WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) - The number of people using marijuana is on the rise across the United States and so is the number of pets getting sick or dying because of it.
Things weren't so carefree for Seth Mersing and his chihuahua, Rita, a few months ago. After returning from the park, Rita could barely stand and was clearly disoriented.
"I was bawling on the couch because I thought she might die,” Mersing said. “I needed to prepare myself if my dog won't be here tomorrow...She was crying when I went to pick her up and she didn't recognize who I was. I was terrified."
He rushed her to the vet and stayed by her side until she stabilized at 1 a.m.
"I got the call at 7 in the morning, and they were like, 'She's doing good, but she was positive for THC," Mersing said. "My eyes widened."
The three-and-a-half-pound dog was poisoned by marijuana that Mersing believes she picked up on her walk-in the park.
It turns out, marijuana poisoning in dogs is skyrocketing in some states, particularly those with more liberal laws.
Nationwide Insurance, the largest provider of medical benefits for pets, says that in 2018 alone, of the nearly $1 million in plant poisoning pet insurance claims, many were attributed to pot exposure.
"We've definitely seen more incidences of dogs ingesting cannabis in various forms,” Dr. Mark Liberto said. “Whether it's a cookie or a brownie or the actual plant itself that's dried out."
Dr. Liberto's been practicing veterinary medicine in Gaithersburg, Maryland, for 30 years.
A recent marijuana poisoning landed a 12-pound chihuahua mix in his emergency room. The dog was unable to walk and his temperature was dropping.
"We saw him start to tremor uncontrollably, and that's it,” he said. “Then you have to start treatment.”
There's no antidote for marijuana poisoning. It took about 36 hours for the dog to stabilize.
"Why a dog wants to eat a bag of weed, who knows? But dogs will eat things out of the trash all the time,“ Dr. Liberto said. “Don't wait around to see what the effects are going to be because if things start going south fast, then you need to intervene."
The effects of marijuana toxicity in dogs can be anything from vomiting and diarrhea to death. No dog, says Dr. Liberto, is able to process the drug's psychotropic effects.
"They tend to hurt themselves,” Dr. Liberto said. “So, they fall down a set of stairs, bump into all kinds of things, get trapped between things."
"Another incident comes to mind -- the dog being all disoriented walked right into traffic and, of course, was killed,” he said.
Vets even report some pet owners intentionally exposing their dog to marijuana because they think it's funny. It's anything but to Mersing.
Mersing says he doesn't judge people who choose to use drugs, but he says don't leave them laying around or discard their remains where children and pets can pick them up.
And this isn't just about dogs. Vets say marijuana is also toxic to cats and other animals. If you suspect your pet has been exposed, call your vet right away.