Who’s happier than a dog in the woods? Bounding through the trees, tongue hanging down to the ground, leaping into a nice stagnant puddle of mud. No worries in the world. But like parents of small children, it’s a dog owner’s duty to look out for the health, safety, and well-being of their four-legged family members.
In recent months, there have been warnings shared by traumatized pet owners whose dogs have gotten into one thing or another along the trails — and even around the neighborhood — only to find themselves on an emergency trip to the vet. Cannabis, lichen, poisonous mushrooms, and most recently, algae blooms in bodies of water, were all named as health hazards for pets found throughout the greater Lake Tahoe region.
When one dog owner posted on a local Facebook page that his dog had fallen ill with cannabis toxicity, a slew of other folks took to the comments to say that their dogs had suffered from the same, with one claiming his canine had gotten into carelessly discarded trim remnants on the side of the road. Many comments insinuated that this could be a direct result the legalization of marijuana in recent years.
Truth be told, cannabis toxicity is nothing new according to Truckee-based veterinarian Amanda Stuart, who does not believe there is a direct correlation between legalization and the number of cannabis toxicity cases — at least in our neck of the woods.
“In this area in particular I have always seen numerous cases of cannabis toxicity in dogs,” Stuart told Moonshine Ink via email. “However, I have noticed more dogs coming in that are more significantly affected. The cannabis available, particularly edibles which dogs are more attracted to, tend to be a stronger/higher concentration of THC, which can more seriously impact dogs.”
While marijuana plants contain over 80 different varieties of cannabinoids, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the two most well-known and utilized, according to the Pet Poison Helpline. They’re also the most studied of all, meaning the effects of the remaining cannabinoids are not entirely known.
Given Tahoe’s historically lax attitude on cannabis enforcement, Stuart believes there certainly is a cultural component to the discussion.
“In the 6 years that I have practiced in Truckee, I have always seen dogs coming [regularly] from cannabis ingestion,” she said. “That’s better than other places in my opinion. I also have worked in the Sacramento area and seen much worse － prescription medication ingestion, methamphetamine ingestion, etc., which is way worse.”
She noted that it’s important for dog owners to be skeptical of internet-gleaned information. “Social media is notorious for promoting panic and hysteria. It’s easy to spread knowledge, true or false, like wildfire using social media. Look at our political climate, for example. As dogs have become more considered family members in recent decades, any news that could potentially harm our fur babies becomes a more emotionally charged topic.”
Cannabis toxicity is rarely deadly in dogs, according to Stuart. Having herself treated over 100 dogs for the effects of such toxicity, she has had only a few require hospitalization and supportive treatment and has never experienced a fatality from cannabis ingestion. She finds that chocolate containing edibles — brownies are a common example — are typically the most-deadly form to be ingested by dogs.
“The toxicity of cannabis is dose dependent, meaning toxicity depends on how much of it they get relative to their body weight,” explained Dr. Gina Kang of the Doctor’s Office for Pets in Truckee. “In general, cannabis has a wide margin of safety, meaning it takes a high dose to be lethal.”
So how do you know if your dog has accidentally been into your stash? “We diagnose it just like a mom tests her teenager — an over-the-counter urine test,” Stuart said. “A positive result is confirmatory, but sometimes you can get false negatives as dogs do metabolize cannabis a bit differently. If a dog shows [symptoms] and there is a chance of exposure to cannabis, then we still will consider it a differential diagnosis, even with a negative urine test.”
She said most dogs exhibit signs like sedation, ataxia (wobbly gait), incontinence (dribbling urine), and hyperesthesia (sensitivity to visual or noise stimuli). More severely affected dogs experience hypothermia and decreased heart rates.
“Only once have I seen a dog comatose from it,” said Stuart, adding that the patient did pull through, while Kang said she did have “one client’s dog that was not able to recover from an overdose of cannabis and ultimately had to be euthanized.”
Kang also recommends complete blood work evaluating the liver and kidneys to rule out other toxicities that can have similar symptoms. Stuart noted, “As THC is fat-soluble, a dog can experience intermittent symptoms for a few days after ingestion if not treated in-hospital.”
Cannabis isn’t the only danger publicized in local social media outlets lately, however. There have been claims of dogs coming into contact with all sorts of naturally occurring hazards.
“I would be more concerned about dogs and cats getting into toxins such as rodenticide (rat bait, like Decon) as it is more deadly if not treated appropriately,” Kang told Moonshine Ink.
Stuart has seen cases of “pet friendly” rentals having accessible rat bait inside — such houses are not always occupied — only to have a visiting dog then ingest the poison. Antifreeze, she noted, is another potentially lethal substance attractive to canines. “It tastes sweet, so dogs will drink it,” she said. “[It’s] fatal if untreated.”
Stuart said that far more toxic to dogs than cannabis are “certain mushrooms [that] can cause severe neurologic disease (seizures, tremors, coma) or severe liver failure … The recent news of blue-green algae, which has been found in some waterways in California and Nevada, is much more concerning for our pups as well.”
Kang agreed: “We can see toxicities from mushrooms, but I have not seen a mushroom toxicity in several years and toxicity is dependent on the type of mushroom ingested.”
For Tahoe City resident (and former Moonshine editor) Melissa Siig, the effects of poisonous mushrooms on canines are all too real. In 2015, Siig let her 5-month-old German shepherd, Coco, out for her morning stroll just like any other day. It was later that afternoon that she realized Coco was not her chipper self.
“Our first clue was that she was super lethargic,” said Siig, explaining that the dog was having difficulty standing up and appeared to be seizing before finally vomiting. “We rushed her to the emergency vet in Truckee.”
Coincidentally, there was another individual at the vet when she arrived who told Siig that his dogs had gotten into some wild mushrooms. The symptoms were eerily similar to those Coco was experiencing. Since Coco had been vomiting for a while by the time she arrived, the doctor didn’t bother pumping her stomach. “They gave her charcoal to absorb other toxins,” Siig explained. “It was scary.” Fortunately, Coco pulled through just fine.
“Pets seem to be attracted to A. pantherina and A. muscaria (both of which we have here), possibly due to their somewhat fishy odor,” Will Richardson, executive director of the Tahoe Institute for Natural Science, explained in an email to Moonshine Ink.
“These are the big two problematic species from most reported cases. Inocybe and Clitocybe, of which we have several local species, also can have a fishy odor and are poisonous to dogs (but not humans). All have toxic compounds, though it’s quite rare for the poisoning to be lethal in adult, healthy dogs. Smaller dogs, puppies, and even cats (which will sample older, dried-out Amanitas), can succumb, however.”
Richardson said another potentially lethal culprit out in the wild is wolf lichen, of which there are two varieties that grow in this region. “It’s surprising how few vets seem to be aware of it, considering how ubiquitous it is here,” he said. “It’s absolutely everywhere and gets its name from its use in poisoning wolves and foxes.”
Truckee resident Margie LaPoint is still reeling from the loss of her 2-and-a-half-year-old Vizsla, Cedar, nine years ago after he munched on some of the bright lime green fungus. She recalled that it was during early spring in March 2010 that she would often take Cedar to the land behind her Glenshire residence. He would always gather sticks.
“The only ones there had lichen on them,” LaPoint said. “We wouldn’t think anything about it.”
She began to notice that Cedar was panting more than normal and that his breathing seemed odd. About a week later, on a Friday night, she was cross-country skiing behind the house with the dog when he started to behave oddly once again. “It was way more exaggerated,” she said, noting that the rest of her family was dismissing it, thinking she was overreacting. “By Sunday morning … we knew something was really wrong.”
They rushed Cedar to the emergency vet in town. The doctor took one look at him and said, “Oh, my God. He’s toxic! What has he eaten?”
LaPoint tried to go back in her memory to figure out what he might have gotten into; perhaps something moldy. Cedar’s condition deteriorated rapidly. “They tried very hard to save his life,” she recalled. “They tried to bring him back.” Sadly, Cedar was lost. When he had first been brought in, the doctor had given him an enema to clean out whatever was left inside his system. It ended up that in his stool was what amounted to about a sandwich bag-sized amount of lichen.
Upon seeing the bright lime green, the doctor confirmed that that was the cause of Cedar’s symptoms. His body was transported to the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine for further study, but no information was ever shared with the family.
After losing Cedar, LaPoint looked up wolf lichen in a pocket-sized Sierra wildlife handbook and her fears were confirmed. “It said that in Europe, they used to put it in meatballs with glass and fed it to wolves, so it made perfect sense,” she said. “It’s the only thing that could’ve done it.”
Main Image Caption: PROBLEM PLANTS: Amanita pantherina, commonly known as the panther cap or false blusher, can be toxic for both dogs and cats. Photo by ibogdan/BigStock Photo