FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, veterinarians have seen an uptick in dogs treated for marijuana toxicity.
Hundreds of dogs have been treated at Fort Collins animal hospitals in the last year. Veterinarians at Fort Collins Veterinary Emergency and Rehabilitation Hospital said they see between 5 and 10 cases each week.
Recreational marijuana went on sale in Colorado in 2014.
One morning in January, a Colorado woman found that her dog had lost his personality.
Finn, 4, a normally energetic and friendly boxer/blue heeler mix, was stiff and unresponsive. His jaw was locked. His brown eyes, barely open, couldn’t register his owner’s panicked face.
He was high. But Candace Braden didn’t know that yet.
“I was pretty much having a nervous breakdown,” said Braden. “It’s really scary to see your baby like that.”
Research backs up the numbers: A 2012 study involving Colorado State University researchers found that marijuana toxicity cases in dogs increased as the number of medical marijuana licenses increased in Colorado.
Marijuana is toxic for dogs and can be fatal in large doses. Some pet owners use marijuana to treat their dogs for pain or other ailments, and researchers continue to study the use of medical marijuana for pets. But “there’s never really a good dose range to treat a dog with pot,” said Dr. Robin Van Metre, an emergency veterinarian at the Fort Collins Veterinary Emergency and Rehabilitation Hospital.
Twenty-nine states permit the use of marijuana to treat certain human medical conditions, including cancer and HIV, and eight permit it for recreational use, as does the District of Columbia.
Dogs metabolize marijuana differently from humans, and the impacts of consumption play out differently on their smaller frames. The lethargy and fogginess that might make a pot brownie fun for a human can render a dog incapable of basic functions. In rare cases, which Van Metre has seen two or three times in about 15 years, a dog can undergo gradual paralysis and die.
Most of the cases Van Metre sees at the animal hospital involve a dog that got into a marijuana edible by accident. Affected dogs are usually jumpy, trembling, fearful and incontinent, she said.
That was the case for Braden’s dog, who was dribbling urine as Braden and her roommates carried him to the car. On the ride to the Fort Collins emergency animal hospital, he was twitchy and began to seize.
As Finn underwent tests to determine what had poisoned him — the symptoms of marijuana toxicity are similar to those of a dog that’s ingested more dangerous substances such as antifreeze or arsenic — Braden pieced together what had happened the night before.
She’d brought Finn to a house party where some of her friends had been eating marijuana cookies. One friend tucked a cookie in their pocket, and Finn found it.
Veterinarians gave Finn charcoal to induce vomiting and put him on an IV for hydration. Because his case was more severe, they also gave him intralipids through an IV. Fat molecules absorb marijuana in the bloodstream.
Braden took a sleepy and quiet Finn home after more than 12 hours of care that cost more than $1,000.
That’s a pretty typical bill for a more severe case of marijuana toxicity, Van Metre said. In less severe cases, a dog might only need charcoal, which costs about $200 to $300.
If you think your dog ingested marijuana, Van Metre recommends taking him to the animal hospital as soon as possible. Don’t worry about getting in trouble.
“There are some outs you can give people, like, ‘Is there a chance he got into something on a walk, or do your roommates keep it around the house?’ ” she said. “Certainly we’d never try to prosecute anyone over it.”
If you keep marijuana — especially edibles — in your home, store them in a place you know your dog can’t reach. And keep an eye on your pets, Braden said.
About six weeks removed from the ordeal, Finn is back to his happy-go-lucky self with no lasting effects. Not so for Braden.
“I’m so overprotective,” she said, sitting on a bench at a park as Finn sniffed at the grass beside her. “Every time I see him lying there and being quiet, I’m like, ‘What’s wrong? Is something happening?’ ”
But she’s taking Finn’s close call as an opportunity to raise awareness about marijuana toxicity in dogs, which she’d never heard of before this happened.
“Pot’s not going anywhere, so I think it’s good to have this conversation now,” she said. “Our dogs are our family in this community. It’s important to keep them safe.”
Contributing: Trevor Hughes, USA TODAY.