Pet owner, vet warn of dog overdose risks after outdoor exposure to marijuana

A Winnipeg man is warning pet owners to be aware what their dogs pick up on the ground after his five-month-old puppy consumed some marijuana on a walk this weekend and overdosed — a problem his vet says is becoming all too common.

Dr. Karen Choptain says she's seen dog overdoses triple in the last month

Damir Stipanovic is warning pet owners to be careful what their dogs pick up after his five-month-old puppy Chandler ate some marijuana while on a walk in Assiniboine Park and overdosed. (Submitted by Damir Stipanovic)

A Winnipeg man is warning pet owners to be aware what their dogs pick up on the ground after his five-month-old puppy consumed some marijuana on a walk this weekend and overdosed — a problem his vet says is becoming all too common.

Damir Stipanovic was taking his poodle puppy Chandler out for a walk in Assiniboine Park last week when he thinks the dog picked up some weed, although he didn't know it at the time.

After the walk, Stipanovic says Chandler went down for a nap, like he normally does. 

"At this point, I didn't know there was anything wrong. He typically naps for about an hour-and-a-half after his walk in the afternoon and at this point he had been sleeping for about three hours," Stipanovic said.

But when he tried to get the dog to stand up, that's when he noticed something was very wrong.

"His feet were crossing, he was wobbling and he would fall on his face," he said.

Damir Stipanovic's dog Chandler is recovering after having overdosed on marijuana that he consumed while on a walk. (Submitted by Damir Stipanovic)

Stipanovic took his puppy to the Bridgwater Veterinary Hospital and Wellness Centre, where the vet examined Chandler and determined he had overdosed on marijuana.

They gave him charcoal to expel the drugs from the puppy's system and Stipanovic ended up leaving with a $500 bill. Luckily, Chandler is okay.

Some dogs overdosing despite no marijuana in household

Dr. Karen Choptain is a veterinarian at the hospital, and she says the problem of dog overdoses has become especially pronounced over the last month.

"We have been seeing a lot more cases of suspected marijuana ingestion over the past few weeks, and most of these dogs and puppies are coming from households where there isn't any in the household," she said.

In December, Choptain says she was seeing maybe one overdose every week, but now she's seeing three per week.

These exposures can lead to a number of different symptoms, including trouble walking, leaking urine and nausea, she said, but it depends on the size of the dog. 

Damir Stipanovic wants cannabis users to be more careful with their discarded joints after his puppy Chandler overdosed last week. (CBC News)

Sometimes exposure can have bigger impacts, though.

"We can get to the point where patients go unconscious, they start to seizure, they have heart abnormalities. It can potentially be quite serious," Choptain said.

Luckily, none of the dogs that have come into the hospital have died as a result, she says.

The veterinarian believes the higher number of pot exposures is linked to legalization and an increase of people going outside to break the pandemic isolation.

"With the warm weather, people getting outside, you just don't think that when you throw out the butt after you're smoking that it could be a problem. It's not something that's done maliciously, but it's certainly something that is happening," she said.

Stipanovic wants pet owners to be aware and for those who consume marijuana products to be more careful.

"People need to be educated and become aware that there are consequences to this and it's not only, you know, domesticated animals that could be ingesting it, it's also the wild animals that are out there," he said.

What to do if your pet is exposed to cannabis

Choptain says it's important for pet owners to watch their animals closely if they may have consumed cannabis products.

"One of your safest bets also would be to make them vomit. Call your veterinarian and see whether you could do that at home or whether they advised that you bring the pet in, if you start to see any of those signs. And I would seek veterinary advice right away," she said.

But there are also ways to prevent exposure.

"I would certainly ensure that your pet is on a leash, try and limit them from picking things up off the ground, teaching them the command 'leave,'" Choptain says.

"You can do that at home just with treats and rewards and just paying a little bit more attention when you're walking them."

With files from Meaghan Ketcheson