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Pet poisoning from marijuana on the rise, veterinarians say

Seth and Rita (WJLA)
Seth and Rita (WJLA)
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“Pets don’t get stoned, they get poisoned,” Dr. Mark Liberto said in his veterinary ER where he’d recently saved a dog who’d ingested marijuana.

Marijuana toxicity in pets seems to be increasing across the US. Vets say as the number of people using marijuana rises, so does the number of pets getting sick or dying from it.

"Why a dog wants to eat a bag of weed, who knows,” said Liberto. “But dogs will eat things out of the trash all the time.”

Or off the ground.

Seth Mersing, had just returned from a walk in a local park in Eastern Texas with his chihuahua, Rita. The dog could barely stand and Mersing says she was clearly disoriented.

“She was crying when I went to pick her up,” said Mersing, “and she didn’t recognize who I was. I was terrified. I thought she might die.”

Mersing rushed Rita to the vet and stayed by her side until she stabilized at 1 a.m. He went home and barely slept. “I was bawling on the couch,” said Mersing. “I needed to prepare myself if my dog won’t be here tomorrow.”

At 7 a.m. he got the call.

“They were like, ‘she's doing good, but she was positive for THC.’ My eyes widened," said Mersing.

The three and a half pound dog, poisoned by marijuana. Shocking news to 18-year-old Mersing, who lives at home and says his family is adamantly drug-free. He believes Rita picked up something containing marijuana while on her walk.

Turns out, marijuana poisoning in dogs is skyrocketing in some states, particularly those with more liberal laws.

Nationwide Insurance, the largest provider of medical benefits for pets, says that last year alone, of the nearly one-million dollars in plant-poisoning pet insurance claims, many were attributed to pot exposure.

In some clinics in states like Washington, Oregon and California veterinarians report seeing cases weekly. Even in states like Maryland, where it’s only legal for medical use, Liberto says pot poisoning is on the rise.

“We've definitely seen more incidences of dogs ingesting cannabis in various forms,” said Liberto. “Whether it's a cookie or a brownie or the actual plant itself that's dried out.”

A recent marijuana poisoning case landed a 12-pound chihuahua mix in Liberto’s ER. The dog was unable to walk and his temperature was dropping.

“We watched him for about four hours and over that period he got worse and worse and then we saw him start to tremor uncontrollably and that’s it. Then you have to start treatment.”

There's no antidote for marijuana poisoning, only supportive care. Liberto says it took about 36 hours for the dog to stabilize.

“Don't wait around to see what the effects are going to be,” said Liberto, “because if things start going south fast, then you need to intervene."

The effects of marijuana toxicity in dogs can be anything from vomiting and diarrhea, to death. Liberto says it’s impossible to know how your dog will react because the drug affects each individual differently. But he says no dog is able to process the drug’s psychotropic effects.

"The problem with a dog is when it's disoriented,” said Liberto, “they fight it. That's not their normal state of being so they tend to hurt themselves. They fall down a set of stairs, bump into all kinds of things, get trapped between things."

Or worse.

“Another incident comes to mind,” said Liberto, “the dog, being all disoriented, walked right into traffic and of course, was killed."

Vets even report some pet owners intentionally exposing their dogs to marijuana because they think it's funny.

It’s anything but to Mersing who nearly lost his best pal, Rita, and had a thousand dollars in vet bills to save her.

Mersing says he doesn't judge people who choose to use drugs, but he says don't leave them laying around or discard their remains where kids and pets can pick them up.

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If you suspect your pet has been poisoned by marijuana, Liberto says call your vet immediately.

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