The Rise of Drug Intoxication in Pets: A Comprehensive Guide


In recent years, the intoxication of pets with recreational drugs has become alarmingly common. Whether accidental, intentional, or malicious, exposure to illicit substances poses a significant risk to our furry friends. Dogs, in particular, are susceptible due to their wandering nature and indiscriminate appetites. In this article, we delve into the world of intoxication in dogs and cats, focusing on common stimulating, hallucinogenic, and dissociative recreational drugs.

The Influence of Owners

The rising incidence of drug intoxications in pets can be attributed, in large part, to the increased use of illicit substances by their owners. When owners keep illicit drugs in their households, their pets may inadvertently gain access to them. According to the European Drug Report (2022) published by the European Monitoring Centre for Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), approximately 83.4 million adults in the European Union (ages 15 to 64 years) have experimented with illicit drugs. Notably, 14.4 million adults have consumed cocaine, 10.6 million MDMA, and 8.9 million amphetamines. This surge in drug availability and popularity directly affects our pets, highlighting the urgent need for awareness and prevention.

Pets in Peril

Dogs and cats, being curious creatures, may unwittingly come into contact with illicit drugs and suffer the consequences. A striking example of this phenomenon is the increasing number of cannabis-related cases reported to the American Animal Poison Control Center (APCC). From 2009 to 2014, the proportion of calls related to dog exposure to cannabis doubled, indicating a clear correlation between cannabis legislation and poisoning incidence. Furthermore, police dogs are at heightened risk due to their exposure to large quantities of high-purity chemicals during training or search operations. Vigilance is crucial when dealing with cases involving ingestion of whole bags of drugs to prevent life-threatening complications.

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Challenges in Diagnosis

Given the illegal nature of illicit drugs, diagnosing intoxication in pets can be challenging. Veterinarians, however, are becoming more adept at recognizing and treating these cases as awareness grows within the veterinary community. Unfortunately, pet owners are often reluctant to acknowledge their use of illicit substances, resulting in misinformation or deception regarding exposure. Veterinarians, on the other hand, are more willing to report opioid poisoning cases to poison control centers, driven by their expertise and concern for their patients’ well-being. Additionally, illicit drugs are frequently adulterated or contaminated with other substances, making diagnosis even more complex. Some impurities, such as caffeine and xylitol, can be highly toxic to pets compared to humans.

The Quest for Detection

Detecting illicit drugs in pets poses further challenges, as specialized tests are costly and time-consuming. While private and public forensic laboratories have established methods for detecting illicit drugs in human body fluids and tissues, similar tests for veterinary patients are scarce. However, over-the-counter urine test kits, originally developed for human analysis, offer a more accessible alternative. A study evaluating the accuracy of these test kits in dogs confirmed their effectiveness in identifying barbiturates, opioids, benzodiazepines, and amphetamines/methamphetamine in urine samples. Nevertheless, further research is needed to validate the efficacy of these kits in detecting other substances, such as phencyclidine or cocaine, in pets.

Empowering Veterinary Clinicians

Despite the scarcity of research in this field, we have compiled a comprehensive collection of data on intoxications in dogs and cats caused by stimulating, hallucinogenic, and dissociative illicit drugs. By shedding light on these cases and sharing relevant information, we aim to assist veterinary clinicians in diagnosing and managing these complex situations. Remember that early detection and prompt treatment are essential for the well-being and recovery of our beloved pets.

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