More dogs accidentally consuming cannabis: U of G study

More dogs are getting sick from accidentally consuming pot products containing THC, suggests a new study out of the University of Guelph.

Stash your stash up high, says cannabis store owner; dogs can chew through protective packaging

U of G researchers say more dogs are accidentally consuming products containing THC as cannabis becomes less restricted in North America. (SasaStock/Shutterstock)

More dogs are getting sick from accidentally consuming pot products containing THC, suggests a new study out of the University of Guelph.

Researchers say the number of incidents involving cannabis poisoning in dogs are on a rise due to its increasing popularity and legalization in North America. 

The study is believed to be the first of its kind. Researchers used data based on U.S. numbers but the results can be applied in Canada, where problems are similar, said researchers.

"Dogs are not very discriminating in what they eat and are known to snatch food from kitchen counters and bedside tables as well as eat things off the floor or ground," said Mohammad Howard-Azzeh, lead author and PhD candidate, in a news release.

"There was an association between a reduction in penalties for cannabis use and possession and dogs being poisoned with cannabinoids," said Howard-Azzeh.

The study said there's also less stigma around calling to report cannabis poisoning in dogs, now that there are no penalties for using it in states where it's legal. This may explain the increase in reported incidents, the study's authors said.

The Canadian government legalized cannabis in 2018.

What the data shows

Researchers examined the nature of several calls that came in between 2009 and 2014 to the Animal Poison Control Center of American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. More specifically, they looked at factors between cannabis and non-cannabis-related calls.

They assessed legislation per state, socio-economic factors and characteristics of individual poisoning reports.

The data showed that there was a significant increase in reports of cannabis poisoning in dogs in areas where cannabis was legalized. Accidental poisoning was also more common in cities with high income variability and in urban areas. Smaller, male dogs who were not spayed or neutered also seemed to be disproportionately affected.

"When these data were analyzed, there weren't as many U.S. states that had made cannabis legal," said David Pearl, a professor in the Department of Population Medicine who also worked on the study, in a release. "There was an expectation that as it became more liberal, more people would be using cannabis products and there would be more accidental access for pets."

Howard-Azzeh said loosening restrictions likely resulted in increased pot use among people, which meant dogs also had increased access to THC-infused edibles including cookies, cakes and candies.

One researcher says loosening restrictions likely resulted in increased pot use among people, which meant dogs also had increased access to THC-infused edibles. (Victor Moussa/Shutterstock)

Harmful side effects

Dogs who accidentally consume cannabis can experience health side effects including disorientation, vomiting, incontinence, irregular heart rates, hyperexcitability, hyperthermia, vocalizations and seizures, the study said. Veterinary care usually requires more serious side effects.

"A growing number of research efforts are aimed at understanding the effects of less restrictive legislation on human consumption, health and abuse of cannabis products, but little is known about the effects of these factors on dogs," said Pearl

The study was published in the journal PLOS Global Public Health.

Safety tips

Both researchers say the study helps prepare vets and public health for what to expect when dogs are exposed more often. They also hope it helps spur public awareness.

"There is an education message in this, in that just like children, pets can accidentally ingest these products," Pearl added.

Owen Allerton, owner of Highland Cannabis in Kitchener who has one dog, two cats and three young children, said cannabis users should always keep products stored out of reach from children and pets "up high, out of the way and in a sealed container."

He said there are strict federal rules in place to ensure products are safely packaged, however a pet can chew through product packaging.

Most importantly, he advised to avoid the illegal cannabis market, which he said may have been a factor in some of the reports analyzed by researchers. 

"The illicit market product doesn't follow the packaging guidelines and the dosages are way higher," he said, noting Canadian federal guidelines limit the THC content in edibles.

He said it's crucial to practice responsible consumption as it's safer and helps normalize cannabis use.