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Denver veterinarians warn that marijuana edibles pose dog poisoning risk

Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald says pot edibles pose danger to pets.
Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald says pot edibles pose danger to pets.
Kevin Fitzgerald

Colorado veterinarians say they are seeing a disturbing trend of dogs suffering from toxic poisoning since marijuana became legal in the state.

They first took note of the problem after medical marijuana was legalized in 2010. And while they say it is too soon to say the problem has worsened since recreational marijuana sales became legal On Jan. 1 of this year, they're taking pains to warn pet guardians of the dangers posed by edible marijuana products.

Edible products such as marijuana-laced brownies and cookies appeal to dogs, said Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald of Alameda East Veterinary Hospital in Denver. Most edibles are prepared like any other food, except that cannabis oil is added to the recipe. Though they contain high doses of the chief psychoactive substance tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, they often taste similar to any regular sweet treat.

"The problem is a person will have one brownie, but a dog gets up on the counter and eat the whole tray," said Fitzgerald.

With an average 45-50 pound dog, it also takes much longer for the pot to exit the system, said Fitzgerald. For a person that would probably be 24-26 hours, but in a dog it can be up to three or four days.

He said its mainly dogs that get into marijuana edibles. "Dogs have more of a sweet tooth," he explained. Eaten in high levels it can lead to seizure. At even higher levels, it can result in death.

Bri Pasko, a marketing specialist at VRCC Emergency Hospital in Englewood, said her clinic has seen an increase in dog poisoning cases sine recreational weed sales began this year. VRCC now gets 2 to 4 cases a week. She said 97 percent of those cases involve dogs. "They are so curious and have such strong noses," Pasko explained.

So far, her clinic has not had any poisoning deaths but there have been a couple of close calls, she said.

It's not just the active THC drug in baked goods that hurts animals. Pasko said that in high doses, everyday chocolate in brownies or cookies can also be dangerous and is generally toxic for dogs, particularly milk chocolate. Cannabis oil seeps into butter, Fitzgerald added.

The best way to avoid exposure is to hide the edibles from the pets in a very secure, air-tight place such as a cabinet, Fitzgerald said.

Dogs eating weed-laced edibles can suffer dilated eyes, hyper-salivation and appear to be drunk. A call to the vet or local poison center is recommended if you suspect your pet has eaten pot edibles.

“There’s no antidote for marijuana,” said Fitzgerald. "The only way we treat is just be supportive, we watch for seizure and measure body temp and then put them on fluids to try and expel it quicker."

Fitzgerald says the attractiveness of marijuana edibles - to children as well as pets - poses a public policy issue that is going to have to be addressed at some point. "Because of the potential for children to be intoxicated (they'll) have to take a good, long look at edibles," he said.

As for dogs, "Pot should never be kept in a dog environment. Don't leave it out."

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