Stoned dogs and rolling cats: On illegal drug poisoning in pets
Posted Feb 17 2010 10:00pm
Illegal drug poisoning in pets is more common than you think. While most pets won’t consume alcohol in sufficient quantities for intoxication (not willingly, anyway), other mind-altering drugs don’t provide the same degree of safety.
Marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine, crystal meth. They’re all common culprits in emergency pet medicine. In fact, veterinary communities in certain geographic locales are becoming increasingly alarmed over the rising tide of marijuana toxicity now that its semi-legality has become both more widespread and well-established.
Which is why vets like me are calling for owners to curb any sloppy drug use. In other words, we say, if you plan to partake, don’t leave your stash on the coffee table after you pass out. Don’t expect that your crippy won’t get nosed around (pets seem to think it smells really, really good). And (here’s the point that galls veterinarians most) don’t then lie when you bring your stoned pet in on emergency.
Yes, it’s true: We can’t always get our clients to cop to the source of the poison. Fear of legal action is typical, even for casual users, and full-on paranoia isn’t exactly beyond the heavy-duty drug set.
In my personal experience I’ve treated lots pets for the ingestion of many different illegal drugs (I practiced on South Beach for several years, if that explains anything) and so far never has the intake resulted in a death––not on my watch––but only by virtue of luck and probably because most illegal drugs in my area come in small, neat, evening-sized packages. It’s the one tdrug-toxicity benefit of working as a vet in party central, USA.
Marijuana is the most common drug in these scenarios, perhaps because this one is often present in a home environment in larger quantities than most––or because of its inviting, herbal aroma and its use in scrumptious baked goods.
Cats love to roll in the buds. Dogs will consume huge quantities of magic muffins. And the owners? Well, it’s no wonder they often don’t notice the dwindled stash. And when finally they get around to recognizing Fluffy’s odd behavior, some owners are still confused to put two and two together––not at the time, anyway
Of course the stickiest part of diagnosing this condition goes back to getting owners to fess up to their potential possession of illegal drugs. I typically convince them by explaining that I’m no officer and no judge. Moreover, I have no responsibility to anyone in this situation except to Fluffy. “So help me get her well, OK?”
This usually works. Alternatively, an OTC drug testing kit does wonders when what’s critical is getting the whole story by any means necessary.
Incidentally, this is how I discovered the “rolling” kitten. Her pupils were widely dilated and she looked...well...like a cat on a bad acid trip. This time her owners were quite aware of the drug she’d taken. Waking up after a night of wild partying, they’d found her playing with a half-chewed ecstasy pill on the floor. Fluids and activated charcoal were the only ministrations required to bring her back to normalcy...though it took almost a whole 24 hours, as I recall.
A more serious case was that of the Yorkie who had been found sniffing a plate left on the sofa. It had contained “one to two lines of cocaine.”
OK so how much is that?
“Um, just some small bumps.”
The young, five-pound dog ended up on a continuous EKG with IV fluids and several doses of a cardiac drug to bring down her racing heart rate. She stayed with us a couple of days and went home only after I assured the owner’s friend that no police would be here to meet them at the door. Your dog is fine now. I hope this is some sort of a wake-up call for you. (It certainly was for the Yorkie.)
But I’ve gotten lots of flak in the past for my don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy with respect to the pets of drug users. After all, detractors of my approach argue, these are bad pet owners and bad home environments. They don’t deserve to have pets.
I’ll agree with this: Drug use is one thing. It’s quite another to subject your pet to toxins through the carelessness that sometimes attends drug-addled behavior. Yet with so few alternatives for care of these at-risk pets, I have to use what few tools I have: my persuasiveness, my charm, and my veterinary skills. To call the police is to invite a diminished (or non-existent) level of care for these pets.
In these cases, I believe vets have to leave any personal judgment of drug users at home. The best we can do is point out the obvious: “Your pet is suffering because of your neglect.” That’s when most people get the picture. If the guilt doesn’t do the trick, the $1,500 bill for a nickel bag of pot usually manages to convince quite nicely.