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Marijuana-eating dogs lead to costly Auburn-area veterinary clinic visits

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recorded more than 350 cases in 2011
By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Media Life columnist
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AUBURN CA - Cannabis-consuming canines are a disturbing and sometimes costly complication for Placer County residents who choose to use marijuana either as medicine or unlawfully.

And in some cases, dogs and their non-cannabis-using owners turn into the innocent victims.

Such was the case last Sunday, when Wiley, a Scotty owned by the family of Auburn’s Carolyn Metzker, was found in the snow and unable to walk.

Wiley had been allowed to ramble while family members winterized a Donner Lake cabin and was discovered in a hypothermic state with a low heart rate and body temperature after dropping to the ground, Metzker said.

A visit to a Truckee veterinary clinic resulted in an overnight stay and a diagnosis of probable pot poisoning.

Metzker said she doesn’t use marijuana and it remains a mystery as to how the 25-pound dog ingested the drug.

“We thought the dog was dying,” Metzker said. By Friday, Wiley was back to his normal perky self after an initial three recovery days where he appeared lethargic.

With no idea how the dog ingested the marijuana, Metzker said dog owners should be cautious about letting them ramble unleashed. The Truckee veterinarian said that the clinic there was averaging one marijuana ingestion emergency visit a week, she said.

“From our perspective, the best prevention is to put a dog on a leash,” Metzker said. “Spending $25 for a leash is better than an $800 veterinary bill.”

Cases of pot-munching dogs have been reported around the state by veterinarians who end up treating canines for ingesting both edible and leaf-based, smokeable marijuana.

In the Auburn area, Dr. Molly Dinucci of the North Fork Veterinary Clinic said she’s personally treated two dogs over the past few months that have ingested marijuana and ended up being brought into the office.

Both times, the dogs – a pit bull and a Chihuahua – were staggering and appeared to be “spacey.” In the two recent cases at North Fork, one dog ate cannabis laced food while the other ate leafy marijuana from a bag.

And both times, it was difficult for Dinucci to prod the owners into an admission that there was cannabis at their residence and there might be a connection.

“In one case, it helped to determine the cause when I knew that the dog’s name was ‘Doobie’ (a term for a marijuana cigarette),” Dinucci said. “People are concerned that we’ll turn them in for doing drugs. But we’re not concerned about that. We’re concerned about the dog.”

For Dinucci, connecting the presence of pot in a house with a dog’s symptoms not only provides a portal to a quicker diagnosis but also prevents the introduction of an expensive and time-consuming battery of tests and blood work to determine a cause.

Typically, if a dog has just recently ingested marijuana, inducing vomiting will be an important first step in the road to recovery. But if a longer time has passed, it means an overnight stay at the clinic and an IV tube to stabilize the condition.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reported fielding 361 calls in 2011 about animals eating pot and 96 percent were dogs.

Dinucci said tests and a stay overnight on fluids to flush out the system can cost about $350 to start, with the bill escalating if more time is spent at the clinic to stabilize a dog.

Larger dog breeds as well as puppies and cats can also ingest marijuana, with dangerous consequences.

“They can be very sneaky and often, the people have marijuana sitting out,” Dinucci said.