Steamboat Springs It has been more than a week since Hailey ingested suspected marijuana, and she still has not returned to being her old self.
Before Nov. 25, the black border collie mix would greet her owner at the door and sleep next to her in bed. Hailey loved to go on walks and was full of energy. On Wednesday, she lacked any interest in her Milk-Bone, she was skittish and she would not come on command and preferred to be in the garage.
“It’s like all the world is a threat to her now,” said David DelliQuadri, who was walking Hailey through Stehley Park in downtown Steamboat Springs when the dog ate something that a veterinarian later determined most likely was laced with marijuana.
The extended side effects Hailey is experiencing after getting really stoned are not typical, but dogs ingesting marijuana and succumbing to marijuana toxicosis is not unusual in Steamboat Springs and throughout Colorado.
“We see at least three each month,” Pet Kare Clinic veterinarian Dr. Paige Lorimer said. “It’s more common now that it’s legal.”
There is research to back that up. A Colorado study published in 2012 in the Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care found a strong correlation between medical marijuana legalization and the number of cases of dogs being treated for marijuana ingestion.
“I’ve seen it kind of mushroom,” said Dr. Tim Hackett, one of the study’s authors.
The rise in the numbers has Hackett and other vets concerned. They said getting high is not an enjoyable experience for dogs, and it can be quite traumatic.
“It’s a really bad trip for dogs,” Lorimer said.
Dogs also can get really sick, and at least two dogs in Colorado died after eating food containing marijuana.
It did not take long for Hailey to start showing signs of marijuana toxicosis. Hailey belongs to Winnie DelliQuadri, and her dad, David DelliQuadri, takes her on walks daily. During the Monday walk, Hailey ate something — but it is not known what — near the bridge in the park.
“She started not moving the right way and looking at him like he had hurt her,” Winnie DelliQuadri said. “She ran into the bushes and wouldn’t come out.”
Hailey stopped eating, drinking and going to the bathroom and sat in the garage staring at the wall.
“Basically acting like something was very, very wrong,” DelliQuadri said.
Hailey was taken to Pet Kare Clinic the next day.
Lorimer said Hailey exhibited many of the signs they see in dogs who ate something and got high. A test revealed a “vague positive” for tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. That is marijuana’s mood-altering ingredient, but the test among veterinarians is not thought to be completely reliable in dogs. Other ailments were ruled out.
Aside from treating dogs who have ingested marijuana, Lorimer said her own dog Beets ingested pot three years ago while camping in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area.
“I thought he was dying,” Lorimer said. “They don’t like to feel weird. The feeling is scary to them. They have no idea where that came from.”
Lorimer said she would not have believed how her dog got sick unless she had witnessed it herself. Lorimer said Beets tested positive for THC and had gotten high by eating human feces. She said humans do not fully metabolize THC.
Lorimer has seen other strange cases. In one, it is thought a dog got high by licking its owner’s hands after the owner had handled pot.
“It really didn’t take much for the dog to show those clinical signs,” Lorimer said.
Lorimer said for a dog to get sick, it needs to ingest pot. She said they have not treated dogs who were exposed to pot by secondhand smoke. It is not enough to deliver a toxic dose, she said.
The fact is that dogs like pot, Lorimer said — not at all for its side effects but because of the taste in the raw form and the delicious sugary edibles that are made with it.
“Dog’s like it,” Lorimer said.
The problem is pets do not have the discipline to eat just one brownie or one dose, said Hackett, who, aside from co-authoring the study, is interim hospital director of Colorado State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
The edibles, made with butters, oils and other ingredients infused with marijuana, can be poisonous to dogs and their gastrointestinal tract, even without the pot.
"A dog eats a batch of brownies, there can be other issues that can be very serious,” Hackett said.
In the study that looked at 125 cases between January 2005 and October 2010, two dogs died after ingesting marijuana butter. Both dogs had been found passed out. One had eaten six chocolate chip cookies and died 40 hours later. The other consumed an 8-inch-square pan of brownies and died 14 hours later.
Hackett and Lorimer both said dog owners should seek immediate medical attention if their pet is sick. Hackett said dogs that have consumed antifreeze have similar symptoms to dogs that consume marijuana. Unlike pot, antifreeze can be very fatal.
“If you’re in doubt and the dog is stumbling around drunk, it’s important you don’t assume it’s something benign like pot,” Hackett said.
Concerns for the future
With retail shops expected to begin selling pot for recreational use Jan. 1, Hackett and Lorimer think the cases of dogs accidentally consuming pot only will continue to increase.
“I absolutely expect it to increase,” Hackett said.
The study Hackett worked on found the incidents of marijuana toxicosis increased fourfold at two Colorado veterinary hospitals during the course of the five-year study. The researchers found a strong correlation between the increase in medical marijuana licensed users and the number of illnesses. The study states that in 2005, there were 730 registered medical marijuana cardholders in Colorado. By September 2010, there were 106,653 cardholders.
While exposing children to marijuana is an often-publicized concern, the vets who have treated dogs after ingesting marijuana encourage dog owners to be careful.
“Keep the stuff high up and out of the way,” Hackett said.
DelliQuadri thinks it is ridiculous that her dog got sick by eating something at a park.
“Keep it in your house,” she said. “Don’t be dropping it in a park.”
DelliQuadri’s dog continues to recover.
“I’m hoping that she fully recovers and gets back to being herself, but it’s been a while,” DelliQuadri said.
While dogs are supposed to fully recover after eating large amounts of pot, Lorimer is not surprised Hailey still is experiencing problems. Border collies are known for being smart, Lorimer said, and Hailey still might be perplexed by what happened and trying to figure it out.
“Imagine not knowing you were going to get high and then having that feeling and not knowing where it came from.”
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland
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