Residents of Colorado and Washington state aren't the only ones getting high on legal marijuana: So are their four-legged friends.
The states' decision to legalize recreational pot is driving an increase in the number of dogs scarfing down marijuana-infused cookies, brownies and butters. Unlike humans who can metabolize marijuana in a few hours, dogs feel the effects far longer. The sight of a glassy-eyed dog sprawled on the floor or stumbling around frightens pet owners, veterinarians say.
"We see dogs stoned out of their minds for days. They're a mess," said Tim Hackett, director of the Colorado State University veterinary teaching hospital. "The pot goes in cookies and butters. Dogs love that stuff, and they won't eat just one."
Three years ago, Hackett collaborated on a study tracking the rise of marijuana "intoxication" in dogs and found there was a strong correlation between pot availability and animal overdoses in Colorado after the state legalized medical marijuana in 2000. He and Animal Planet's Emergency VetsKevin Fitzgerald both say the state's decision to legalize recreational sales on Jan. 1, 2014, likely will drive a further increase.
Marijuana "edibles" such as cookies or candies are a popular alternative to smoking pot, in part because they're discreet and seen as healthier. But while pets generally won't eat marijuana plants, they're all-too-happy to eat baked goods if they aren't put away properly.
"We're seeing it a lot more since edibles came out — they don't eat bags of pot. It's the suckers, the brownies, the cookies," said Chynel Dobbs, 26, a veterinary technician with Animal Critical Care and Emergency Services in suburban Denver.
The marijuana itself isn't particularly harmful to dogs, Hackett said, but any dog that eats a pound of butter will get sick and could die. A stoned dog also can't vomit or breathe well, he said. His study found two dogs that died from eating large amounts of marijuana-infused butter.
"The dogs are terrified," said Fitzgerald, a practicing veterinarian at VCA Alameda East Veterinary Hospital in Denver for nearly 30 years. While dogs have long eaten both plain and spiked baked goods, he said the increasing availability of marijuana appears to be driving an increase in pot-poisoned pets. Fitzgerald conducted his own study in 2013 and saw the same increase as Hackett.
"It's so readily available... and dogs are gorgers," he said. "A person would eat one brownie. A dog will eat the entire tray. And therein lies the danger."
Treatment for stoned dogs can include an IV to replace lost fluids, Dobbs said. She said many owners deny there was pot in the house until veterinarians recommend a series of expensive tests to rule out more exotic causes. That's when they come clean, she said.
One January evening earlier this year, Ashley Korman's 13-year-old Lab mix started acting funny. "It looked like he was having a stroke. He was stumbling ... he couldn't walk . He fell over, his eyes were glazed," she said. "It was obviously a very frantic ride to the vet's."
The vet diagnosed Pugsley with marijuana poisoning despite Korman's insistence there was no way he could have gotten into a basement dresser, nosed under some clothes and removed a heavy-duty plastic bag containing marijuana-infused snack mix. But returning home, Korman found the bag beneath her bed. It was an expensive lesson: $3,000 for the emergency visit and tests. Korman now keeps marijuana products inside a lockbox, something she urges other pet owners and parents to do.
"I definitely learned my lesson with that," she says. "It was very scary. I thought I was losing him for sure."