Cannabis can be great for dogs, but it can also cause problems. Photo: Alan Levine

Cannabis can be great for dogs, but it can also cause problems. Photo: Alan Levine

There are innumerable stories of the benefits of cannabis for dogs, even more so on Guy Fawkes Night. But effects can be severe if your dog’s access to your dope is not controlled.

The surgery of Dr Maggie Brown-Bury, a vet in Canada, is seeing one dog a week for cannabis toxicity and sometimes more. She believes the phenomenon will grow “until people get educated.” Dogs usually return to normal within 12 hours, but, as Dr Brown-Bury points out, “the symptoms are quite alarming if you’re not sure what you’re looking at.”

Problems, problems

Problems arise when your dog consumes some cannabis product in the home or picks up a discarded joint in a public place. Dogs are particularly sensitive to tetrahydrocannabinol, the ingredient of cannabis that makes you stoned. It can cause difficulty walking, heightened response to stimuli, a low heart rate, urinary incontinence, vomiting and more.

The impact varies with the size of the dog – a small dog may become ill after eating just the dog end (well, it’s appropriate) of a joint. But even bigger dogs can be affected if they consume enough.

It could even be lethal

After the US state of Colorado legalised recreational use of cannabis in 2012, the number of cases of dogs suffering from cannabis consumption rose fourfold. This might be purely because vets are becoming more aware of the issue and identifying it correctly more often. Brown-Bury commented that death is very rare, and she has not personally come across it. A small dog could die if it ate more than a pound of dope or edibles, its symptoms were ignored and it passed out and choked on its vomit. There has been little research into the effects of cannabis on animals, so giving informed advice is difficult.

What can be done

If the dog is vomiting, IV fluids can be given to offset dehydration. This can include anti-emetic medicine, with maropitant and ondansetron being the preferred options. Vomiting might even be induced to get the dope out of your dog’s system. Sedation can be administered if the dog is over-excited. Diazepam and chlorpromazine can be given if there are negative effects on the central nervous system.

A horror story

73-year-old Bernadette Symonds became aware of a problem when her cocker spaniel, Fin, started staggering around at home. She took him to a vet who suspected spinal injury and sent Fin to be X-rayed at a specialist clinic. When Symonds returned home, her labrador, Percy, was also staggering, and she informed the vet, who came to the realisation that this might be a case of poisoning. The two dogs were put on drips overnight and blood tests revealed the culprit. Symonds was left with a $927 bill.

The moral of the story is to exercise care when storing or using cannabis products when you share a home with your dog. Put your dope on a high shelf or in a secure cabinet.

Give the dog a joint: cannabis for pets

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