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Veterinarian urges people to keep pets safe from marijuana

Michelle Richardson of Big Sky Animal Medical Center
Posted at 10:31 AM, Jan 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-05 12:31:48-05

GREAT FALLS — With the legalization of recreational marijuana in Montana as of January 1, 2022, the number of pets exposed to cannabis is expected to increase.

Veterinarian Michelle Richardson of Big Sky Animal Medical Center in Great Falls says that cases have been on the rise and expect even more now.

“All year round, something that we have seen an increase of are animals with THC exposure,” said Richardson, “We have at least four to five a week.”

Richardson said that this trend has been happening more and more following the adoption of medical marijuana several years ago, and she and other veterinarians are worried about what is to come in the upcoming months with the legalization of recreational use.

“Once it is much more accessible, and we can buy it in stores, we are nervous that we will see a huge spike, even though we are already seeing it more than we have ever before,” she said.

Animals, especially dogs, tend to ingest it through edibles, not knowing any better. In some cases they have been known to chew on the end of a joint.

THC exposure can cause major changes in their behavior, such as making them sleepy, and dissociated from their environment.

If discovered early enough, owners should have little to worry about. Most places will give dogs a drug called Apomorphine that will cause them to vomit within a few hours.

However, if the THC remains in the system for too long, the more affected a dog becomes, and eventually can become nearly comatose.

We talked with veterinarian Michael Norton of Best Friends Animal Hospital in Great Falls last year about this issue. He said, “Most dogs show up here, they can’t walk and they’re cold, 90 degrees. Normal temperature for a dog is 101.5. So if you were not caring for your animal and just left it out in the cold or didn’t know what was going on, that dog would probably get hypothermia and die before you would even know anything happened.”

But if these dogs are brought into the clinic they’ll be warmed up, given intravenous fluids, drugs for nausea, and supportive care. Norton says they are usually back home in 24 to 36 hours.

Some dogs who ingest the drug will become agitated and even the slightest noises can send them to a near seizure.

“They tend to take three or four days in a dark room with earplugs in and then Valium as needed to stop from being so agitated,” said Norton.

From the Pet Poison Helpline website:

Animals can be poisoned by marijuana in different ways. They can ingest marijuana edibles such as brownies or pot butter, ingest the owner’s supply of marijuana (in any formulation), or by second hand smoke. Common symptoms of marijuana toxicity include sedation/lethargy, dilated pupils or glassed over eyes, dazed expression, difficulty walking and vomiting. Other symptoms can include either a low or high heart rate, vocalization such as whining or crying, agitation, trouble regulating temperature causing the body temperature to drop or rise and incontinence/dribbling urine, tremors, seizures and potentially coma. Signs of toxicity can be seen anywhere from 5 minutes to 12 hours after the animal is exposed to marijuana. The signs can potentially last 30 minutes to several days depending on the dose ingested.

Richardson says that no case that she has seen has been fatal but with the legalization of recreational use she urges users to keep marijuana - in any form - out of sight and reach of your furry friends.