It was a reasonably quiet night in the emergency clinic, so I was able to hear the owners explain their circumstances to the veterinary technician who had greeted them in the lobby. They stated that both of their dogs had suddenly developed vertigo while out on a walk.
I was already suspicious that the dogs might have consumed or been exposed to something toxic. When one dog becomes dizzy, there are many possible explanations. When it happens to two dogs simultaneously, they probably got into something.
Shortly thereafter, both dogs were carried into the treatment area of the hospital. Neither could walk.
I examined Misty first. The two-year-old Boxer was markedly disoriented. She was able to stand, but with difficulty. She flexed her neck so that she looked fixedly upward toward the ceiling. While I was checking her out, she overreacted to noises and movements. She twitched whenever she was touched. Her gums were pink and moist, as they should be. When I pressed on them, they flashed white and then immediately returned to pink — which was normal. Her heart rate, respiratory rate, and temperature were normal. Her pulses were strong.
She looked stoned to me.
Marijuana ingestion among dogs is very common where I practice in northern California. I frequently see dogs who have consumed brownies or cookies containing marijuana. The proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries has led to an increasing variety of high-potency pot edibles — and a subsequent increase in canine exposure to them. However, marijuana doesn’t need to be baked into a brownie to be attractive to a dog. Some dogs will chow down baggies of buds that are left within reach. It has a strong odor, and dogs have strong noses. It’s not hard for them to find it, and they like to eat it.
Marijuana ingestion causes symptoms exactly like Misty’s. The good news is that I have never heard of a fatal case. The bad news: Stoned dogs are prone to bad trips, so they sometimes require sedation. And sometimes they get so stoned (after all, what self-respecting dog would admit to consuming just one brownie?) that they are incapable of eating, drinking, or walking — sometimes for days. Heavily intoxicated dogs require hospitalization and IV fluids until the symptoms wear off. Some vets report clinical benefits from lava lamps and Dark Side of the Moon.
Next I evaluated Carl, whose symptoms were similar to Misty’s. Ditto the staggering, ceiling-gazing, and hyperresponsiveness to stimuli. His gums also looked good, and his vital signs were all normal. But while I was evaluating his mouth, I made a significant discovery. There was a piece of plant matter stuck to the corner of his lips. It was a fragment of a marijuana leaf.
In veterinary school, I was advised repeatedly that a thorough physical examination of every patient is essential and beneficial. My professors hadn’t lied. Finding that marijuana fragment had confirmed the diagnosis. However, I now had a serious problem. I needed to talk to the dogs’ owners, but I couldn’t stop laughing.
After I finally and with a great deal of effort composed myself, I spoke with the owners and presented them with a gift. As is customary in veterinary medicine, whenever a vet removes something clinically relevant from a patient — such as a foxtail, an intestinal foreign body, or a fragment of marijuana — it is placed in a special-looking purpose-made Ziploc bag and given to the owners as a memento.
After a bit of discussion, the owners were very relieved. Both of their dogs would survive. However, next came the touchy subject of exactly where the dogs had found the marijuana in the first place.
I am not a law enforcement agent (not that law enforcement agents in northern California particularly care about marijuana), and it’s none of my business if people consume marijuana in their homes.
Therefore, when the owners told me that the dogs had consumed the marijuana at the neighbors’ house, I did not ask any further questions. The case was closed.
Photo credit: Cute Dog Pop Art courtesy of our friends at Shutterstock.