Veterinarian: More marijuana means more poisoned dogs

SEATTLE -- Last month, Seattle resident Katherine Evans took her dog Abby on a long walk through the Arboretum and Montlake Playground. Three hours after the walk, Abby was vomiting, stumbling and twitching.

"I was pretty scared," Evans said.

A veterinarian at Animal Critical Care and Emergency Services, or ACCES, in Lake City told Evans Abby was likely having a serious toxic reaction to eating marijuana, possibly in the form of a discarded joint.

Evans doesn't use marijuana herself, but she has seen leftover joints on the ground in Montlake Playground and thinks Abby probably picked one up somewhere along the walk.

Abby, who Evans said has the stomach of a goat and has been known to eat everything from chicken bones to glass Christmas ornaments, was back to her old self after being treated at ACCES. But, more dogs than ever before are getting very sick from eating marijuana.

Dr. Jennifer Waldrop, critical care specialist at the ACCES clinics in Seattle and Renton, said known cases of toxic reactions to marijuana have increased from two in 2009 to 35 in 2012. And, those are only the cases where vets are certain the dogs ate marijuana. Waldrop said there are many more mysterious toxicity cases where pot could be the culprit.

Waldrop said the increase in dogs eating pot can be attributed to the rise in marijuana use, both medical and recreational. She also said more people are reporting their dogs eating pot now that marijuana use is legal and less stigmatized.

And, it's not just ACCES that is seeing more of these cases. Waldrop said technicians working at other clinics are reporting an increase in toxic reactions to marijuana. Meanwhile, cases in Colorado have quadrupled over the past six years in strong correlation to the number of registered medical marijuana users there. And, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has seen cases nationwide triple over the past decade.

While ingesting marijuana is not usually fatal for dogs (only 2 percent during the six-year Colorado study), Waldrop said it can have dramatic effects, including depression, tremors, twitching, wobbliness, vomiting, coma and more.

She said owners should immediately take their dogs to a vet if they see any of those signs. Dogs may need IV fluids, anti-nausea medications and other treatments.

"Don't wait to bring your dogs in," Waldrop said. "The reason these dogs end up OK is because vets intervene."

Waldrop said she expects the numbers of dogs suffering toxic reactions to marijuana to continue to rise. But, she said she hopes educating dog owners can help.

She said it's important for owners to limit their dogs' access to marijuana, specifically edible marijuana, which is dangerous for both its often more potent THC content and also dogs' well-documented love of baked goods.

In more than 20 percent of cases in the Colorado study, the marijuana eaten by a dog had been mixed with chocolate.

"If you combine anything with food, dogs are on it," Waldrop said.

Even for owners who keep a close eye on their pets and their pot, it can be nearly impossible to keep dogs completely safe from toxic reactions, Waldrop said.

"The hardest part is dogs will be dogs," she said. "They eat things they shouldn't."

Since Abby's run in with marijuana, Evans has been keeping an eye out while in neighborhood parks and warning others to do the same. But, she said one little bud is so small, and she can't always be looking at her feet while walking Abby.

"She will always find something I won't see," Evans said.