Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Marijuana poisoning in pets is on the rise, and prompt treatment by aveterinary professional is necessary

The medical use of marijuana in humans has been a vigorously-discussed topic in recent years, and along with that, a conversation about using pot to help ease the discomfort associated with illness in pets has emerged.
Flickr photo by chrismatos

In fact, earlier this year one veterinary doctor, Doug Kramer, DVM made his case to have a clinical trial established on the efficacy of the use of medical marijuana in pets, primarily in the area of pain management.

He acknowledged that medicinal pot could be of use in issues associated with end-of-life care, pain management and mitigating the debilitating side effects of some very useful drugs, including those used to treat cancer. But because there's been a lack of much-needed research, those possibilities aren't being pursued.

The area of pain management is in dire need of more research, and Kramer notes that there are some pet owners who are seeking alternatives in helping their pets be more comfortable, and they're experimenting with the use of marijuana in an effort to do that.

But that could put a pet at risk by going it alone.

Perhaps the amount of the drug could be too high for a frail pet, or if an adverse reaction occurs, the 18-36 hours that the drug stays in the pet's system could complicate a health problem.

Kramer cites another example, like the use of a cannabis patch designed for pets, which one company was able to obtain a patent for back in 2011. He indicated that it could pose a problem.

"From a veterinary standpoint, the recently reported 'pot patch' is an obvious safety hazard and the perfect example of what happens when professionals fail to address a clear, unmet need in their field."

The fact is that marijuana is a drug, and it can cause adverse effects on pets via a patch that really hasn't been solidly tested (or if the drug patch is inadvertently ingested by the animal or another in the household), being administered the drug intentionally or by ingesting the recreational stash of one of their humans.

One veterinary study published in the Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care reported a significant increase in the number of canines treated for marijuana intoxication between 2005 and 2010, and interestingly enough, states that have passed the legalization of marijuana for medical or recreational use saw the biggest increase in cases.

Since 2008, the Pet Poison Helpline has experienced a 200 percent increase in the number of cases of pets having suffered poisoning after ingesting pot.

"Of all illicit drugs, marijuana has always been responsible for the most calls to Pet Poison Helpline, but this recent increase is the sharpest we have ever seen," notes Ahna Brutlag, DVM, MS, DABT, DABVT and associate director of veterinary services at Pet Poison Helpline.

According to the Pet Poison Helpline, cases of death from cannabis poisoning are rare, but treatment is necessary to recover. Recovery can be somewhat slow.

Ingesting foods laced with the drug (usually the marijuana butter that is used to make brownies, cookies and the like — or the baked good themselves) or inhaling the smoke are typical sources of poisoning. If the food contains chocolate, the danger is exacerbated.

Symptoms of poisoning in pets can occur within 30-60 minutes after exposure, depending on the source, and can include stumbling or lack of coordination, dilated pupils, vomiting and glassy eyes.

In dogs, it's not uncommon for them to present with urinary incontinence or dribbling. In about 25 percent of dogs, agitation and excitement occur.

More serious effects include changes in heart rate, coma, tremors, and seizures.

Treatment for marijuana poisoning can be limited to IV fluids, anti-vomiting medication, oxygen, blood pressure monitoring, thermoregulation, but in more severe cases, ventilator/respirator support may be called for.

Prevention is best, of course, but the experts at the Pet Poison Helpline stress that like with other poisoning cases, swift action is necessary if your pet has somehow ingested marijuana, and that people that seek assistance by calling to speak to a veterinary professional will not be reported to the authorities. Their only objective is to the pet's welfare.

The Pet Poison Helpline is available 24/7 by calling 1-800-213-6680.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

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