Calls About Pets Ingesting Cannabis Up 700%

By Kelly Burch 01/31/19

As edibles become more popular, dogs in particular are likely to sniff them out as a tasty treat. 

sick dog being checked out by vet after eating cannabis

More pets than ever are accidentally overdosing on marijuana, with cannabis-related calls to the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center increasing 765% over the past 10 years. 

That’s no surprise to Tom Shell, a California-based filmmaker who came home one day to find his 13-year-old Australian Shepard, Stella, acting strange and "looking kind of hazy-eyed,” according to Mashable

Shell realized that Stella had sniffed out a pot brownie in his backpack and devoured the whole thing—complete with chocolate and cannabis, neither of which are good for dogs. Shell rushed Stella to the vet feeling like "the worst father in the world.” The vet was able to induce vomiting to get the chocolate out of Stella’s system, but the effects of THC lasted all day. 

Shell said, “I brought Stella back home, and she was stoned as can be for the rest of the afternoon.”

The incident made Shell realize that he needs to store his marijuana products—including edibles—more carefully. He was glad that Stella didn’t get into a stash of more potent cannabis gummy bears that he had in the house. 

"If the dog got into those and ate the whole thing it would have been disastrous,” Shell said. “I've taken measures to make sure I've got triple protection [around weed] but it's just one of those things where she's got really good sniffers and I just wasn't thinking about it." 

The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center’s Medical Director, Dr. Tina Wismer, said this is a common mistake pet owners make. As edibles become more popular, dogs in particular are likely to sniff them out as a tasty treat. 

"Dogs, oh my gosh, especially [with] the chocolate-based edibles, the number of those calls has skyrocketed,” Wismer said.

Last year, the center had 1,800 marijuana-related calls, compared to just 208 in 2008. Whereas dogs tend to ingest edibles, cats are equally interested in marijuana, Wismer said. 

As cannabis becomes more widely accepted, people are less likely to carefully hide their stash, she said. This means that pets may have easier access to cannabis. In addition, some of the increase in the number of calls is likely because pot use is less stigmatized, so people are more willing to call the center to ask about marijuana-related issues. 

While cannabis isn’t toxic to dogs, canines are more sensitive to pot than people are. The drug can cause strange side effects, like those Stella experienced. In rare cases, ingesting marijuana can cause a fatal drop in heart rate and blood pressure in a pet. 

Wismer says that people also call the hotline after giving their pets edibles intended for animals, which can be dangerous because these items are unregulated, she said. 

"No one's regulating these products—is there actually some amount of THC in them? Or is it that dogs make different metabolites than people do? Is it just dose related? Unfortunately, no one really knows what the answer is."

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.