Published in the July 20 – Aug. 2, 2016 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Dr. Jeanne Haggerty-Arcay

Dr. Jeanne Haggerty-Arcay

Dr. Jeanne Haggerty-Arcay

Inadvertent ingestion of prescription, non-prescription and recreational drugs has always been an issue in pets (dogs in particular).
We have always seen the occasional dog that has snatched up a dropped prescription pill of the floor or eaten a bottle of medicine that sounds like a toy when it’s shaken around. But we seem to have an increase in the number of dogs that have ingested marijuana.

As the nation ponders legalization of marijuana and it becomes more widely used for medicinal purposes, it is becoming a more common household item. Like any medication, the fact that it can affect our bodies in some way means that it may also have the potential to be dangerous.

A medication works by acting on certain receptors in the body and in turn has the result that is desired. But in excess, that result may either be exaggerated to a dangerous level or it may affect other systems in a negative way.

Marijuana toxicity in dogs is often unrecognized initially. They typically present because they are “very sleepy and don’t want to move much.” In reality, they are “high,” but have likely ingested far more than what a person would intentionally ingest. They don’t want to eat … because they are too high to know they should eat so in turn some become dehydrated and possibly hypoglycemic (low blood sugar). Most are not vomiting nor do they have diarrhea unless they ingested a large amount of chocolate in the process of eating the marijuana. One common finding in these dogs is that they often dribble urine.

Treatment for marijuana ingestion consists of supportive care to help maintain hydration, temperature and electrolyte balance while they recover. This type of supportive care allows their system to metabolize the drug much faster.

Although the treatment is relatively straightforward in most cases, the diagnosis can be challenging as many people do not want to admit that their dog may have eaten marijuana. This delays the treatment process and sometimes adds more cost in unnecessary testing. A urine test can be performed to check for the presence of marijuana and other drugs in the dog’s system. It is also common for us to see a denial in the fact that a teenager or other household person may be unknowingly using marijuana.

As marijuana becomes more commonplace, we all need to keep in mind that it still has the properties of a drug and should be treated with the same precautions. Marijuana needs to be treated and stored like any other prescription drug.

We have all been trained to use child-proof containers for drugs, yet marijuana is often stored in plastic baggies.


Would you store your prescription pain medication in a plastic baggie in your backpack? People mix the marijuana with chocolate, brownies and other food items which make it irresistible for pets and children.

Careful storage of both raw product as well as baked goods should be instituted.

If you suspect that your dog may have ingested marijuana, be up front with your veterinarian to ensure a quick and accurate diagnosis so that treatment can be started as soon as possible.

Dr. Jeanne Haggerty-Arcay received her undergraduate degrees in biology, biochemistry and Spanish from the College of Notre Dame, Belmont. She graduated from U.C. Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. She enjoys spending time with her husband and three young children.