Illegal drug intoxication is more common than you think. While most pets won’t consume alcohol (willingly) in sufficient quantities for intoxication, other mind-altering drugs don’t provide the same degree of safety. Some vets in Canada are now becoming increasingly alarmed about the rising tide of marijuana toxicity and are calling for owners to curb their sloppy drug use. In other words, if you must partake, don’t leave your stash of pot brownies on the coffee table after you pass out.
In my personal experience I have treated pets for the ingestion of many different illegal drugs. Never has the intake resulted in a death—on my watch—but only by virtue of luck and probably because most illegal drugs come in small, neat, evening-sized packages.
Marijuana is the most common drug intoxication, perhaps because this one is often present in a home environment in larger quantities than most—and 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—they’re too stoned. And when finally they get around to noticing that Fluffy`s on the floor drooling and urinating on herself, most owners are still confused to put two and two together.
When I worked at a South Beach ER, I saw several middle-of-the-night cases of marijuana intoxication. The owners, though stoned, always looked better than the obtunded pets they’d bring in—Fluffy had clearly partaken more than her fair share. Many times they’d have no idea what was happening to her—until I’d point out the obvious. An over-the-counter marijuana testing kit was usually more than enough to convince them. See how it turns this pretty shade of blue?
Of course the stickiest part of diagnosing this condition was that, on South Beach, I’d have to make sure it was merely marijuana and not some other illicit substance. Furthermore, most owners, understandably, did not want to fess up to their possession of illegal drugs. I’d always convince them by explaining that I played no role in law enforcement and that, even if an officer of the law walked in right now he’d have no evidence that Fluffy consumed your drugs or where she’d consumed them. This is all about Fluffy. Lets get her well, OK? (This always works.)
So this is how I discovered the rolling kitten. I assumed she had literally rolled in pot. Though her coat bore no evidence of it. Her pupils were hugely dilated and she looked like a cat on a catnip overdose.
This time her owners were quite aware of the drug she’d taken. They had found her playing with an ecstasy pill on the floor. Her saliva was all over it, they’d confessed. The owners had no idea how long she might have been that way. Fluids and activated charcoal were the only ministrations required to bring her back to normalcy within a few hours.
A more serious case, however, 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. How much, I asked? Um, small lines…? (That’s helpful.)
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.)
I told a police officer once about my don`t-ask-don`t-tell policy on these drug cases and he voiced his disagreement loud and clear. His contention: the pets are still in harm’s way, much like the children of drug users. No hospital would ever take my approach. Yep, I said. They’d run a tox screen and call HRS (children’s services). I have no such tools at my disposal. My job is just to get them well. Having Animal Control cart off these sick pets is no solution to the problem.
Illegal drug use is one thing. It’s quite another to subject your pet to them through the carelessness of drug-induced behavior. Yet with so few alternatives for care of these at-risk pets (and stat toxicology screens largely unavailable) 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 I can do is point out the obvious: your pet is suffering because of your neglect. Most people get the picture. If the guilt doesn’t do it, the $1500 bill for a nickel bag of pot usually suffices.