I’m suspicious right away. His dilated pupils don’t seem focused on anything in particular, and his usually chipper demeanor has been replaced with a vacant haze unmoored from time and space. His head lists to one side before jerking back to center, like a student fighting to stay awake in a lecture. His eyes squint tight against the beam from my penlight, and he’s startled by the slightest touch. If dogs could giggle, he’d probably do that too. Clinically speaking, my patient is high as a kite.
And that’s good news! Marijuana is pretty benign as far as toxins go, although animals do have a tendency to eat all of what they find, baking themselves well beyond a pleasant buzz. Dogs, in particular, will indulge to the point that symptoms can linger for several days. These patients often need hospitalized support, but it’s typically a matter of keeping them warm and hydrated for their return trip to Earth. With only the rarest exception, they’ll be completely fine.
The biggest challenge in these cases isn’t the treatment. Although prevailing attitudes about marijuana have relaxed in recent years, it’s still a trick getting people to admit what happened. Perhaps they’re embarrassed or afraid of being judged. Perhaps it’s fear of legal repercussions. Regardless, it’s a bad time for reticence because we really need to know. If it’s not pot, then the remaining possible causes are all significantly worse. There’s no sense wasting time and money on unnecessary diagnostics and treatment if the problem can be sorted with a conversation.
If you ever find yourself in this situation, please level with your veterinarian at the outset. Not only is your vet likely to be unfazed, she’ll probably be relieved. And even if your vet is a card-carrying buzzkill, anything discussed in that exam room is confidential. Laws vary state to state, but here in Virginia, “revealing confidences” is regulated as unprofessional conduct. You’re safe to speak freely.
Whether used recreationally or medically, the presence of marijuana is a fact of life in many homes. And assuming laws gradually catch up with reality, it’s going to become more common. As a veterinarian, I hope to one day see the various benefits of cannabis become part of my toolbox (properly dosed, of course). But as pot grows more prevalent, so will cases of toxicity.
It’s not the worst thing that can happen, but keep those stashes well out of reach. And if precautions fail, it’s okay. Get to the vet, for sure. But, in this case, honesty is a huge part of the antidote.
Dr. Mike Fietz is a small-animal veterinarian at Georgetown Veterinary Hospital. He received his veterinary degree from Cornell University in 2003 and has lived in Charlottesville since.
I’m Pepper, and at the CASPCA they refer to me as the “whole package”: sweet, friendly and fun-loving. I’m young, I love to play and I adore people and other cats (but I might overwhelm less energetic felines).
Howdy, I’m Ada, a calm, sweet gal who’s a little shy. I prefer to be an only dog, and while I don’t need a lot of exercise, nothing would make me happier than accompanying you on walks.
Hey there, I’m Bella, your future BFF. I’ll snuggle on your lap, but bust out the toys, and my feisty energy is contagious. I like
to be the center of attention, though, so it’s best if I’m an only kitty.
Buckwheat here, and, as you can see, I’m one fine lookin’ dude. Come hang out with me, and you’ll also see I’m a sweetie who enjoys (in no particular order) playing, snuggling, exploring and long walks.
You can meet us at the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA, where we’re all available for adoption. 3355 Berkmar Dr. 973-5959, caspca.org, noon-6pm, daily.