As cannabis restrictions ease across North America, more dogs are accidentally consuming products containing THC.
This is according to a new University of Guelph (U of G) study. Using data extracted over a five-year period from the Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), researchers found a significant increase in reports of cannabis poisoning in canines, especially in areas that had legalized the product.
While based on U.S. data, concerns are similar in Canada, the researchers say.
“We found in the data there was an association between a reduction in penalties for cannabis use and possession and dogs being poisoned with cannabinoids,” says lead author and PhD candidate Mohammad Howard-Azzeh. “There is some evidence to suggest these poisoning events are increasing in the U.S.”
Howard-Azzeh, who worked on the study with David Pearl, B.Sc., M.Sc., DVM, PhD, a professor in the Ontario Veterinary College’s (OVC’s) department of population medicine, examined factors that differed between cannabinoid and non-cannabinoid calls to the APCC using data collected from 2009 to 2014.
Howard-Azzeh says loosening restrictions tend to result in increased cannabis use among people, allowing dogs increased access to products like cookies, cakes, and candies containing THC, the major active ingredient in recreational cannabinoid products,
“Dogs are not very discriminating in what they eat and are known to snatch food from kitchen counters and bedside tables, as well as eat things off the floor or ground,” he says. “Those eating habits appear to extend to cannabis products.”
Toxicosis from THC is rarely fatal, but dogs may experience disorientation, vomiting, incontinence, irregular heart rates, hyperexcitability, hyperthermia, vocalizations, and seizures, U of G reports.
“With less stigma surrounding cannabis use and no penalties for using it in states where it’s legal, people will have less fear about calling to report that their dog has been poisoned,” Howard-Azzeh says. “That may explain in part the sharp increase in reported cases of poisoning in dogs in recent years.”
Researchers say the study may help spur public awareness campaigns to prevent THC poisonings in pets.
“We hope this study spreads awareness of the potentially harmful effect cannabis may have on dogs and highlights the need for people to better safeguard these types of products from vulnerable populations,” Howard-Azzeh says.
“There is an education message in this in that, just like children, pets can accidentally ingest these products,” Dr. Pearl adds.
The research, which was supported by a grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), has been published in PLOS Global Public Health.
For more on the study, click here.