BAR HARBOR — Scarlett started acting strange one afternoon a couple of weeks ago.
The 8-year-old Australian shepherd seemed disoriented, and her legs were wobbly. Thinking she might be having a stroke, her owners, Doug and Edie Dubois of Bar Harbor, took her to Acadia Veterinary Hospital, where Dr. Dinah Russel examined her.
The diagnosis: Based on the symptoms and the lack of any other obvious cause, Scarlett was probably high on marijuana.
Doug Dubois said he isn’t sure how the dog got the drug; there wasn’t any at home. The only thing he could think of was something that happened when he was walking Scarlett at Agamont Park earlier that afternoon.
“She stuck her head in a hedge and came out with an apple and wolfed it right down,” he said.
Edie Dubois was told later by a friend that she had heard it’s possible to make a rudimentary marijuana pipe out of a partially cored apple.
“We Googled ‘apple pot pipe,’ and yeah, it’s a thing,” Doug Dubois said. “So, our best guess is that the apple Scarlett ate was a used pipe, and there was enough residue in it to give her a buzz. The doctor said it wouldn’t take much because she only weighs maybe 40 pounds.”
He said Scarlett was back to normal by the next morning.
Dr. Marc Fine, who owns Acadia Veterinary Hospital, said at least a half-dozen dogs with symptoms of marijuana ingestion have been seen by his practice in the past couple of years. While that number is small, he said it’s more than in the past.
“It certainly seems to be more common, because [marijuana] is now in so many homes, and a lot of it is in some edible form,” he said.
Fine cited an article on the Veterinary Partner website that said marijuana edibles such as brownies and cookies contain a higher concentration of THC – the main psychoactive component of cannabis – than dried marijuana alone.
A story in The Washington Post in October 2016 said that, as more states legalize recreational marijuana, “Veterinarians across the country say they are seeing a sharp increase in cases of pets accidentally getting high.”
The story added that marijuana edibles are “appealing to animals, who can’t read warning labels, and in the case of dogs, rarely stop at just one pot brownie.”
Fine said common symptoms of marijuana in dogs include dilated pupils, staggering and stumbling and what he called the “startle reflex.”
“That’s when they see something coming toward them and they kind of jump away,” he said.
Other symptoms can include low heart rate, low blood pressure and urinary incontinence.
Fine said eating marijuana is rarely fatal for dogs, and unless they are comatose or unresponsive, treatment often isn’t necessary.
“You can usually just wait it out,” he said, adding that it sometimes takes a couple of days for the symptoms to clear completely. “We haven’t seen anything really serious here.”
He urged people not to be embarrassed or fearful about telling their veterinarian if they know or suspect that their pet has ingested marijuana.
“We always tell people we’re not going to tell anyone,” Fine said. “And it does help us. We’re not wondering if the animal has a brain tumor or a head trauma and then running a bunch of tests, which is not only a worry for [the pet owner], it’s also expensive.”