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Nova Scotia veterinarians report significant spike in cases of dogs consuming cannabis

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WATCH: Since the legalization of recreational cannabis two years ago, some Nova Scotia veterinarians say they’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of canine cannabis consumption cases at their hospitals. Elizabeth McSheffrey has the story. – Oct 28, 2020

In the two years since recreational cannabis was legalized in Canada, two Nova Scotia veterinarians say they’ve seen a dramatic spike in the number of animals they treat for cannabis consumption.

Dr. Candace Zwicker of the Central Nova Animal Hospital in Truro told Global News she treats one or two furry patients for ingestion each week — more than double the number she saw before the substance was legal.

Dr. Paige Marryatt, who works at the Harbour Cities Veterinary Hospital in Dartmouth, said she’s probably seen “triple” the number of cases, and they’re “more significant” in their severity.

Both agree the increase applies primarily to dogs, who are far less discriminatory than cats when it comes to what they put in their mouths.

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“When we see dogs getting into the edibles, we tend to see much more profound effects because they’re ingesting far more than they would have in the past,” Marryatt explained.

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“In the past, it tended to be a lot of times, a dog finding a roach that was leftover and eating the end of that marijuana cigarette or finding one outside, so much less of the toxicity effect.”

The concentration of THC in a product is what concerns veterinarians most. Oils, for example, can contain a concentration of up to 50 per cent. That can cause heart abnormalities, seizures and death in extreme circumstances.

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“It’s unfortunate for the pet because they don’t really understand what’s happening to them,” said Zwicker, listing disorientation, lethargy, vomiting, incontinence, depression, and vocalizations as among the symptoms of consumption.

Both vets recommended pet owners call their local animal hospital right away if they think their pet may have consumed cannabis. Accidents happen, they added, and veterinarians aren’t there to judge, they’re there to treat sick animals.

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“We can make the pet vomit any material that’s still remaining in their GI (gastrointestinal) track as well as give them charcoal to absorb anything they haven’t yet absorbed,” said Zwicker. “For more severe cases, we’ll often put them on IV fluids to help flush out any remaining toxins out as well.”

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Dr. Ian Sandler, CEO of Grey Wolf Animal Health a member of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association’s National Issues Committee, said the increase in pet cannabis consumption is a nationwide trend.

The evidence is anecdotal, he added, as there’s little data collection on the matter, but the spike has been “significant” since the normalization of both medical and recreational cannabis use.

“Vet emergency clinics aren’t keeping a database per say, but we are seeing some data being monitored by one of the poison control lines,” he explained. “Vets are getting pretty good shall we say at identifying these cases both on an emergency basis but also within their regular practices.”

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Sandler and his colleagues are advocating for veterinarians to be added to the list of medical professionals who can prescribe and dispense medical cannabis on a case-by-case basis. Cannabidiol (CBD) — an active ingredient in cannabis — can help reduce anxiety, seizures and pain from ailments like arthritis.

“In a case of arthritis, if the dog is really overweight, we need to deal with weight loss first, exercise and strengthening muscles. There are other therapies we can use as well,” he explained.

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“…But if you take an older dog with cancer for example, maybe they’re on a veterinary-labelled prescription drug, an off-label human drug as well as a compounded product. We’ve utilized all the tools in our tool chest — to be able to use a cannabis-based product, under the auspices of a veterinarian’s guidance with a patient-client relationship — is very, very key, in the same way it is for human practitioners.”

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All the veterinarians encouraged pet owners to securely store cannabis products in their homes, and when use them in public, dispose of them properly.