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Dogs becoming casualties of opioid crisis too, study finds

Dogs can become victims of the opioid crisis as well, according to a new study from the University of Guelph. 

Younger, smaller and unneutered animals at highest risk

Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett says doctors should be more willing to prescribe pharmaceutical-grade alternatives to street drugs, citing it a document by the B.C. College of Physicians and Doctors that says it will better support patients (Eric Baradat/AFP/Getty Images)

Dogs are also becoming victims of the opioid crisis in the United States, according to a new study from the University of Guelph. 

The study looked at calls about opioid poisoning made to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' Animal Poison Control Centre. 

The results shed light on a little understood outcome of the crisis.

"Even with the magnitude of this catastrophe, its effects on vulnerable populations have gone almost unstudied," said Mohammad Howard-Azzeh, lead author of the study.

Smaller dogs, higher risk

The research showed some dogs appear to be at higher risk of opioid poisoning. 

Calls were more likely to come from American counties where opioids were prescribed more often, said Howard-Azzeh. 

He said calls about younger, smaller and unneutered animals were also more common. 

The reasons for that aren't entirely clear, he said, but they could indicate that symptoms of poisoning are more obvious in smaller dogs, or that the dogs are handled differently and tend to end up closer to their owner's medication.

Meanwhile, neutered dogs may experience behavioural changes that leave them less susceptible to accidental poisoning, said Howard-Azzeh. And there could also be behavioural differences between pet owners who neuter and ones who don't. 

Mohammad Howard-Azzeh is the lead author of the study. (Julianne Hazelwood/CBC)

The study focused on the period between 2006 and 2014.

In that time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an increase in overdose deaths in humans, while the ASPCA numbers show calls about opioid poisoning in dogs declined. 

That could mirror a decrease in opioid prescription rates, said Howard-Azzeh, or perhaps it's because people were starting to understand the crisis better needed less information from the help line. 

Because the study was conducted with an American sample, he said, more data is needed to determine the situation in Canada. 

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