Last weekend, Lola Star’s dog Dazzle, a mini goldendoodle just shy of 2 years old, ate a joint she found on the ground in Staten Island. It wasn’t the first or even the 10th time the dog had done this, Ms. Star said with a prolonged sigh.
She had not seen it happen but there was a telltale sign. “I was taking her out of the car, and I saw her little head bobble,” Ms. Star, who lives in the Prospect Park South neighborhood of Brooklyn, said. “That’s when you know your dog is stoned.”
Her dog is not the only unwitting weed consumer. Now that marijuana is widely available in New York City — after the city legalized adult recreational use of the drug in 2021 and the first legal dispensary opened in December — veterinarians are saying they’ve recently noticed a steady increase in the number of cases of dogs accidentally eating cannabis. And pet owners say their dogs are running into more discarded cannabis on streets and sidewalks during walks.
Veterinarians who used to see a case once a month now say they see several a week. Though most dogs recover, the symptoms can be scary: Loss of balance and difficulty walking, nausea, sleepiness and even hallucinations. And some owners do not see right away when their dogs eat a small remnant of a joint while out on a walk.
Though dog owners are used to having to steer nosy pets away from trash, food and other dangers on the sidewalk, the weed is a new risk that’s suddenly everywhere, Ms. Star said. And so dogs like Dazzle get sick again and again.
“It’s always been a little bit of a problem, but as of late, we are seeing a rise in cases now that marijuana has been legalized here” in New York, said Dr. Gabrielle Fadl, director of primary care at Bond Vet, which has offices throughout the East Coast.
There are no precise figures about the number of dogs picking it up on the street, but the data show they are getting sick from weed more often in places where recreational use is legal.
The trend is not exclusive to New York City. In the past six years, there’s been a more than 400 percent increase in calls about marijuana poisoning to the Pet Poison Helpline, a 24-hour animal poison control center — with most reported in New York and California. Last year, the A.S.P.C.A.’s Animal Poison Control hotline fielded nearly 7,000 calls for marijuana toxicity, an 11 percent increase from the previous year.
Here’s what to do if it happens to your pet.
Call a veterinarian or poison help line.
Veterinarians said they had seen cases of pets eating marijuana in a variety of forms: flower, discarded joints, edibles and even vape cartridges.
The best protection is to train your dog to leave those items alone. When they do get into the substance, the first step is to reach out to a poison help line or call your veterinarian’s office, experts say. (The help lines charge between $85 and $95 for a consult.)
Let them know what happened, especially if the cannabis belongs to you. The details, such as the THC strength, could be helpful. It’s natural to feel afraid or even embarrassed, but don’t hold back the details, said Dr. Sarah Hoggan of VCA California Veterinary Specialists.
Loss of balance and dilated pupils can be symptoms.
There is no clear test made to confirm whether dogs are intoxicated, said Dr. Ryan Fortier, the medical director at All Ears in Downtown Brooklyn.
But there are some clear signs.
Dr. Fadl said that the behavior of a dog that has eaten cannabis can be “pretty alarming.” Generally the pet appears a “bit wobbly” and has difficulty balancing and walking, she said. They will likely also be pretty sleepy and dribble urine.
Their eyes will probably be dilated, Dr. Hoggan said. They might also be very startled or scared when touched, she added.
About an hour or two after ingestion, a dog’s vital signs — body temperature and heart rate — typically plummet, which can be dangerous, Dr. Fadl said.
Vets emphasized that timing is key. The sooner you take your dog to its veterinarian, the greater the chance of removing the toxin from its body through methods such as inducing vomiting or administering an enema.
Don’t worry: Most dogs recover.
The risks depend on the size of your dog and the amount of the drug it has consumed.
Dr. Fadl said that treatment for most cases typically included intravenous fluids and careful monitoring of vital signs.
“In general, the good news is most dogs that ingest marijuana will be OK with treatments and sometimes without,” Dr. Fadl said.
But for particularly large doses of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, — such as when a small dog consumes food or candy infused with it — there can be risks of heart arrhythmia or seizures, she said.
Dr. Hoggan said those dealing with pets that consumed THC should monitor them closely, keep them warm and place them away from other animals.
There’s a “low probability” of lasting neurological damage, she added.
Best practices for avoiding accidental high times.
Kimberlee Cruz, a dog trainer who also works as a vet assistant at the Veterinary Care Group in Brooklyn, said that reinforcing the “leave it” and “drop it” commands could help dogs prone to scavenging city streets or getting into trash in future weed encounters.
“If the dog likes eating things off the ground,” she said, she recommended “a short leash and being aware of your surroundings, making sure you know you’re not on your cellphone.”
She also said to place any marijuana products out of the reach of enterprising pets.
Lindsay Lamb, whose dogs Lulu and Murphy have both accidentally eaten joints while walking in her neighborhood of Prospect Park South, said she had started telling people the dangers of throwing their leftovers on the ground.
“I feel like people drop them thinking they’re organic,” Ms. Lamb, 35, said. “I tell them when it happens I have to take them to the emergency room.”
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