Sample script: Answering veterinary client questions about marijuana poisoning in pets
On the heels of the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in Colorado and Washington, the Justice Department announced it won't challenge other states' attempts to legalize the drug for medical or recreational use.
Many believe these policy changes lay the groundwork for more states to legalize marijuana, especially for medicinal use in humans. While the jury is still out on the benefits of medical marijuana for pets, an increase in the number of pets being treated for accidental marijuana poisonings is raising questions about the safety of marijuana—especially in dogs.
A veterinary study from Colorado, published recently by the Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care, reported a four-fold increase in the number of dogs treated for marijuana intoxication between 2005 and 2010, following the legalization of medical marijuana in that state. Similarly Pet Poison Helpline has experienced a 200 percent increase in the number of cases for pets that have ingested marijuana during the past five years.
Chances are you'll be fielding a question or two from clients about marijuana. Pet Poison Helpline provided some sample answers for possible client questions:
Client: Can my pet die from marijuana poisoning?
You: Yes, but thankfully this is rare. In terms of drugs, marijuana has a "wide margin of safety," meaning that the lethal dose is extremely high compared to the lower dose necessary to result in therapeutic effect (or in this case, toxic effect). Therefore, it's extremely rare for pets to ingest enough marijuana to cause death, although they may still need medical treatment to recover from poisoning.
In the recent Colorado study, two small dogs died, both of which had ingested baked goods made with highly concentrated medical grade marijuana butter. During the past five years, no marijuana-related deaths in pets have been reported to Pet Poison Helpline.
Client: How could my pet get exposed to marijuana?
You: Poisoning in pets can occur from inhalation of the smoke, ingestion of the dried plant, ingestion of foods laced with marijuana (e.g., brownies, cookies, butter), or products made with hashish. When those foods also contain chocolate, the risk of additional poisoning is increased.
Client: What are the signs of marijuana poisoning that I should be looking for?
You: Signs of marijuana poisoning in dogs and cats include glassy eyes, stumbling/incoordination, dilated pupils, vomiting, and agitation and excitement in about 25 percent of dogs. Urinary incontinence or urine dribbling is also very common, especially in dogs. Serious effects include changes in heart rate, coma, tremors and seizures. The signs typically begin 30 to 60 minutes after ingestion—or sooner if inhaled.
Client: What are the treatments for marijuana poisoning?
You: Treatment for marijuana poisoning includes IV fluids, anti-vomiting medication, oxygen, blood pressure monitoring, thermoregulation and ventilator/respirator support in severe cases. Decontamination (including inducing vomiting and giving charcoal to bind up the poison) may be performed if the ingestion was recent or large, but should never be done without consulting a veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline. However, inducing vomiting may be difficult due to the properties of marijuana. It can take pets 18 to 36 hours to recover.
The veterinary and toxicology experts at Pet Poison Helpline recommend that pet owners take immediate action if a pet is exposed to marijuana by contacting either their veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline at (800) 213-6680.