Sick dogs in Aspen likely ate marijuana edibles, says vet

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times

Two residents of the Oklahoma Flats area of Aspen reported to police that their dogs may have been poisoned Friday by a neighbor with a dislike for canines.

Aspen Police Department spokeswoman Blair Weyer said Wednesday there is “no probable cause” for an arrest.

“We got a report from some neighbors in that community who thought their dogs had been poisoned by one of their neighbors,” Weyer said. “We did have an officer follow up with that case, and during his investigation, he talked with the suspect. At this point, it’s just a lot of hearsay. (Initially) the vet did report that something of a toxic nature showed up in the dogs.”

Ellen Miller, a veterinarian with Valley Emergency Pet Care in Basalt, said she treated the two sick dogs that were brought into the clinic at separate times Friday. She said that in hindsight, it’s highly unlikely that the dogs were poisoned.

According to Miller, there’s a more valid explanation for their maladies: that they accidentally ingested some marijuana edibles during a Fourth of July party on Friday.

“I don’t know all the details, but it was two dogs from two different houses next to each other,” Miller said. “Evidently, there was a party going on. Both owners swear that their dogs didn’t get into marijuana.”

She said the clinical signs were compatible with toxic levels of THC, which is the active ingredient in cannabis. High levels of THC can lead to seizures, coma and even death in some canines, especially small ones, Miller said.

The two dogs from Oklahoma Flats were large, though. They were treated, kept at the clinic for 24 hours and released after it appeared that their conditions were improving, Miller said.

“In hindsight, I think that this was probably not a malicious poisoning,” she said. “When this was happening, on July Fourth, we were really busy, and one (dog owner) came in and then another one came in hours later. Both owners swore up and down that this was not marijuana.”

Miller said the dogs were tested and the results were not compatible with ingestion of a common poison such as antifreeze.

“Their blood work was normal,” she said. “In hindsight, maybe we jumped the gun (in considering a deadly poison), but we were going off of what the owners told us — and then this history of a neighbor being angry.”

Miller said the clinic called Aspen police Friday based on the initial details surrounding the case. The two houses where the dogs live are next to each other with no fence separating their yards, and the dogs are young and normally healthy, she said.

With recreational marijuana now legal, veterinarians are seeing more and more cases of accidental ingestion of pot edibles by dogs, Miller said. She estimated that the Basalt clinic sees an average of one case per week.

“Edibles are potent stuff,” she said. “The dogs walk like they’re drunk. They sleep really hard, and they are hard to arouse. If you go to pet their heads, they shy away and flinch. They often dribble urine.”

Most dogs survive the illness if they are brought to a veterinarian soon after they exhibit such behavior, Miller said. It’s best for dog owners to admit to veterinarians that their pets may have eaten a marijuana edible despite the potential embarrassment.

Dogs have to be “detoxified,” she said. Sometimes veterinarians try to induce vomiting, but usually they are given intravenous fluids to flush out their systems.

The dogs were not drug-tested, she said.

“The (drug-test) kits for humans are not necessarily accurate for dogs,” she said. “And these owners were adamant that their dogs didn’t get marijuana, and they weren’t going to pay for a lab to run tests.”

Miller said she hopes the incident serves as a warning to pet owners to ensure that edibles are kept out of reach.

Speaking hypothetically, Weyer said that even if dog owners are at fault when their pets become sick from accidental marijuana ingestion, it’s not a crime.