LOS ANGELES — Bentley seemed to be in a haze. Normally this 12-pound Chihuahua-terrier mix would never refuse hot, fresh French fries from a drive-through fast food joint. But on a recent warm afternoon, he turned his head away at his owner’s offer.
“He wouldn’t take them, so I knew something was wrong. He was just out of it,” said Dana Long, a resident of Tiburon. Long eventually took his dog to the veterinarian, who informed him that his typically sprightly and voracious Bentley was stoned. He had likely picked up a chocolate edible on the fields of a nearby middle school, where Long’s daughter was playing softball.
While excess cannabis consumption by canines is not new, cases are growing as more and more states legalize the drug, and its use becomes more widespread, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The group’s poison hotline suggests that as more and more states have legalized recreational marijuana, reports of marijuana toxicity in dogs have also grown.
Between 2017 and 2020, national call volume for cannabis ingestion rose from 1,436 to 3,923 cases, said Tina Wismer, a veterinarian and senior director of the New York-based ASPCA Poison Control Center.
Those numbers are likely just a fraction of the true incidence of marijuana poisonings — reporting to the control center is voluntary — but the trend is clear. In California, where recreational marijuana was legalized in November 2016, call numbers grew by 276 percent between 2016 and 2020. In Colorado, those numbers have risen eleven-fold since legalization in 2012.
“If you ask any of our emergency room veterinarians, they would all say that the number of cannabis-intoxicated dogs has increased by leaps and bounds since legalization of medical and then recreational marijuana for humans,” said Karl Jandrey, a professor of veterinary sciences at UC Davis.
It might sound funny that so many pooches are getting into the hooch. But for dogs who accidentally ingest potent edibles intended for a human several times their weight, the narcotic effect can be serious. In addition, if dogs are chewing on drugs found outdoors, it is possible those drugs are laced with chemicals other than THC, the active ingredient in pot, said several veterinarians.
Some of the reported cannabis incidences, possibly the majority, are home-grown — dogs stumbling across their owner’s stash on the counter or couch. But a growing number of poisonings are also occurring in the “wild.”
On the app Nextdoor, dog owners across Marin County chimed in recently with their own stories of dogs inadvertently getting “baked” on walks around the neighborhood, in nearby parks, at schools and public beaches.
One woman, who resides in Stinson Beach, wrote that her toy poodle has been to the emergency room four times as a result of eating cannabis while being walked around the neighborhood. The first time was on the beach in Bolinas, the second on a neighborhood walk on Mill Valley, and the other two times on walks above the market in Stinson.
“Dogs like the taste and smell of pot,” she wrote. “It makes them extremely/scary sick.”
It’s happening so frequently, some of those posting wondered if somebody wasn’t intentionally leaving edibles out to hurt dogs.
“Seriously. Why else would there be this issue? Who drops their edibles all over the ground???? They’re expensive. And why so many????” posted another neighbor.
In Aspen, Colo., dogs experienced a rash of cannabis poisonings in 2019. At the time, local vets surmised dogs were eating human feces laced with pot.
But stoned dogs are becoming so common, said Long, that both the veterinarian technician and veterinarian at his local animal hospital recognized Bentley was high, immediately.
“I had thought maybe he was overheated,” said Long, recalling that afternoon. After the French fry episode, he brought Bentley home, and it quickly became clear that something was very wrong: Bentley could barely walk and seemed almost unresponsive. Long said he wrapped him in cool towels before his wife convinced him to go the emergency vet.
When he got to the hospital, he said, the vet tech came out to greet him and gave Bentley a quick look, and asked Long if he had any pot in the house.
“I said no, because we don’t use pot. It’s not that we morally disapprove,” Long said. “It’s just not our thing.”
Jandrey and Wismer said classic signs of marijuana toxicity in dogs include: unsteadiness on their feet, depression, dilated eyes, dribbling urine, sensitivity to touch and sound, slow heart rate and even low body temperature. Symptoms usually begin to present about 20-40 minutes after exposure.
Wismer said if a dog owner suspects cannabis poisoning, they should contact their veterinarian immediately — in some cases, the vet will want to see the dog right away, in milder cases, they’ll suggest your pet just ride it out at home.