There’s a buzz around Colorado now that legalized recreational marijuana will happen Jan. 1: How is it going to affect Fido and little Ms. Kitty?
Let me give you some advice as a veterinarian: Stash your stash. Guard your Ganga. Banish your brownies. Store any THC products high and out of reach of pets. This is not a joke.
I’ll break down the subject of marijuana and pets into the good, the bad and the ugly — and it is not all bad or ugly.
A study by a local emergency-room group and Colorado State University, published in 2012, found a fourfold increase in their marijuana toxicity cases from 2005 to late 2010. We can only expect the number of poisoned dogs and cats to mushroom once recreational marijuana becomes available.
The problem is, dogs and cats like the stuff. Oh, they won’t toke on a joint, take a hit off your pipe or drink bong water, but they surely will eat marijuana — and they’ll eat all of it, right out of the baggie. They’ll also sniff out and gobble those yummy, edible, marijuana-laced products you’re hiding from your children.
Many edible preparations are made with cannabis butter, making them irresistible to dogs and cats. Add a double whammy of another well-known pet toxin often used in edibles — dark chocolate — and it can be a lethal combination. (Fats lure pets in general, so weed or no weed, always keep butter, shortening and other fat-laden treats where animals can’t get them.)
“It’s a really bad trip for dogs,” veterinarian Paige Lorimer told the Steamboat Daily of the effects of THC on animals.
If your pet consumes marijuana, they may appear very depressed. They may cry out and have trouble walking. Their eyes may become dilated and red. Their heart rate may slow; they may even become comatose. Or they may become anxious.
It is unnatural for animals to be intoxicated. They’re uncomfortable with it. There is no antidote for marijuana ingestion in pets, nor is there a reliable test for it, which means you must be honest with your vet if you know your pet has ingested pot.
What he or she will try to do is remove the pot from the animal’s gastrointestinal tract via stomach tubes or by giving activated charcoal, a medical compound designed to absorb toxins.
If it’s caught early, your vet can try to make your pet vomit it up — however, since marijuana is a potent anti-nausea medication in and of itself, this is often unsuccessful. IV fluids are usually administered and supportive care is provided for low heart rates and seizures.
Fortunately, most dogs recover from ingesting marijuana, but it may take a few days. THC, the active ingredient, has a fairly high lethal dose in dogs and cats. Only two dogs out of the 125 in the CSU study died, and it was unclear whether the cause was the marijuana or the chocolate in the edibles.
There’s good, you ask, after all that? Totally.
A perusal of discussion boards on the highly popular subscription website, VIN, or Veterinary Information Network shows that pet owners are successfully using medical marijuana to manage a few medical conditions in their pets. Pain from cancer, surgery and arthritis; anxiety; brain tumors; nausea; anorexia and bowel disorders are the most popular uses.
However, you are unlikely to get advice from your veterinarian, on the record, about how to do so. Why? I’ll let the American Veterinary Medical Association website explain it:
“Physicians in states where medical marijuana is sanctioned are exempt from prosecution by the state for recommending the schedule I drug to patients. Such protections do not apply to veterinarians, for whom it is illegal in every state to prescribe or recommend marijuana to treat a patient.”
It’s a hazy subject. Many veterinarians feel it is only a matter of time before medical marijuana is made available to our pets. Out of 600 respondents in one pet-owner survey, 96 percent said they would give their pets marijuana if they thought it would help them.
And every veterinarian I have talked to has been asked by their clients about using it for their pets.
The late veterinarian Douglas Kramer, a self-described “clean-cut” veterinarian from California, wrote a book, “Sweet Serenity,” that guides pet owners on how to use medical marijuana in therapeutic, non-toxic doses. Kramer, who died in August at 36, reportedly from cancer, started using tinctures of medicinal marijuana on his own husky, Nikita, when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The results were so astounding he decided to re-direct his career.
Holistic veterinarian Susan Klein of Edwards draws a clear line on what the goal of marijuana use should be: “We are not trying to get pets high; we are trying to use doses that positively affect disease with minimal side effect,” she said in an interview.
She has had a few clients who used marijuana successfully for their pets’ anxiety and cancer pain. She’s also found that marijuana can work together with pharmaceutical pain drugs. “We can end up using much lower doses of traditional pain meds, which are often narcotic based.”
Back to the ugly
Deliberately getting your dog high is uncool. In fact, it’s a form of animal abuse, which is a crime.
But if you have had a momentary lapse of judgment and give your dog marijuana, or if your pet accidentally poaches your stash, have the courage to admit it to the veterinarian trying to save your pets’ life.
One of my life commandments is: If you mess up, fess up.
Veterinarian Stephen Sheldon practices at Gypsum Animal Hospital. He can also be heard on KZYR radio, 97.7 FM on Monday Mornings at 8 a.m. E-mail questions or topic suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit gypsumah.com