• James Armstrong and Carmen Marie Fabio

Dogs and pot – the down side to legalization


PHOTO COURTESY CHARLIE BERCOVITS

Joey, the 8-pound miniature Schnauzer, is safe and sound back at home but gave his Hudson owner a fright after ingesting a tossed-aside marijuana butt, the effects of which landed him at an emergency veterinary clinic.

A long-time Hudson resident is reaching out to warn fellow dog owners after her three-month-old miniature schnauzer puppy became intoxicated following the ingestion of part of a cannabis joint that was tossed onto a well-used walking path in the town.

“The word has to get out there,” said Charlie Bercovits. “I thought he was dying.”

Bercovits didn’t know at first what her eight-pound dog, Joey, had eaten and assumed a long day of playing was the cause of his extreme fatigue when they arrived home that Saturday afternoon in late June.

“But when I took him out of his carrier, he was swaying back and forth and his head was bobbing.” Bercovits let him nap for a couple of hours but found he was completely limp and disoriented upon awakening and urinated when she picked him up. By 10:30 that evening, she was at the Centre Vétérinaire Laval where it was determined he was likely intoxicated. Though he recovered after roughly 24 hours, she doesn’t want other dogs to have the same experience.

Increase in cases

Dr. Bart Sikorski at Clinique Vétérinaire Harwood in Vaudreuil-Dorion said he’s seen an increase in canine intoxication, particularly from consuming edibles.

“People aren’t always cautious about where they leave the edibles and dogs have a very good sense of smell,” he said. The effects can be felt very quickly.

“Dogs’ brains have more receptors for THC (the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis) than any other animal, even more than humans,” Dr. Sikorski told The Journal. “When intoxicated, they can become wobbly, sometimes even vocal, have incontinence or seizures. Their heartrate slows down and they can even fall into a coma.”

Skepticism

When Bercovits recounted her story on a community Facebook group, most responses were supportive but some denied ingesting a roach would cause any damage while another suggested her dog had suffered from heatstroke. The veterinarian who treated Joey said all other vital signs were good, ruling out dehydration or heat exhaustion.

CBD vs THC

Even before Canada’s legalization of marijuana laws, dog owners have turned to CBD oil for pain management or epilepsy treatment. Unlike THC, the oil does not cause the same ‘stoned’ effect and is used for a number of canine health issues.

“Unfortunately, all the cannabis products on the market for human consumption contain THC, especially the edibles,” said Dr. Sikorski.

There still is no stable, legally produced CDB oil that veterinarians can prescribe for dogs. “We don’t have a product authorized for us to use as a medication,” he said. “But I know it works.” Dr. Sikorski confirmed that anecdotal evidence and consumer demand mean more research into CBD oil for veterinary use will result in it being prescribed but can’t predict the timeline.

“Human consumption is so vast there’s not enough to meet the demand,” he said. “Animals will be last on the list.” For now, he said he’s stopped recommending its use until a veterinary product becomes approved.

Treatment and cost

Post-ingestion, Dr. Sikorski said vets can offer supportive treatment including stimulating the heartrate and intravenous administration of fluids can help flush the THC from the system. “If it’s detected early, we can make them vomit or we can use activated charcoal to absorb the toxins from the stomach. But that has to be within the first six to eight hours.” After that time period, everything has been absorbed into the animal’s system. “The first response is crucial.”

Though Dr. Sikorski has not yet had a fatality from cannabinoid ingestion, in this year alone he has had to transfer three dogs to the Centre Vétérinaire Laval for emergency treatment and round the clock monitoring. The final price tag is not cheap.

“One of my customers had a large dog that ate three or four cookies,” he said. “Two days of emergency treatment cost him close to $5,000.”

Not alone

When asked if other dog owners had comparable experiences on one of the region’s many Facebook dog park groups, the stories were remarkably similar – dogs finding edibles or roaches, ingesting them, and basically having a bad trip. Fortunately, there were no reports of any deaths.

Bercovits’ dog Joey is back to his normal rambunctious self and his owner considers it a lesson learned.

“I don’t care if people want to smoke it, that’s their business,” she said, “but dogs getting ill from it, I’d never even thought of that.”

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