Krysta Wilson realized something was wrong when, 20 minutes into a walk in Lacombe Park, her seven-month old miniature poodle-Yorkie cross Pepper's energy level plummeted.
The duo had just walked through Bertha Kennedy Catholic School’s grassy field.
“She picked up what I thought was a cigarette butt. But I couldn’t get it out of her mouth. It must have been in her mouth all of 10 seconds,” said Wilson, assistant principal at Elmer S. Gish School.
In less than an hour, Pepper exhibited symptoms of neurological intoxication common after pets ingest cannabis containing THC, a psychoactive compound that produces a high.
“She just lay down and couldn’t pick her head up. She couldn’t hold her bladder and she was wobbly. She went outside to pee and collapsed.”
After a few quick phone calls to local vets, Wilson rushed Pepper to VCA North Central Animal Hospital on 97 St. in Edmonton. Staff confirmed Pepper may have swallowed cannabis and was suffering from symptoms of cannabis poisoning.
Since Pepper was dehydrated from incontinence, staff immediately attached an IV and gave her charcoal to soak up stomach contents and induce vomiting.
“The hardest thing for me was feeling the lack of control and fearfulness of what might happen to her. I took her on a walk and I couldn’t protect her. I grew up in St. Albert and we bought a house here. It was always so safe and now I’m scared to take her for a walk," Wilson said.
Several months ago, Wilson’s colleague, Chelsea Mitchell, a Grade 2 teacher at Elmer Gish, went through a similar experience.
Mitchell, who lives in northeast Edmonton, took her five-month-old golden retriever Wrigley for a neighbourhood walk.
“On the walk and when we came home, she was acting totally funny. She was shaking her head. She fell asleep and went to the bathroom while sleeping. Her legs weren’t working. I took her outside and she couldn’t stand,” said Mitchell.
“I was by myself. I was concerned when I couldn’t get her to walk. I was crying and I called my dad because I didn’t want to go the vet alone. I wasn’t sure what was wrong.”
Instinct kicked in and Mitchell rushed Wrigley to the veterinarian’s office.
“They did a toxicology screen. She was put on IV because she was dehydrated, nauseous and throwing up.”
“She’s a puppy. She eats everything. The smell must have attracted her.”
YouTube is full of videos showing stoned dogs doing weird things, but canine poisoning is a serious dilemma more pet owners are dealing with since the legalization of cannabis in Canada. The increased availability of the drug has led to an increase in accidental exposure in pets.
According to the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, the Pet Poison Hotline reported a 448-per-cent increase in cannabis-related calls from the U.S. and Canada over the past six years.
While cannabis has a high level of safety for people, household pets are more sensitive to the active compounds and experience a more dramatic and potentially more toxic episode.
Several easily identifiable symptoms include staggering, drooling, sleepiness, lack of coordination, dilated pupils, urine leaks, vomiting as well as a change in heart rate. They symptoms can last up to 96 hours.
In addition to ingesting discarded joints, inhaling second-hand smoke or eating cannabis-laced edibles such as baked cookies, candies, bars and chips can produce intoxication in pets.
Wilson said, “I don’t think people are malicious but they’re really unaware of how an incident like this can affect pets. I’ve started to talking to people and I just want to make them aware.”
Mitchell echoes those thoughts.
“For me, I don’t think people try to hurt dogs. They just don’t know how lethal cannabis is. It’s just about awareness. People just don’t know how scary it is for dogs and their owners.”
Aaron Giesbrecht, St. Albert's manager of Policing Services, said in an email the city regularly patrols parks but hasn't seen any evidence of suspicous substances being left on the ground. He noted rules in St. Albert prohibit people from smoking or consuming cannabis in public unless they have a medical prescription.
"Unfortunately, not all users obey this law and, just like with cigarette butts, users might choose to discard their butts on the ground rather than disposing of them appropriately," Giesbrecht stated.
"Dog owners should monitor their dogs and be aware that accidental ingestion of foreign objects, including butts, can be harmful. We will continue to be on the lookout for any suspicious activity in the city.”