Cases of dogs made sick by cannabis seem to be on rise, Calgary vet says

With the country-wide legalization of marijuana just months away, veterinarians are raising concerns about the number of cannabis-related cases showing up at animal hospitals.

Emergency care veterinarian says clinics might see even more toxicity cases when marijuana legalized

CARE Centre Animal Hospital Medical Director Danny Joffe says incidents of dogs suffering marijuana toxicity are on the rise in Calgary. (CBC)

With the country-wide legalization of marijuana just months away, veterinarians are raising concerns about the number of cannabis-related cases showing up at animal hospitals.

CARE Centre Animal Hospital medical director Danny Joffe says clinic staff tracked toxicity cases in dogs that were brought to the emergency room in 2016. He estimates they saw at least 60 cases or suspected cases of marijuana toxicity.

"It's mostly pets getting into recreational marijuana, pets eating edible products that have marijuana or cannabis oil in them," he said.

Joffe says there are concerns that clinics may see more toxicity cases after new marijuana laws come into effect this summer.

"Our worry is once legalization happens, and there's more of the products around, we'll see even more than we do now."

National warning

Last fall, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) posted a warning on its website about cannabis and pets, adding that dogs were more sensitive to active compounds like THC than are people.  

It recommends keeping cannabis and cannabis products away from pets.

The CVMA referred to a 2012 study in Colorado that suggested marijuana toxicity cases involving dogs quadrupled after pot was legalized in the state.

Veterinarians say animals experiencing marijuana toxicity display symptoms ranging from low or elevated heart rates and blood pressure to lethargy and a drop in body temperature.

Joffe says animals can become very sick and in rare cases die if they receive a large enough dose. But he says pets typically make a full recovery after they receive veterinary care.

He adds that of all the pet toxicity cases tracked at the Calgary animal hospital in 2016, marijuana was the second worst culprit, only trailing cases involving dogs and chocolate.

Medical pot for pets?

As pot legislation changes draw closer, Darrell Dalton with the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association (ABVMA) says vets across the province are also receiving more inquiries about the use of medicinal cannabis products for sick or injured pets.

"They seem to think there's a benefit for themselves, and so they equate that across that there must be a benefit for their animals as well," he said.

Under current regulations, Dalton says veterinarians can't prescribe cannabis in any form for animals.

But he says that likely doesn't prevent some pet owners from exploring cannabis products online.

Dalton warns that people may not understand the THC concentration level in cannabis products, creating a risk for their pets.

For now, CVMA recommends further research to understand whether medical marijuana can be safely and effectively used in veterinary medicine in Canada.

Danny Joffe agrees.

"People are thinking we could use it in our pets as well, and there may be places to use it. There needs to be research done," he said.