Pixie is a 5-year-old Yorkshire terrier. He has always been house-trained, with not a single accident. He even rings a bell hung from a back door to alert his family when it’s time to go out. So everyone was surprised when he was seen dribbling urine while walking past his family in the living room one evening.
His owners contacted me, and I saw Pixie a few days later. We did a quick in-home check of his urine for any infections, but the test seemed normal. Lab testing later confirmed he did not have an infection. I then inquired if there was any medication he might have gotten into, and they said he had not.
Yet, a week later, Pixie’s strange symptoms resumed, but this time he seemed uncoordinated and his owners noticed that his eyes “looked funny.”
An exam revealed that his pupils were dilated in the bright daylight, and his heart rate was a little low. He had eaten normally but was just not himself.
I asked, delicately, if there was any marijuana in the home, medical or otherwise. His owners insisted there was not, but both glared at their teenage son, prompting me to mention that I could easily test Pixie’s urine to quickly rule out whether he might have been exposed to it on, say, a walk.
Armed with that observation, I conducted a second urine test, which revealed that Pixie had been exposed to marijuana, and then hashish. Problem solved for Pixie, but not for the teenager in the home.
Marijuana contains cannabinoids and THC chemicals. Cannabidiol is the chemical valued more for its medicinal use. It has been found by some to help treat anxiety, increase appetite, decrease nausea, control seizures, and aid with sleep disorders.
The marijuana resulted in Pixie’s more severe clinical symptoms. Usually after marijuana is ingested, signs may be seen in 30 to 90 minutes, but effects can linger for several days, as it is stored in fat. Symptoms of ingestion include lack of coordination, listlessness or lethargy, dilated pupils, a slow heart rate, and, sometimes, urinary incontinence. In my experience, urine dribbling is the most common clue. Also, affected pets may appear drowsy and seem about to fall over, when they suddenly catch their balance, as if startled.
Urine tests are available in drugstores but require a large amount of urine and are not highly accurate. I should note that veterinarians are not legally obligated to report illegal drug possession to police.
Typically, treatment involves inducing vomiting within 30 minutes of ingestion. After that time, activated charcoal may be administered. In most cases, we also hydrate the patients and keep them warm. If the amount ingested is high enough, we monitor for loss of consciousness.
Pixie did well with some activated charcoal and fluids and was back to normal the following morning.
Dawn Filos is a veterinarian and owner of Bucks Mercer Mobile Vet, a house-call mobile practice in Bucks County and Mercer County. She blogs at www.askthepetvet.com, and can be contacted at Info@askthepetvet.com.