Sunday, April 19th0.0°C
Dr. Moshe Oz

Marijuana intoxication in pets

It was 4 AM and I was finally sleeping after a very busy weekend at the hospital when I got a phone call on my emergency line from a panicked dog owner. The owners are a young, bubbly couple.  They had just finished partying when they noticed their 10 month old puppy was acting very strangely. The dog suddenly became apathetic, non reactive, was stumbling and couldn’t bear weight and stand up, let alone walk. The oddest symptom of all was the dog's hunched back and his inability to control urination. The owners were terrified and had no clue what had happened to their dog. They left him in my safe hands to run some tests. 

Basic laboratory tests of the blood and urine did not reveal any remarkable abnormalities. Since I’ve seen numerous cases that were similar, before I proceeded to perform more expensive tests I called the owners and asked whether there was a chance that the dog had been exposed to Marijuana. The owners were shocked by my suggestion and they denied it completely. It was clear that the dog’s nervous system had been injured. My concern and aim was to locate the damage and assess its extent. X-rays showed no damage to the dog's vertebral column. I called the owners again and after gaining their trust they finally hesitantly admitted that there were some cookies containing pot at their party and yes, four cookies were missing. This information shed light on the dog’s condition and allowed me to treat him accordingly. The dog consumed an overdose 10 times larger than what is considered safe for his weight. The dog reached full recovery after spending  two days in the veterinary hospital.

Smoking illegal substances is one’s personal choice. It is natural to assume that weed smoking people exclude their under age children from the situation, and prohibit their access to the drugs. Pets are very similar to young children in many aspects. They also are very curious, they test everything by mouth and they have no good judgement whatsoever. This is very important to remember and you should protect your pets from substances that may harm them. Marijuana intoxication is quite common in pets, especially dogs. The drug affects the animal's nervous system and manifests by a very wide range of symptoms including depression, wobbliness, aggression, hallucinations, seizures and even coma. One of the most common phenomenon I’ve seen in these intoxication incidents is alternating episodes of depression and then excitement in which the dog seems normal to the owners. Other symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea may also appear.

There are specific tests that can detect the drug in the blood and urine, but in most of the cases the diagnosis is determined by the symptoms and the information given by the owner.  

Tell your vet if your pet may have been exposed to marijuana. YOUR VET IS NOT OBLIGATED TO INFORM THE POLICE. Your vet’s main priority is the pet’s care and well being. Sharing the information with your vet will allow your animal to receive the right treatment promptly and will save you time and money. The treatment of marijuana intoxication is only supportive. There is no antidote for marijuana. If the animal gets to the vet within 30 minutes from the drug ingestion, vomiting can be induced. After 30 minutes from the ingestion the drug absorbency can be prevented and measures are taken to decrease the effect of the drug to a minimum. This can be done by feeding the pet active charcoal which binds to the drug and inhibits absorption.  Fluids are also administered by IV. With the right treatment most animals will make a full recovery.

Remember, your vet is on your side. The vet’s job is not to judge you so disclosing all the information is crucial for your pet’s best medical care.


Behavioral problems in dogs

Back in history it was very uncommon for people to take medication for mental issues. People that were treated medically were considered crazy. Going to a psychiatrist was the last resort and was done secretly and accompanied by feelings of of shame.

Nowadays things have changed, people are aware of the importance of good mental health. Our modern society is striving to improve the quality of life, hence there is an increase in the number of people seeking help and counseling.

Today it is common and legitimate to use medications not only for severe mental problems but even for mild mood disorders. Today, depression and anxiety and other mental disorders are talked about openly and the medications for such issues are not considered different than any other medications taken for any other medical problem.

Veterinary medicine has also changed and developed over the years. We now know that pets also suffer from mental problems that alter their own lives along with their owner’s life. Many of the dog's behavioural disorders are misinterpreted by the owners as mischief. This behaviour usually annoys and aggravates their owners. This results in an anger reaction of the owner that may exacerbate the dog’s problem.  This vicious cycle can be resolved by understanding the dog’s behaviour and the management options.

The most common behavioural problem in dogs is separation anxiety. Separation anxiety in dogs is usually manifested by destructive and inappropriate behaviour when the dog gets left alone even in a familiar environment.  The most common complaints I hear from owners are that the dog constantly howls, barks or whines, destroys by chewing various objects in the house including furniture, doors and windows. Some dogs urinate and defecate in the house despite being house trained. These dogs will usually express extreme excitement when the owner returns home.

This condition is extremely irritating for the dog’s owner but it is crucial to understand the nature of this behaviour. These are symptoms of severe stress. Dogs are social creatures, they consider the family as their “pack” in which they are an equal member. It is not natural for dogs to be separated from their owners and some dogs get very distressed by it. When they express destructive behaviour it is not done out of vindictiveness, it is their way of trying to free themselves. Soiling the house may represent a sign of severe emotional distress.

Because we can not converse with the dog, the diagnosis of separation anxiety is tentative and is done by ruling out other medical problems that may result in a similar behaviour. Puppies may show destructive behaviour as a part of teething and not due to separation anxiety.

Punishing the dog will not help to solve the problem. On the contrary, when you punish your dog when you return home, it may associate the punishment with your return rather than with the mischief it caused. This may stress it even more when you leave home the next time.

The management of this condition is not straightforward. This problem will not go away on its own. It requires perseverance in a process that is meant to ensure the dog that when you are leaving you are not deserting it and you will be back. I strongly recommend to the owners of dogs who suffer from behavioural problems to consult a behavioural specialist. The treatment process usually involves desensitization training in which the dog learns to cope with periods of separation that are gradually extended. It is also important to create a safe area for the dog  in which it will feel secure and its ability to cause damage will be limited. The key is to confine the dog without making it feel isolated.  Leaving an object with your smell such as shirt may help the dog feel closer to you.  

Behavioural modifications are available for dogs. These medications are similar to human antidepressants and anxiolytics. Most people find these medications very effective in reducing their dog’s stress level without sedating them.

Another common mental problem is OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). This is a repetitive behaviour. It can range anywhere between constantly running back and forward on the exact same path up to a destructive behaviour of either animate objects or even themselves (obsessive licking for an example). Some of these obsessive behaviours can be harmless, but in other cases they can be successfully managed with medical treatment.

Owning a dog with a behavioural disorder will affect both the dog’s and the owner's quality of life. There is no need to suffer any longer. If your dog is trashing your house or showing other mischievous behaviour, it is not done necessarily to spite you, it is very possibly a call for help.

Approach to tumors in pets

Similarly to humans, tumors are very common in animals, especially in the senior animal population. According to research, cancer is the cause of almost 50% of deaths in pets over 10 years of age. It is important to understand that not every tumor is cancerous.

By definition, a tumor is any abnormal growth of cells. Tumors, or as frequently called by vets, masses, can be either benign or malignant. Benign neoplasms do not grow aggressively, do not invade the surrounding body tissues and do not spread throughout the body. Malignant neoplasms on the other hand, tend to grow rapidly, invade the tissues around them and may spread, or metastasize, to other parts of the body. Only malignant tumors are considered cancerous.

The diagnosis of tumors is done by pathological examination of the specific tissue involved.

The most common diagnostic procedures that are done by vets are either Fine Needle Aspiration (FNA) or biopsy. In fine needle aspiration, the veterinarian uses a needle and a syringe to obtain a sample of cells from the mass. The advantage of this procedure is that it is fairly simple to perform. In many cases this procedure does not require anesthesia, sedation or any other preparation unless it is done on an internal organ. The disadvantage of this method is that the results are not guaranteed as reliable. A much better method of diagnosing the nature of the tumor is by obtaining a real biopsy of the tissue. This requires cutting a piece or the whole tumor out. This procedure yields much more reliable results, but usually requires some sort of sedation or general anesthesia.

The sample that was obtained then gets sent to a special laboratory to be assessed by a pathologist. The pathologist will determine the nature of the cells and whether the tumor is benign or cancerous.

Cancer is a very broad term. Diagnosing a tumor as cancerous is just the first step in determining the severity of the condition and the prognosis of the pet. Different cancer tumors have various levels of aggressiveness in terms of rate of growth and ability to metastasize and affect more organs. If the tumor is diagnosed as cancerous the veterinarian will likely recommend additional tests such as blood tests, x-rays or ultrasound to assess whether the tumor has spread.

Early detection is extremely important in managing most cancerous tumors.

In general tumors can develop anywhere in the body. They can be external or internal .External tumors are usually easier to detect and diagnose. If you notice any lump or mass on your pet, get it to be checked by your veterinarian. External tumors may also apear as wounds that do not heal.

Internal tumors are harder to detect. Internal tumors are usually manifested by symptoms related to the organ affected. The most common symptoms that are associated with cancer in general are decreased appetite and weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, bleeding or discharge from any body opening, persistent lameness or stiffness, difficulty breathing, urinating or defecating and of course any abnormal swelling or enlargement of a tissue.

Unfortunately the cause of most tumors is unknown, hence cannot be prevented.

Spaying your dog at approximately 6 months of age can significantly reduce the chances of mammary tumors. Neutering males prevents testicular tumors as well.

Once a tumor is diagnosed as cancerous, the treatment depends on the type of the cancer and the severity of the condition. Each tumor is treated differently depending on its nature. In general, the most common treatment includes surgical excision of the mass if possible and/or Chemotherapy.

Your pet’s overall health is also important and your veterinarian may recommend dietary changes or other things to help your pet better respond to treatment. Once you have a diagnosis, your veterinarian will discuss the best treatment options for your pet and the risks and side effects associated with each option. Pain management is also recommended in many cases.

Unfortunately, sometimes the condition is too advanced to attempt curative treatment and measures will be taken only to try to improve the pet’s quality of life.

Early detection can be crucial in affecting the course of the disease and the prognosis of your pet. Please consult your veterinarian about more information on tumors and their best medical management.


Demodex Mite

Over the years of working as a veterinarian, my list of “special” patients, keeps expanding. One of the most memorable cases I will always have in my repertoire is Zeiss. Zeiss is a dog of the Catahoula breed. Zeiss was about 3 months old when he first came to see me at my practice. You could smell Zeiss' presence in the premises before you even saw him. Zeiss and his owners were miserable. He was just starting his life. Instead of having a joyful experience of adopting a new and adorable puppy, his owners had experience so much grief of seeing him suffer, lose his fur, his skin was red and extremely irritated and his entire being was just miserable. They came to see me as they were very desperate, but soon we found out the root of Zeiss' problem.  It was a mange of Demodex mite.  Two months into the treatment, Zeiss is doing SO much better, and both he and his owners are loving life again.

Demodex is a type of mite that occurs naturally in dogs' hair follicles, in low numbers. In a normal healthy dog, Demodex stays subclinical and does not cause any problems to the dog. In some cases there may be suppression of the immune system due to various possible causes. Some of the conditions that suppress the immune system are: fighting a concurrent disease, old age, very young age, nutritional deficiency, stress, and more.

When the immune system is suppressed, the mite population overgrow leading to a reaction that can range between mild irritation and hair loss on a small patch of skin to severe and widespread inflammation, and secondary infection affecting most or the entire dog’s body. Demodex infection is called Demodicosis or Demodectic mange.

The clinical symptoms of Demodicosis are hair loss, the skin becomes dry and scaly, there is redness of the skin, pustules (pimples), and the skin is warm to the touch. The condition sometimes involves irritation and itchiness, and sometimes not. Typically the dog emits a strong, very unpleasant odor.

Early infestation usually involves lesions on the face, around the eyes, or at the corners of the mouth, and on the forelimbs and paws. An advanced infestation can spread and cover most of the dog’s body.

The diagnosis consists on finding the Demodex mite in a skin scraping sample taken from the affected dog, under a microscopic examination. In order to take a sample that would yield a conclusive result, the skin scraping has to be done deep enough to reach the hair follicles. Typically, a sample is considered legitimate if the area has been scraped until blood appears. Because the mite is a normal inhabitant of dog’s hair follicles, there is a discussion whether finding the mite on a slide is a conclusive diagnosis.

In advanced cases, an underlying condition that promoted the demodectic mange development, should be looked for. Occasionally, other tests may be required in order to pin down the underlying condition.

Early, mild localized cases, may heal on their own. Localized demodectic mange is considered a common puppyhood ailment, with roughly 90% of cases resolving on their own with no treatment.

Generalized cases can be very challenging to resolve. There are few products and protocols available for treating demodectic mange. In my own experience, I have found that dipping the dog in a special solution, once or biweekly for few weeks is the best protocol for eradicating the infestation. Antibiotics are often required for the treatment of secondary bacterial infection of the skin.

The condition is considered infectious, however, dogs can only transmit the mite in a very close contact - for example puppies and a nursing mom. The transmission of these mites from mother to pup is normal (which is why the mites are normal inhabitants of the dog's skin) but when the puppy's immune system is not strong enough it can lead to the development of clinical demodectic mange.

In normal contact between dogs, the disease should not pass.

Although humans and cats can also suffer from demodectic mange, the mites are specific to their hosts, hence the disease cannot be transmitted to other animal species, nor to people.  

If any of what is mentioned here raises a red flag regarding your dog, take it to see your vet. Generalized demodicosis is a severe, life debilitating condition. Nobody wants to see their once furry friend in that condition. Plus, honestly, nobody wants to share their life with a smelly dog. Do not procrastinate, seek veterinary help. Remember that there are few different options and protocols to successfully treat demodicosis. If one route does not lead to healing, seek more information from your vet on other treatment options.     

Read more Dr. Oz's Vet Advice articles


About the Author

Dr. Moshe Oz owns Rose Valley Veterinary Hospital, a small animal veterinary practice in West Kelowna. Dr. Oz has deep love and affection for animals. It was his childhood dream to become a veterinarian, a dream that he has fulfilled when he graduated with honours from KUVM,on 2006. Dr. Oz's special interest is Internal medicine and surgery. In his free time Dr. Oz enjoys training and racing triathlons, including the legendary Penticton's Ironman.

Dr. Oz can be contacted through his website:


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet presents its columns "as is" and does not warrant the contents.

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