Drunk Dogs and Stoned Cats: Pets Under the Influence

You might think that just because you enjoy a cold beer, your favorite canine companion might, too. And, if you reside in a state where marijuana is now decriminalized, you might think it’s fine if Fluffy the cat shares a little second-hand smoke.

If either of these things have happened, your pet may show signs of being under the influence. But that “stoned” appearance or drunk stagger is no laughing matter.

The professionals at Pet Poison Helpline handle thousands of calls each year. Dr. Ahna Brutlag, associate director of veterinary services, said the majority of their calls involve pets who have ingested human medications (either prescription or over the counter.) However, “under the influence” calls are on the rise.

“We are definitely seeing an uptick in marijuana calls,” says Dr. Brutlag. “We’ve seen a 200 percent increase in the last couple of years.”

Pets may be inhaling smoke, or ingesting plant materials, such as marijuana buds, or marijuana-laced foods such as candies, pizza and even ice cream, notes Dr. Brutlag. Not only are people buying such items for their own consumption, but they are cooking with it as well. That can lead to either intentional or accidental ingestion by pets.

While debate continues about whether marijuana is safe for humans, there’s no doubt that too much is not good for our pets.

What people often find surprising, Dr. Brutlag notes, is foods or beverages that are perfectly fine for a human to consume can be deadly for our pets. For example, humans readily eat raisins and grapes or chew sugar-free gum with sweetened with xylitol. But those same treats can be life threatening to our pets.

“You just can’t make generalizations between species,” notes Dr. Brutlag. What’s safe for human consumption isn’t always safe for pets.

“Animals react much differently than people do,” she adds. “Relatively speaking, your pet is much smaller than you, so a bigger dose will hit them harder than it would for you.” (That concern can be even greater with puppies as well as animals that are aged, infirm or with debilitating diseases.)

Just how serious is a stoned or drunk pet? Serious enough that an owner needs to consider calling for help.

Dogs that have ingested marijuana can become so sedated or comatose that they may need IV fluids to keep their blood pressure up, drugs to keep their heart rate up, or even a ventilator to help with breathing.

Alcohol ingestion can come from surprising sources: not only stray beverages left out, but seasonal offerings like rum-soaked cakes, bread dough and even hand sanitizer.

Bread dough is double trouble.

“When yeast dough is consumed, the stomach acts as the perfect ‘proofing oven’ — it’s warm and dark and moist and the dough continues to rise, the yeast begins to ferment and that fermentation process results in alcohol poisoning,” said Dr. Brutlag. “Plus, you have that big, expanding foreign body in the stomach.” While an animal may retch or vomit in an attempt to rid itself of the mass, emergency surgery may be required.

Alcohol poisoning can lead to dangerous drops in blood sugar levels, blood pressure and body temperature and, in some extreme cases, seizures and respiratory failure.

Dr. Brutlag stresses that the faster an owner calls for help, the better chances the pet stands at recovery. Some emergency actions can be applied immediately at home.

“In general, the faster we act, the better off that pet is going to be,” said Dr. Brutlag. “Timing is the key element. If you catch it early, less expensive treatments may be needed.”

Not sure if your pet has been exposed to alcohol or marijuana? There are some clues.

For example, you may be able to smell alcohol on your dog’s breath or, like a human, he may show incoordination or an inability to walk in a straight line. Vomiting as well as neurologic depression or sedation are also clues.

Marijuana can exhibit several ways. In some cases, Dr. Brutlag says, an animal may look “stoned,” show incoordination or act depressed. Conversely, some animals may show extreme agitation. In dogs, sudden urinary incontinence occurs about half the time. “Incoordination, agitation and dribbling urine are the ‘trifecta’ that scream marijuana exposure,” notes Dr. Brutlag.

For the sake of your pets, fast action is key. Contact the Pet Poison Helpline or your own veterinarian if you suspect alcohol or marijuana exposure. While it may be safe for you to “party hearty” with these substances, both are dangerous and can be deadly for your cat or dog.

Editor’s note: The Pet Poison Helpline can be reached 24/7 at (800) 213-6680. There is a fee per poisoning incident, but the helpline does provide follow-up consultation with your veterinarian(s) and pet owners. The site also provides a comprehensive searchable poison list.

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