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What is Illicit Drug Exposure?

Accidental ingestion often occurs in the home, when recreational or prescription drugs are left unattended. Sometimes, all it takes is a sniff for a dog to become intoxicated. In addition, many illicit drugs are often mixed with other substances, making diagnosis and treatment even more difficult. While any ingested drug should be an emergency, this guide will focus on the main illicit drugs, including cocaine, amphetamines, opiates, hallucinogenic drugs and marijuana.

Illicit drug exposure in dogs refers to the accidental, or sometimes intentional, ingestion or inhalation of illicit drugs. These drugs are toxic, causing a range of symptoms from confusion to cardiac arrest, and all exposures are treated as an emergency. Call the pet poison hotline and seek veterinary care immediately if your dog has ingested any drugs.

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Symptoms of Illicit Drug Exposure in Dogs

There are many symptoms associated with illicit drug toxicity, some specific to the drug involved. These can include:

Cocaine

  • Hyperactivity
  • Lack of coordination
  • Shaking
  • Panting
  • Nervousness
  • Agitated state
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Fever
  • Seizures
  • Twitches and tremors
  • Hyperthermia
  • Metabolic abnormalities
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Elevated body temperature

Amphetamines

  • Hyperactivity
  • Aggression
  • Agitation
  • Salivation
  • Lack of coordination
  • Vocalization
  • Depression
  • Fever
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased heartbeat
  • Dilated pupils
  • Weakness
  • Head bobbing
  • Circling
  • Change in heartrate 
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Respiratory failure
  • Hyperthermia, increased body temperature
  • Death

Marijuana

  • Vomiting
  • Salivation
  • Diarrhea
  • Depression
  • Disorientation
  • Vocalization
  • Glassy-eyed appearance
  • Dilated pupils
  • Agitation
  • Excitement
  • Lack of coordination
  • Low body temperature
  • Drooling excessively
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Weakness
  • Hypothermia
  • Loss of urination control
  • Seizures
  • Tremors
  • Coma

Opiates

  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Salivation
  • Drowsiness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Neurologic depression
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Nervous system depression
  • Constricted pupils
  • Depressed breathing
  • Low blood pressure
  • Unconsciousnes
  •  Seizures
  • Respiratory depression
  • Cardiac depression
  • Death

Hallucinogens

  • Disorientation
  • Stumbling
  • Loss of coordination
  • Excitation
  • Bizarre activity or movements
  • Altered mental state
  • Dilated pupils
  • Vocalization
  • Depression

Types

Some of the most common types of illicit drugs that dogs are commonly exposed to are:

Cocaine and Crack

- From leaves of the coca plant, these drugs are neurological stimulators, affecting a dog’s heart, brain, and nervous system. Only a small dose is needed to poison a dog, sometimes just a sniff. All exposure is considered an emergency. Prolonged symptoms may point to organ damage.

Amphetamines and similar drugs 

- This group, including crystal meth, speed, uppers, and MDMA, stimulates the central nervous and cardiovascular systems. Most commonly ingested as prescription medications, these stimulants can vary in the range of toxicity. MDMA, or “Ecstasy”, can cause symptoms within 45 minutes.

Marijuana 

- Culled from the hemp plant, marijuana is often ingested inside baked goods. Symptoms can appear within 5 to 60 minutes, and can last up to 3 days, depending on the amount and whether it was inhaled as smoke or eaten.

Opiates

– These are drugs, such as morphine or those that have morphine like actions, and can be natural or synthetic. Only a small amount is needed for toxicity to occur.

Hallucinogens

– These include LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, and mescaline. Signs can last for 8 hours or longer.

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Causes of Illicit Drug Exposure in Dogs

The main cause of illicit drug exposure in dogs is the ingestion or inhalation of illicit drugs which will cause a myriad of dangerous effects. Illicit drugs can cause your pet to suffer experiences such as harmful changes in the central nervous system, organ damage, behavioral alterations, and even death.

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Diagnosis of Illicit Drug Exposure in Dogs

Diagnosis can be difficult if the owner is unwilling to provide an accurate history of drug exposure, and the signs can be varied and confusing. Give your veterinarian any and all information about what drug your dog was exposed to, how much was ingested, and the time between ingestion and symptom appearance so that the appropriate treatment can be given. 

If it is unknown, over the counter human urine tests can be used to check for levels of many illicit drugs. Other tests can include a hospital urine test, bloodwork, analysis of the stomach contents, X-rays, immunochromatographic screening tests, and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry analysis.

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Treatment of Illicit Drug Exposure in Dogs

Treatment will be specific to the type of drug toxicity your dog has incurred, and will usually include elimination of the drug from your dog’s system, treating the symptoms themselves, and supportive care.

Cocaine

Your dog will be stabilized before any treatment begins. Vomiting is only induced if symptoms are absent and intoxication was recent. Activated charcoal may be used, sometimes with another medication, to eliminate excess amounts of the drug from the bowels. Stomach flushing may also be performed. Heart rate and rhythm, body temperature and blood pressure are carefully monitored. Treatment then focuses on the cardiac and neurological systems, using drugs such as anticonvulsants, tranquilizers, barbiturates, sodium bicarbonate, and beta-blockers. Fluids and electrolytes are administered as needed, and your dog is treated and monitored until all symptoms are gone.

Amphetamines

Inducing vomiting is not recommended due to risk of neurological stimulation and seizures. Gastric lavage and activated charcoal can be administered soon after ingestion. Treatment then focuses on symptoms and provides supportive care, using tranquilizers, anticonvulsants, fluid and electrolyte therapy, and heparin therapy for hemostatic abnormalities. Treatments and monitoring are continued till symptoms are cleared.

Marijuana

Vomiting is induced in recent exposure cases presenting no signs, or multiple activated charcoal administrations can be used. Diazepam may be given to control seizures, while comatose dogs are given fluids and treatment for low body temperature. Vital signs are monitored and treated as needed for up to 3 days.

Opiates

Vomiting is not induced due to central nervous system symptoms. Gastric lavage may be used. Naloxone can reverse signs, and may be re-dosed every 30 to 90 minutes as needed. Diazepam can help control seizures. A ventilator may be used for depressed breathing. Vital signs are monitored, including body temperature which can drop to dangerous levels.

Hallucinogens 

Treatment is mainly symptomatic and supportive. Vomiting should not be induced due to a risk of seizure or aspiration. Sedation is generally given, and the dog is confined to a dark and quiet room, with considerably reduced stimuli. Vitals may be monitored, watching carefully for elevated body temperatures and rhabdomyolysis, a muscle condition.

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Recovery of Illicit Drug Exposure in Dogs

Successful recovery from illicit drug exposure is dependent on many factors, such as the size of your dog, type of drug ingested, the amount of drug ingested, and how quickly treatment can begin. While some types of drugs are milder and death is uncommon, such as marijuana and hallucinogens, other drugs do carry more serious risks. Opiates can cause secondary organ damage that can be permanent, and they and other drugs can progress to seizures, breathing problems, coma, and death.

If your dog becomes exposed to illicit drugs, do not wait for signs to appear, but seek medical attention right away. Keep your dog safe by keeping all drugs out of reach.

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Illicit Drug Exposure Average Cost

From 389 quotes ranging from $800 - $6,000

Average Cost

$2,000

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Illicit Drug Exposure Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Pit Bull

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One Year

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Circling

My puppy is circling acting all weird I don't know what happened I let her out to go potty and when she came in a bout an hour later she was acting funny circling heavy breathing and throwing herself around I don't know what to do I don't have a way to the vet.

Feb. 25, 2021

Owner

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Dr. Linda S. MVB MRCVS

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0 Recommendations

I'm sorry to hear this, There are a few possibilities here including a toxin ingestion, injury, a foreign body in her ear etc. This is very abnormal behaviour and it is very important she is brought to the vet. If you cannot get there yourself, I would advise asking a friend or family member to bring you, or to use a pet taxi service. If, for example, she has ingested something she shouldn't have, she may need urgent intervention such as treatment to make her sick, activated charcoal meals and intravenous fluids.

Feb. 25, 2021

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Chihuahua

dog-age-icon

6 mo

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

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8 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Head Bobbing Elevated Temp Vocalizing Shaking

I believe our dog got a hold of meth she's been given milk and benydril but she's getting worse my boyfriend is concerned he will get in trouble can we take her in without that happening

Dec. 6, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Linda S. MVB MRCVS

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8 Recommendations

Yes, your vet will put the health of your dog as a priority. You absolutely do need to bring them to a vet immediately as this could be fatal if left untreated (depending on the amount consumed). Vets are confronted with drug intoxications in pets like this all the time and they will absolutely help your dog.

Dec. 6, 2020

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blue healer

dog-age-icon

One Year

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

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4 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Nervuos

One of my dog's got into my medication and when I walk through the door there were all of my ADHD medicine on the floor some of them were dissolved and look like what do you spilt some water or something the rest of them I put back I don't know how many he ate he didn't eat any more than 10 I do know that he's very nervous very paranoid Maybe like looking everywhere what can I give him 2 relax him can I give him Ace or dormosedan what is there a downer I can give him and anything else I have horses so I have a hole Pharmacy of animal drugs if you could help me out please

Dec. 5, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Linda S. MVB MRCVS

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4 Recommendations

Please do not be tempted to give him anything else. Depending on what he has eaten and exactly how much, he could be at real risk for toxicity. He needs to see a vet immediately. They will assess him and may induce vomiting, start him on a fluid drip and provide any available anecdote. Bring the label of your medicine with you as this will help. I'm sorry this has happened and hopefully he is back to normal soon.

Dec. 5, 2020

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Chiweenie

dog-age-icon

Five Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

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5 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

I have a friend who parties and they have a little dog she's about 3 lbs and she keeps getting high on there methamphetamine like daily. It's so sad to see she runs in circles for like 12hrs crying the hole time. What can we do for her and how can we stop it from happening. We do r know how she keeps getting it.

Dec. 1, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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5 Recommendations

Hello, so sorry to hear that your friends dog is having problems. It would be best to limit her from these activities and make sure any medications or drugs are put away. Y’all to your friend and see if they can keep her in another area if the house where there is not any drugs to limit her from being able to get these. Most drugs are dangerous to little dogs even just a very small amount can cause them many issues

Dec. 1, 2020

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bluenose pitbull

dog-age-icon

Six Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Looking Back And Forth

She ate a empty bag of methamphetamine

Nov. 25, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. When you say empty bag of methamphetamine, I'm not sure if you mean that there was nothing in the bag, or there was residue. If she ate any residue, and you think that she is acting strangely, she needs to see an emergency room veterinarian right away. They will be able to examine her, take her vital signs, and see what treatment she needs.

Nov. 25, 2020

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Boo

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Mix

dog-age-icon

13 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Vomiting
Decreased Appetite
Restlessness

I recently brought my 13yr old pug schnauzer mix to my home after he lived with my parents for several years. I wanted him here with me because he was really sickly (assuming at the time it was due to age). Come to find out there was methamphetamines being used In the home. I took him to the vet due to his lack of eating and vomiting and it turned out he had some sort of obstruction. He has now been back in our home for a month and I’m really thinking he is going through withdrawals possibly. Is that possible for a dog to experience withdrawals like a person could? Symptoms include chewing on himself to the point he has sores, constant pacing/restlessness, whimpering, vomitting, Decreased appetite though it has gotten better the past 2 weeks. He is on Reglan for the obstruction issue And is fed digestive health food wet food.

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Lucky

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Pit bull

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1 Year

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Panting
Restless Circles
Huge Pupils

My dogs eyes are huge and he won’t stop looking around. He circles constantly trying to be comfortable and responds to his name but looses interest fast. What do I do?

Illicit Drug Exposure Average Cost

From 389 quotes ranging from $800 - $6,000

Average Cost

$2,000

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