Number of pets exposed to cannabis on rise: Vet association

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New data suggest pet poisonings from cannabis are on the rise, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association says.

The Pet Poison Helpline, a U.S.-based animal poison control centre that also serves Canadian pet owners and veterinarians, tracked 179 cases of pets being exposed to cannabis in Canada between the start of 2016 and June 30, 2019.

More than 90 per cent of those cases involved dogs, and no fatalities were recorded.

"Sixty-four instances were reported throughout 2018, whereas there were 54 reports during the first seven months of 2019 — suggesting 2019 will show a significant increase from the previous year," the CVMA said Thursday in a news release, noting not all cannabis exposures involving pets is reported.

Dr. Jonas Watson, local vet and president of the Manitoba Veterinary Medical Association, with Lou the golden retriever, says although there is a danger of accidental overdoses of cannabis with pets, there is also potential for therapeutic use.

"Although these statistics... are significant, in actuality, the number of accidental cannabis ingestions is, in fact, much higher," the professional association for Canadian animal doctors said.

Manitoba Veterinary Medical Association president Jonas Watson said he sees some cases of cannabis intoxication at the Tuxedo Animal Hospital where he works, but suspects more cases end up at emergency veterinary hospitals.


"Marijuana usage by people is by no means something new, and so over the course of years, veterinarians are quite accustomed to seeing and treating marijuana toxicity in dogs," said the Winnipeg veterinarian. "The clinical signs can be quite dramatic, but the vast majority of the time these patients respond very favourably to treatment."

Watson said a typical dog suffering from cannabis exposure presents with symptoms such as a lack of co-ordination, disorientation, urinary incontinence, and possibly an upset stomach.

"Marijuana usage by people is by no means something new, and so over the course of years, veterinarians are quite accustomed to seeing and treating marijuana toxicity in dogs."– Manitoba Veterinary Medical Association president Jonas Watson


Speaking on behalf of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, veterinarian Ian Sandler said animal doctors across Canada have observed an increase in the number of pets exposed to cannabis, in both rural and urban areas.

Some of those cases are accidental, he said, but others are intentional exposures by pet owners trying to cure what ails their animal friend.

"We're seeing people trying to use cannabis in a therapeutic way, with, unfortunately, not a lot of guidance," said Sandler, chief executive officer of pet health product company Grey Wolf Animal Health.

Legally produced, government-regulated cannabis-infused food should be available for purchase in Canada as early as December.

"The big issues with those types of products for pets is that, quite frankly, the carrier, which could be something like dark chocolate, is actually more toxic than the THC within the product itself," said Sandler.

Another type of accidental cannabis ingestion can take place during walks.

"Like a lot of smokers that may flick their cigarette butts, people may throw out half-finished cannabis joints. So dogs may be ingesting small amounts of cannabis with fairly high THC," he said.

Jonas Watson of Tuxedo Animal Hospital in Winnipeg agreed, saying he's seen cases where a dog become intoxicated after eating the butt of a joint.

"The truth is, though, in the interests of not creating too much fear about going on dog walks... most of these ingestions, I suspect, are happening in the home," Watson said.

"Any cannabis that is intended for people needs to be stored very carefully in homes that contain pets. Pet owners would be wise to do everything possible to keep cannabis and other medications away from dogs and cats."

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