Marijuana poisoning in pets is on the rise and the trend has veterinarians concerned. Although marijuana is not generally dangerous for humans, it can cause serious illness or death in animals. Most pets are poisoned when they consume the substance. However, some pets may become ill from the secondhand smoke.
According to the Animal Poison Control Center, calls reporting marijuana poisoning in pets increased 30 percent over the last four years. In 2009, the center received 213 calls compared to 320 in 2013. Unfortunately, the number of actual cases are likely much higher.
Boulder, Colorado, veterinarian Dr. Matt Booth said most cases are purely accidental. However, pet owners are often unaware or unwilling to admit why their pets are sick. Booth said pet owners may be hesitant to reveal the cause, as they fear animal cruelty charges.
Dr. Tina Wismer, with the Animal Poison Control Center, said animals and humans have very different reactions to marijuana. Wismer said some pets act sedated after consuming marijuana. However, around 25 percent have a more noticeable reaction:
"They become agitated, have high heart rates, they're in distress. Most dogs become incontinent. They stagger around dribbling urine everywhere."Marijuana may also cause pets' blood pressure to rise to dangerous levels. If untreated, pets with marijuana poisoning can slip into a coma and eventually die.
Cats are more likely to become ill after inhaling the substance, whereas dogs are more likely to consume it. While dogs may consume the plant material or leftover bong water, most reported cases involve food products infused with marijuana.
Veterinarians said dogs are most often poisoned by cookies, butter, and brownies, which were prepared with the substance. Marijuana brownies can be specifically dangerous for dogs, as chocolate further stimulates the nervous system and heart.
A 2012 study, published in the Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care, suggests legalized marijuana may have led to increased poisoning in pets. The study compiled data from two Colorado clinics. The researchers concluded Marijuana poisoning in pets quadrupled over the last six years. The increase reportedly began when Colorado legalized medical marijuana.
Dr. Matt Booth said awareness is the key to prevention. As more states are legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use, pet owners need to keep an eye on their pet's behavior. Symptoms usually appear within three hours of consumption or inhalation and may include lethargy, difficulty walking, slowed breathing, unusual vocalization, vomiting, hypersensitivity, and seizures.
Pets who appear to have marijuana poisoning need to be treated immediately. Pet owners can also contact the ASPCA's poison control center at (888) 426-4435.
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