Dog suffered possible cannabis overdose, owner says

As cannabis is set to be legalized Wednesday, an Ottawa woman is warning people to be more aware of where they leave their drugs after her dog fell ill while on a walk.

Normally playful Annie couldn't stand, didn't notice her ear was in her water bowl

Margaret Gale-Rowe stands with her two-year-old golden retriever Annie on Oct. 14, 2018. Gale-Rowe says Annie may have inadvertently overdosed on cannabis after eating something off a lawn during a walk. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

As cannabis is set to be legalized Wednesday, an Ottawa woman is warning people to be more aware of where they leave their drugs after her dog fell ill after a recent walk.

Margaret Gale-Rowe and her husband took their two-year-old golden retriever Annie out for a late afternoon walk near their Manotick home on Sunday, Oct. 7.

At one point, Annie started sniffing the grass and ate something small, Gale-Rowe said, without either of them seeing what it was.

About an hour later, Gale-Rowe said, the normally boisterous and happy dog was unusually calm, lethargic and could barely sit up straight.

"She was swaying back and forth like she was going to fall over," said Gale-Rowe.

Even when Annie lay down, Gale-Rowe said, she didn't seem to notice her ear in the water bowl.

"It's just really distressing when you see a really beloved family pet, who relies on you, and she was obviously so confused," she said.

"It was really, really difficult for all of us."

Tarry substance

Annie got progressively worse and was taken to a veterinary hospital, Gale-Rowe said. She was told the symptoms appeared to be a classic example of a pet having ingested cannabis.

Annie was monitored and eventually recovered.

Normally a playful, active dog, Annie became lethargic and was unable to stand or sit properly after ingesting the substance. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

A few days later, Gale-Rowe's husband walked by where Annie had eaten something off the ground and found a tarry substance about the size of a marshmallow with plant material in it.

He then picked up the substance with a bag and handed it over to police for testing. The couple has since sent a letter to Mayor Jim Watson and their councillor Scott Moffatt, and have also been warning neighbours. 

Gale-Rowe wants people to be more aware of where they keep or discard their cannabis products. She also wants to make sure pet owners know cannabis poisoning is a real concern.

"I felt really guilty because I felt that I didn't keep a close enough watch on what [Annie] was doing — but I mean, she was right beside me on a short leash."​

Cannabis pet poisonings rising

Last week, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association issued an advisory to pet owners about what happens when their pet ingests cannabis.

The association said most common reactions include dilated pupils, fast or slow heart rates, wobbling or agitation and sleepiness. But seizures, comas and even death can occur in dogs that consume high amounts of the drug. 

The association also pointed out that Colorado had seen a four-fold increase in the number of dogs poisoned by cannabis since it was legalized there in 2014.

Danny Joffe, medical director of a Calgary animal hospital, says incidents of dogs suffering marijuana toxicity are on the rise in his city. (CBC)

"They don't need to ingest much of the edibles or much of the dry product at all in order for them to become affected by it," said Dr. Janice Huntingford, a veterinarian in southern Ontario who's also part of the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation.

She said dogs have more cannabinoid receptors than any other species on earth and are severely affected by cannabis — so much so that even second-hand smoke can be toxic.

Even before legalization, some hospitals are seeing a few cases each week of dogs who've overdosed, she said. 

Cats can also be affected by cannabis, Huntingford said, but they tend to be much pickier eaters.

As for Gale-Rowe, she's thankful Annie is back to her bouncy self but remains worried a similar incident could happen to her dog or someone else's.

"It could happen any time, anywhere, to anyone," she said.