Emergency! Toxins – Drugs of Addiction

In the past we have discussed a variety of toxins that can harm our pets. This article addresses a more controversial cause of poisoning – drugs of addiction, or recreational drugs. In today’s society, no one can deny the increasing use of such drugs. These drugs, if accidentally ingested by our pets, can cause serious, and sometimes fatal symptoms.

Illegal drugs are a surprisingly common cause of poisoning cases in veterinary practice. Diagnosis can be challenging when owners are concerned about “owning up” to having the drugs in the first place. It’s so important that clients be totally upfront about the possibility of ingestion of any illicit drug. We are not here to judge, nor make assumptions – we are here to help your family member.

While we are good at treating pets that we suspect may have ingested drugs of addiction, treatment is safer and more effective if we know which drug has been taken.

Below is an overview of the more commonly used drugs of addiction.

  • Tobacco – contains nicotine in varying amounts. The butt of cigarettes can contain up to 25% of its total nicotine. Pets that “vacuum” butts from the floor can exhibit signs within 15-45 minutes of ingestion. These include rapid heart rate, salivation, vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle twitching and ultimately, coma leading to death.


  • Alcohol – is often accidentally ingested by pets. Occasionally, people under the influence of alcohol find it amusing to deliberately offer it to their pets. Low level ingestion can lead to signs like staggering, excitability and decreased reflexes. Larger volumes may cause collapse and even death. Some research reports death in 50% of cases where the pet has ingested as little as 14mls of Vodka per kg of bodyweight or 55mls of wine per kg.


  • Marijuana – this is probably the most common illegal drug to cause intoxication in pets. The active toxin, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is found in the leaves, buds and resin of the marijuana plant and in hash oil. Dogs that ingest THC will usually show signs within 30-90 minutes that can last up to three days. Signs include initial nervousness and disorientation followed by dilated pupils, flicking eyeballs, loss of control of urination and “wobbliness”. It can occasionally cause death. On a side note, cats rarely consume marijuana.


  • Opiods including morphine, codeine and methadone – these are sometimes used for pain management in veterinary management. In accidental doses they can cause wobbliness, vomiting and slowed heart and respiratory rates.


  • LSD – this has hallucinogenic properties in pets. Signs include disorientation, dilated pupils, racing heartbeat, high blood pressure and tremors.


  • GHB/Ecstasy – this can cause weakness sedation, wobbliness, coma, slow heart and respiratory rates and possible death.


  • Benzodiazepines – these may be prescribed or illicit. If ingested, they act quickly (within 30 minutes) and have short and long-term effects. These include fatigue, wobbliness, low body temperature, low blood pressure, high heart rate and nervous system excitement. If ingested at the same time as alcohol, the combination may be fatal.


  • Amphetamines – can cause high blood pressure and increased heart rate, wobbliness, restlessness, tremors and seizures.


  • Cocaine – causes excitement, hyperactivity, seizures, excess salivation, high heart rate, high body temperature and coma. Death may occur due to cardiac arrest.

If you suspect at ANY time that your pet might have ingested any type of drug – legal or illegal – please advise your vet immediately. It could save your pets life.