June 20, 2019 12:57 PM ET
It all started on a Tuesday night, when I came home from work to an unmistakable absence. My brown-and-white pit bull mix, Maizey, wasn’t at the top of the stairs to greet me. Instead she was in her bed, shaky and confused.
When I tried to get her up, she stumbled, nearly falling over while standing still. Walking to the vet, she leaped like a puppy chasing imaginary balls.
Later, at the 24-hour veterinary clinic in San Francisco’s Mission District, the staff ran some tests and determined Maizey was in no immediate danger.
Instead, they wagered a guess that Maizey was simply high. On marijuana.
How are dogs getting high?
“Dogs will get into anything and everything,” says veterinarian Dorrie Black, of the veterinary clinic Animal Internal Medicine and Specialty Services.
Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia now have legalized pot in some form. And since Colorado ushered in recreational marijuana in 2014, nine more states and D.C. have followed. As weed has become easier for people to get, it has also become a hazard for dogs.
Black says dogs ingest marijuana by eating the remainder of a joint, or getting into someone’s edible marijuana, either at home, on the street or in parks.
Another unsavory source in San Francisco — and other cities with high numbers of people living on the streets — is human feces tainted with marijuana. This is, in fact, what we think happened to Maizey. She spent quite a bit of time in the park bushes the morning she got stoned.
“Dogs love that [poop] scent,” Black says. “To them it’s perfume.”
Black and other veterinarians believe this particular problem is becoming more common in the Bay Area, as the homeless population grows.
What does a high dog look like?
Veterinarian Benjamin A. Otten of allCREATURES veterinary clinic in El Cerrito, Calif., says he looks for these telltale symptoms when identifying “marijuana toxicity” in a dog:
- Wobbly movements, like a person who is drunk
- Dribbling urine
- A dazed or glazed look in the dog’s eyes
- Low temperature
Dogs exhibit these symptoms because THC — the psychoactive element of marijuana — is poisonous to them. Despite that, none of the vets interviewed for this story has seen an animal die from marijuana toxicity.
“There’s nothing about that actual drug itself that will kill them,” Black says. “It doesn’t cause any organ failure. It doesn’t cause liver failure [or] renal failure.”
What can happen, Black says, is that the drug can sedate a dog so fully that it will inhale its own vomit, which can be lethal. For that reason, Black cautions pet owners to play it safe.
“If you do not know the quantity that they got into, I’m always going to recommend that you go to your vet,” she says.