or whatever reason, great, but now do due diligence."

Angus Rohan Chen is a reporter and radio producer living in New York City. He has a dry wit and no hobbies. Please be his friend on Twitter @angRchen.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And with almost half the states legalizing marijuana in some form, people seem to be getting more relaxed about leaving pot lying around the house, which can lead to pets finding it, too, and to clips, like this one on YouTube.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: My dogs are stoned, ate a whole damn brownie to itself.

MONTAGNE: Reporter Angus Chen found that pet poison centers are treating more dogs high on pot, and those pets are finding the experience a real downer.

ANGUS CHEN, BYLINE: Pets eating pot is becoming increasingly common. Dr. Ahna Brutlag, a veterinary toxicologist at the Pet Poison Helpline, says that calls concerning marijuana poisonings have nearly quadrupled in the past three years.

AHNA BRUTLAG: So just between this year and last year alone, we've actually seen double the number that we did last year.

CHEN: That might be because people feel more comfortable reporting the incident now that more states have decriminalized cannabis possession. But it also means more marijuana products in more houses, especially edible ones that are just too hard for a puppy to resist.

BRUTLAG: Pets are not discriminate eaters. And if something smells like food, it looks like food, they're going to eat it regardless of whether or not it has marijuana in it or not.

CHEN: Edibles like hash brownies are especially dangerous to pets because cats and dogs are gluttonous and will consume an extreme amount if given the chance. On top of that, chocolate is also toxic to dogs. Dr. Heidi Houchen, a veterinarian at Northwest Veterinary Specialists in Clackamas, Ore., says not only has she seen the number of stoned animals at her clinic go up, some of those animals are far sicker than usual.

HEIDI HOUCHEN: So they're getting into more and more of more and more concentrated product. And because of that, they're going from the classic state that used to be to now we're seeing them where they're tremoring or seizuring or comatose. Sometimes their heart rates, instead of going down, goes way up and they have cardiac problems. So, yeah, we're seeing a lot more severely affected cases.

CHEN: There have been a couple cases where dogs have even died. That's pretty rare, but Houchen says it shouldn't even happen at all.

HOUCHEN: When we have something that comes into us that can be prevented, we're like, if we only could have told them just put it up and away.

CHEN: And maybe you can avoid a situation like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You need to be more careful with stuff. That is not normal.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I don't know what to do. I - we just came back and the cookie - Dee (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: The cookies were gone.

CHEN: For NPR News, I'm Angus Chen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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