PHOENIX - Dogs get into things, whether it be chewing up a shoe, digging through the trash or grabbing food off the table. Now some owners need to add marijuana edibles to the list of items to keep away from man's best friend.
With medical marijuana legal in Arizona, emergency rooms for pets are seeing more and more dogs that have eaten marijuana in brownies, cookies, oils and other forms.
"People come in and their dogs are lethargic, with their eyes rolling in the back of their heads, or they're unconscious," said Dr. Billy Griswold with Emergency Animal Clinic, which has five Valley locations.
Griswold said that over the past few years he has treated at least 24 dogs each month that have eaten marijuana. That coincides with Arizonans voting in 2010 to legalize medical marijuana, leading to more than 50,000 licensed patients.
Unlike their owners, dogs that get into marijuana edibles don't know they should consume an amount appropriate for their weight. That leads to unpredictable reactions ranging from depression, staggering and dilated pupils to vomiting, seizures, coma and, in rare cases, death.
"Marijuana is considered to be toxic, a poison to these dogs," Griswold said. "Owners have to be more careful and use common sense. Don't let your dogs eat those brownies."
Dr. Tim Hackett, director of Colorado State University's James Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital, said such cases are more common in places where marijuana is legal for medical use - 21 states and the District of Columbia - and in Colorado and Washington state, which have legalized recreational use. But it also occurs in states where any use of marijuana is illegal, he said.
"There's a significant correlation between the number of people using marijuana freely now and dogs being treated for a high," he said.
Hackett said that when dogs have access to a plate of marijuana brownies or other edibles, they eat all they can.
"Dogs gorge themselves," he said. "Consequentially they have more traumatic symptoms."
In those cases, veterinarians usually treat dogs by feeding them activated charcoals that absorb toxins, making them vomit and administering IV fluids to keep them hydrated.
Dr. Barry Kellogg, senior veterinary adviser for the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, said research is lacking on how marijuana affects animals versus humans. He said his organization is among those pressing the federal government to remove what he calls regulatory hurdles hampering clinical research on such effects.
"After that will we have a knowledge base so that all animals can be safe and even might benefit from its use," Kellogg said.
Until then, veterinarians must deal with uncertainties, including those that arise when owners are reluctant to say what's really ailing Fido.
Dr. Brian Serbin with Ingleside Animal Hospital in Phoenix said owners should never withhold from veterinarians that dogs have eaten marijuana.
"The veterinary community is not here to tattle on you," Serbin said. "Be honest with your doctor so we can fix your dog." Marijuana is toxic to dogs, cats and horses, leading to a condition referred to as marijuana toxicosis.
Symptoms include staggering, weakness, dilated pupils, show heart rate, vomiting, trouble urinating, depression, seizures, hyperthermia and, in rare cases, death.
Symptoms appear within 30-60 minutes after consumption and can last up to three days.
Source: ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center