What to do if Rover eats your cannabis

A London veterinarian says she’s seen a sharp increase in the number of dogs that have developed health issues after consuming cannabis and cannabis products in and around their owner’s homes.

Veterinarian Sabrina Illipoulous says she’s seeing a lot more dogs that have ingested pot

Veterinarian Dr. Sabrina-Illiopoulos says a dog that has ingested cannabis will appear to stagger like a drunk, and in some severe cases, they can go into a coma. (Rebecca Zandbergen/CBC News)

A London veterinarian says she's seen a sharp increase in the number of dogs that have developed health issues after consuming cannabis and cannabis products in and around their owner's homes.

Dr. Sabrina Iliopoulos, an ER veterinarian at London Regional Veterinary Emergency and Referral Hospital, will be speaking Sunday about the problem at the Bark in the Park Festival.

She recently discussed the issue with Rebecca Zandbergen, the host of CBC's London Morning.

How many cases are you seeing in a week?

It's variable but over five a week are coming into the hospital.

What happens to a dog if it consumes cannabis?

It depends. In its mildest form, they're going to seem a little off to you. They're going to be walking kind of like they're drunk.  They're going to seem out of it, maybe more reactive when you move toward them. And in more severe forms, they're really off. They may not be able to get up. They may seem heavily sedated and [when] more serious than that, they can go into a coma.

Do you think you've been seeing more of these cases since cannabis was legalized?

I would say subjectively, yes. I also think possibly people are being a bit more open about the fact that may be their dog's clinical signs are due to getting into a marijuana product, whereas before they may not have shared that information.

How much does a dog have to eat before you would see these signs?

It's very variable. With the new edible products, they don't have to eat a whole lot because they're more potent and they taste good, so they're more likely to eat it. But they're highly sensitive to THC, so they don't have to eat a lot at all.

If a pet owner has a dog that's displaying these symptoms, should they go to the vet right away?

I would say, yes. In its mildest form, if you bring your pet into us, we may say take them home and monitor [them]. But it can alter their heart rate and body temperature. And if that happens, some of these patients do need to be admitted to hospital, just for some supportive care and IV fluids and monitoring of vitals. Overall, the prognosis is typically good, even in dogs that are severely affected. But some of them do require in-hospital therapy.

What is the treatment?

It depends on how affected they are. Depending on when they got into it, we may induce vomiting, we may administer a substance called activated charcoal, which will bind any residual toxin in the gut and prevent it being absorbed by the bloodstream. We may admit and place them on IV fluids or give them fluids under their skin to go home. And in severe cases, we may use something called intralipid therapy, but that's pretty uncommon.It's a substance that just helps get rid of the THC from the body.

If a very small dog eats a lot, is that a worst-case scenario?

Typically, yes. There is a dose dependency but we don't really know the quantities and the amounts, and knowing how much is in various products is so difficult that rarely are we making decisions based on how much the dog ate; we're making it based on how they're presenting.

Is it helpful for you to know immediately that cannabis was consumed, or can you can surmise what is happening based on the dog?

It's definitely better if owners are up front, because if their dog is presenting with signs of marijuana toxicity and it's not that, the other possibilities are pretty significant neurological problems that are far more severe. And if we don't know or have a good reason to think they got into pot products, we're going to be recommending a lot of tests that may or may not be necessary. But if it's truly a neurological problem, we have to look into that.

What will you be telling folks at Bark in the Park on Sunday?

Pot toxicity will be one of things I'll talk about it. I'm going to talk about a few other things that dogs get into. It's mainly awareness. Lock your stuff up if you have it. If you're smoking outside, don't leave remnants out there.  It's just a reminder that it's more significant than we think.

I know chocolate is a big one for dogs. What else is on your list?

Grapes and raisins are toxic to dogs, and that's one that not a lot of people know about it. It can cause kidney failure, so it's pretty significant. The other issue is sugar free gums that contain xylitol.  It can cause pretty significant clinical problems in dogs and can be life-threatening.  And just in general, some human medications that we commonly see owners giving to their pets, like Advil and Tylenol, which are highly toxic.  People are doing to help their pets when in pain, when really it's actually not a good idea to give those medications.


Q&A edited for length and clarity