A local pet owner is facing thousands of dollars in medical bills after her dog ingested what vets suspect was marijuana, a surprisingly regular occurrence in Whistler.
Hayley Ingman was walking her dog in the Creekside parkade on Dec. 22 when she noticed her Jack Russell terrier Ozzy eat something off the ground. It wasn't until the next morning that Ingman noticed Ozzy was suffering from several troubling symptoms.
"He was trying to stand but was swaying and then falling over. He had wet his bed twice. He was having these really quite violent shudders and twitching, and his body was all limp. He was really lethargic and didn't know what was going on," she said.
Ingman said tests at Coast Mountain Veterinary Services revealed Ozzy had a weak pulse, low temperature and plummeting glucose levels, consistent with marijuana.
"(The vet) said, 'This is classic marijuana and 95 per cent of cases we see like this, it's marijuana,'" Ingman said. "I had no idea."
Attending vet Dr. Christine Kirby was unavailable for comment by deadline.
Twelve-year-old Ozzy was placed on a glucose drip for several hours until his symptoms began to subside, Ingman said. But, days later, the twitches persisted and Ingman grew even more concerned. She took Ozzy to two more vets to be examined, who all confirmed the original suspicion that he had likely suffered marijuana poisoning. Ingman said she was urged to take Ozzy to Burnaby for an MRI, where vets located evidence of minor brain damage, although given his age, it could have been a pre-existing condition.
"They couldn't say it was from the toxin or not, but he was having the exact same symptoms as he was when he was under the toxin," she added.
Five-thousand dollars in vet bills later and Ingman said her dog's symptoms seem to have lessened, although the outlook for his long-term care remains unclear.
Dr. Loridawn Gordon of the Whistler Veterinary Clinic, who also examined Ozzy, said marijuana poisoning is "very common" in Whistler. "We see it quite regularly," she said. "I get a lot of calls; at least two or three times a month I would say."
Other recreational drugs also pose a threat to canines in Whistler, whether found naturally or in human feces, Gordon said.
"(Psychedelic) mushrooms are common. At certain times of year when they're growing, there's quite high exposure," she noted. "Definitely, (human) excrement is a huge factor as well."
In the U.S., vets have warned of the rise of marijuana intoxication in pets as more states move to legalize cannabis for recreational and medicinal use. The Oregonian reported that one Portland vet clinic had treated 65 pet patients for marijuana ingestion by July of last year, compared to only six cases in 2014.
An earlier study published in the Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care reiterated that trend, finding a "significant correlation" between the number of medical marijuana licenses issued between 2005 and 2010 and the number of dogs treated for marijuana toxicity at two Colorado clinics.
But some vets are also recognizing the benefits of using marijuana in controlled doses to treat certain conditions in dogs, Gordon said.
"There are a lot of benefits of marijuana, but typically they are specific (strains) that don't have THC (the psychoactive component in cannabis)," she said. "Lots of dogs have been using that for arthritis, end-of-life care, for pain management and anxiety."
Of course, accidental ingestion means there's no controlling the dose, increasing the risk to pets. If you believe your dog has consumed marijuana, Gordon said to induce vomiting immediately. If more than an hour has passed since ingestion, she recommended feeding your dog a small meal to help absorb the toxins. If symptoms persist, contact your veterinarian.