Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Marijuana Toxicity in Pets

By Dr. Beth Guerra

At the emergency clinic, we commonly treat pets that have gotten into household medications, even those considered to be hidden or out of reach. For example, we often see a range of medication ingestions, from vitamin supplements to heart medications.

However, in the last few months, we are seeing a greater number of pets who have gotten into owners medicinal or recreational marijuana. The active compound, THC, interacts with neurotransmitters in the brain and can cause a variety of symptoms. The amount of THC varies greatly (i.e., dried product vs. oil), as does a pet’s individual response to the drug. According to the ASPCA Poison Control Database, research has shown that ingestion of 3-9g/kg of body weight can cause symptoms. Death from ingestion can occur, but is rare. A majority of cases (97%) are dogs.

Pets that have ingested marijuana can exhibit a variety of symptoms. The most common are walking off balance (ataxia), not reacting normally, acting depressed, hypersalivating, and dribbling urine. Pets may also have dilated pupils, can seizure, and may have a fast heart rate. Occasionally, agitation may occur. If the product has been baked into goods containing chocolate, the pet must be monitored and treated for those symptoms as well. Treatment of marijuana toxicity is focused on decontamination and supportive care. Often, vomiting is induced, especially within several hours of suspected ingestion. Several doses of activated charcoal may be given to prevent further absorption from the GI tract. In severely affected animals (i.e., overly sedate), IV fluid support and hospitalization for monitoring may be recommended until the pet is more responsive. Symptoms usually resolve within 24 hours with no lasting effects.

Pet owners are often reluctant to admit that exposure to marijuana is a possibility. However, it is crucial to inform your veterinarian of any possible exposure to this or other drugs. We are not required to contact the authorities about drug ingestions and only use the information to best treat your pet. Signs of marijuana toxicity can be similar to other types of issues. If we don’t know about the exposure, we may need to run tests to rule out other diseases. If we know of the exposure, we can often provide supportive care and be fairly sure of a good outcome.

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year's Resolutions for Your Pet!

By Dr. Beth Guerra

With the New Year comes the inevitable resolutions. While you are making your own list, consider making one for your pet as well. Whether it’s as simple as learning to trim your pets nails, or focusing on finally getting that extra weight off your beloved companion, remember that you are your pet’s advocate and change starts with you.

Yearly physical exams are important for all pets. In the past, pets usually received a yearly physical when vaccines were due. Because vaccines are not needed as often (every three years is now recommended for adult animals), yearly physicals have sometimes been skipped. Even if your pet has never had an illness, these exams are important to establish a good health baseline and can also be crucial in detecting emerging disease. A thorough exam combined with an extensive history can often aid in disease prevention or help establish a diagnostic and treatment plan early in the progression of a disease. For example, if kidney disease is caught early, a simple diet change can often prolong life for many years.

Obesity has become a major problem in household pets. This may be due to inappropriate diet, lack of exercise, injury, or metabolic disease. If you notice your pet has packed on a few pounds, or seems lethargic, schedule an exam with your veterinarian to discuss weight loss. It may be as simple as reducing the amount of food, switching to a lower calorie/higher fiber or high protein diet, or increasing activity. It is also important for your pet to have an exam to make sure there isn’t another reason for the weight gain, such as hypothyroidism. Consistent weigh-ins with your vet can help chart progress and identify any setbacks.

Dental hygiene is also extremely important. Frequent dental cleanings are recommended for both cats and dogs. Some pet owners may be reluctant due to cost and the need for general anesthesia, but the benefits often outweigh the cost. Dental cleanings focus on removing the tartar visible on teeth and can improve the health of gingiva. Problems with teeth, such as erosions, fractures, or tooth root abscesses can be detected and treated appropriately. The mouth is examined for ulcers or masses that are often not observed by the owner. And, your pet will most likely have fresher breath!

For older pets on medications, a yearly exam is an important part of the monitoring process. Anti-inflammatories for arthritis, thyroid supplements, seizure medications, and insulin are some examples of medications that need to be closely monitored. Bloodwork, such as a complete blood count and serum chemistry, is often an integral part of the monitoring process and may be recommended yearly as well. This also helps to establish a baseline and can provide useful information for comparison if your pet becomes ill.

For 2012, take some time to establish goals for you and your pet. Prevention is the best medicine, and it may keep your pet from having to visit the emergency clinic!