An adorable 11-month-old Pit Bull mix came to see me at the emergency hospital the other night. As she walked into the treatment area, I noticed that she was staggering and had a goose-stepping gait. She acted disoriented, and flinched in response to noises and movements. She intermittently trembled. Her eyes were bloodshot, and she had a tendency to stare into space. All of her vital signs were normal. I reached down to pet her, and she leaned into my leg, which is something that friendly dogs often do. Then she urinated on my shoe.
The dog looked stoned.
As I have mentioned before, dogs who consume marijuana almost always make complete recoveries. But marijuana intoxication can clinically mimic many other, more serious forms of poisoning. Early symptoms of snail bait or antifreeze ingestion can be indistinguishable from marijuana intoxication.
I went into the exam room where the dog’s owners were waiting for me. In the room was a couple with their three teenage daughters. I explained my assessment of the situation, and stated that I thought marijuana intoxication was the most likely diagnosis. The parents and two of the girls looked shocked. One of the girls, the oldest, looked guilty and nervous.
As I talked to the family, I learned that the dog had been chewing on a plastic bag with chocolate remnants in the living room before a trip to the dog park. Then, after an hour at the dog park, symptoms had developed.
The parents stated, emphatically, that there was no marijuana in the house. From where I was standing, it looked like they were wrong. It seemed to me that the chocolate remnants in the sandwich bag were probably the remains of some “special” brownies belonging to the oldest daughter.
I stated to the clients that if their dog had been exposed to marijuana they had little to fear. She would almost certainly make a complete recovery. However, if they were confident that marijuana exposure was not possible then I would need to hospitalize the dog for tests. Because, although the dog seemed stoned, I could not say with 100% certainty that she was. It was remotely possible that something more serious and potentially fatal had entered her system. Hospitalization, treatments, and testing would cost several hundred dollars.
I excused myself from the room to let the family talk it over. My hope was that the oldest daughter would fess up. But she didn’t. When I returned to the room the clients asked me to treat their dog. I had no choice.
My staff placed an intravenous catheter and we began to administer IV fluids. Comprehensive blood chemistry tests and a complete blood count were normal. An ethylene glycol (antifreeze) test was negative. A urinalysis performed on the sample that had soiled my shoe was normal.
The dog was hospitalized for observation. Only one test remained: a urine drug test. Dogs will falsely test negative for marijuana for several hours after they are exposed to it. The shoe sample couldn’t be used for a drug test. We would have to obtain another sample later.
As the night wore on, the dog’s symptoms slowly resolved. At five in the morning the dog provided a nurse with a urine sample during a walk. She tested negative for heroin, cocaine, amphetamine, and methamphetamine . . . and positive for marijuana.
When I advised the mother of the test results she couldn’t believe her ears. It did not occur to her, despite the chewed up baggie that was in her house, that the dog had gotten into her daughter’s stash. She intends to post fliers in the dog park warning other dog owners that the park may be contaminated with marijuana.
I didn’t argue with her. It’s not my job to get kids into trouble.