Bubba, with his wide eyes and brown and (mostly) white fur, loves belly rubs, running, and playing—just like any other dog.
But on a recent spring day, pet intoxication threatened to cut the small Jack Russell terrier-Chihuahua mix’s life short, nearly robbing him of the joys of being a carefree canine.
In March 2016, Bubba, who was eight weeks old at the time, was found in the corner of a Tustin, Calif., motel room lethargic and barely moving. Police officers found him when they came to the motel to serve his owner, Joshua West, with an arrest warrant.
Animal control officers took Bubba into their custody and later ran tests on him. The results showed he had ingested heroin and methamphetamines, news reports say. West was arrested on animal cruelty and other charges, and authorities had accused him of purposely getting his dog high.
According to CBS Los Angeles, which reported the story, it is not clear how the drugs got into Bubba’s system, but Orange County animal care took him into custody right away for detox and other addiction treatment services for two months. He has since recovered from the ordeal and found a new home, and a fresh beginning, with a family that has adopted him. His new life has even come with a fellow canine buddy.
Tustin Police Lt. Robert Wright told CBS Los Angeles at the time that Bubba’s situation struck him “as pretty horrible.”
“This is the first time we’ve ever heard of someone reporting that an animal has been under the influence,” Wright said.
However, pet intoxication cases are on the rise, some animal care experts say, and the situation happens more often than one would expect.
Matthew Wheaton, a veterinarian at the Alicia Pet Care Center in Mission Viejo, Calif., told CBS Los Angeles that he has seen an increase in pet intoxication cases involving dogs that are high on illicit drugs, particularly opiates and marijuana, when they come into his office. Their owners, he said, use drugs.
“They’ll [the dogs] go really, really high, and then they’ll kind of have that crash. So there might have been a lot of neurologic stimulation going on with the dog that really was, at the end of the day, kind of short-circuiting things,” Wheaton said.
How Does Pet Intoxication Happen?
If you are a pet owner or have been around pets, you know four-legged creatures tend to go places they shouldn’t go and get into things they shouldn’t get into. It’s their nature to be curious and get out and explore their world, which is actually our world, and anything we are exposed to affects them, too.
Responsible pet owners take the time and care to protect their furry friends as much as possible from the dangers inside and outside the home. But sometimes, pets come across something that is harmful to them, perhaps a houseplant or a stray aspirin, and they’ll eat it, and get sick.
Some pet intoxication cases, however, aren’t an accident or just another incident involving a nosy cat or dog.
Some pet owners find it humorous to give a pet dog or cat a substance just to see what happens when it is under the influence of a substance, such as walking off balance, tripping over its own feet or acting out in a strange and unnatural way.
While some find it a laughing matter, such situations can turn serious, if not fatal, for the animal. How a substance affects an animal is much different from how it can affect a human being, and it doesn’t take a huge dosage of a substance for a pet to succumb to the effects of pet intoxication.
“What’s worrying to us is the severity of the cases now,” said Heidi Houchen, DVM, a veterinarian at Northwest Veterinary Specialists in Clackamas, Ore., to National Public Radio (NPR).
Houchen says that beyond the classic signs of pet intoxication, including red eyes, lack of coordination and urinating on themselves, animals that have ingested toxic substances can “progress through the sedate, learning, urine-dribbling stage to becoming completely comatose or absolutely rigid,” Houchen said.
“They can come in a panic, really sensitive to noise and touch. They can pass away,” she said.
In more extreme cases, animals can be injected with an illicit substance for more sinister purposes.
A Scottish animal charity revealed in 2012 that drug dealers in the country were injecting dogs with heroin to make the canines more aggressive. The animal rescue operation estimated that 40 percent, or 4 out of 10 dogs, it saw were hooked on the opioid.
Pet Intoxication Tied to Marijuana a Problem
Though Bubba’s case was extreme with him being high on meth and heroin, the most reported substance commonly found in pet intoxication cases involve marijuana.
Pet Poison Helpline (PPH), a 24-hour animal poison control center for pet owners and veterinarians dealing with a poisoned pet, says it receives more calls about marijuana than any other substance.
In 2013, it noted a 200 percent increase in the number of cases for pets that have ingested marijuana during a five-year period.
Ahna Brutlag, DVM, and a senior veterinary toxicologist with PPH told NPR in a September 2015 article that, “Over the past year alone, we’ve had double the marijuana exposures.”
Pets can be poisoned if they inhale the smoke of marijuana, which contains cannabinoids, or eat foods (edibles) that are made of or laced with illicit substances. These include brownies, cookies, butter or products made with hashish, PPH says. Edibles made with dark chocolate, which shouldn’t be given to dogs, and weed are a double dose of trouble for canines.
Robin Downing, DVM, a Colorado doctor of veterinary medicine who is also a certified pain and rehabilitation practitioner, told BuzzFeed in a 2014 article that the effect of weed depends on the animal’s body size and weight. The effects of marijuana experienced by dogs include lethargy, respiratory problems, decreased blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, uncoordinated movements, and poor bladder control.
Marijuana-related pet intoxication cases have been on the rise for a while now.
A study released in 2012 by the Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care documented a fourfold increase in the number of dogs treated for marijuana intoxication between the years of 2005 and 2010, an increase that followed the legalization of marijuana in Colorado.
Some animal care experts say they expect the number of pet intoxication cases to increase as more states legalize marijuana. If marijuana users who have pets are not careful about where they place their pot, the likelihood that a pet will get into their stash also rises, which means more animals will fall ill to pet intoxication.
Is Giving Pets Alcoholic Beverages OK?
While beer and wine are not illegal substances, filling Fido or Fluffy’s bowl with beer is not OK, and can lead to pet intoxication. On the website CanIGiveMyDog, beer consumption for canines is 100 percent discouraged.
“Canine consumption of beer can cause symptoms ranging from vomiting to brain damage and even death. No matter how much they beg, alcoholic beverages should be off limits for your dog.”
The site goes on to explain that a dog’s internal organs, including its kidneys and liver, cannot handle alcoholic beverages and that beer can damage them greatly if it is consumed over time. Alcohol poisoning can result from dogs drinking beer either by accident or on purpose, the site says, and it warns that changes in mood, confusion, loss of coordination when walking or standing, and hyperactivity are among the symptoms of the condition.
Timing Is Everything
Experts say some pet owners are reluctant to seek help for their animals because they fear being reported to authorities for having an illicit substance in their possession.
But timing can be everything, the difference between life and death, for a pet that has ingested a toxic substance, so it is best to get medical help for the animal as soon as possible.
Pet Poison Helpline says it is mainly concerned with the pet’s well-being and that its veterinary staff encourages pet owners to be truthful when communicating what the pet was exposed to at the time of poisoning.
In marijuana pet intoxication cases, Brutlag told NPR the stigma of having a pet high on pot is “being dissolved,” which could be life-saving news for pets who ingest the substance.
“People are just more forthcoming that their pet is getting into marijuana,” she said.
Being forthcoming has its advantages. Telling a licensed animal specialist the truth about what caused your pet’s intoxication can save you and your pet. And the veterinarian can save you some time and lower your vet bills since they won’t need to do expensive tests and costly treatments.
Time to Get Help?
Pets are precious to most owners though some animals, unfortunately, end up in the care of owners who demonstrate they do not have their best interests in mind or heart.
Please do not give your animal alcohol or drugs that are not intended for their consumption. Pet intoxication is a real matter, and the effects can be damaging if not deadly.
If you, or someone you know, has a pet who has had exposure to illegal substances, see your local veterinarian or call the Pet Poison Helpline at (855) 764-7661.
If you are a pet owner who is struggling with addiction or substance abuse, consider giving us a call at (844) 318-0072. Your battle with addiction is not yours alone. Pick up the phone today to talk to a Citrus Recovery specialist who can help you find a drug treatment program that can help you start a new life.