Dogs sickened by Philo feces, possibly containing marijuana

Photo by Chea Waters Evans

Four dogs got sick after walking on Mt. Philo in Charlotte over the past two weeks, one of them twice. Their symptoms were the same, the timeline of their illnesses were the same, and the results of lab tests for two of the dogs were the same: marijuana toxicity, most likely acquired through feces eaten by the dogs.

Exactly how this occurred is unknown, but theories abound.

On any given morning, dozens of visitors and their dogs hike or walk in Mt. Philo State Park, one of the the busiest state parks in Vermont. It’s a popular destination for local walkers who want to efficiently manage time with friends with exercise for themselves and their dogs.

The first incident occurred on Monday, April 2. Susan Nostrand and her dog, Sophie, Renny Manning and her dog, Trooper, and Holly Palmer and her dog, Maisie, all walked up the mountain road. Within an hour or so of returning home, all three dogs started exhibiting strange behavior.

Trooper, an energetic Gryphon who charges around his yard all day chasing chickens and bunnies, sat still like a statue for almost two hours, staring at a field, according to Manning. Maisie went through the carwash with her owner, and Palmer said, “It was like she was hallucinating.” Sophie, too, could barely lift her head, and started to vomit. Nostrand brought her to the veterinarian, suspecting that the dog was ill as the result of a Sunday binge on Easter candy.

The women joked that their dogs were stoned, Manning said. This turned out to be true.

Two days later, Liz Robert, a Charlotte resident and frequent Mt. Philo hiker, said that on Monday, April 2, she took her Australian Shepherd Zuheros for a walk. Near the bottom of the road, Robert said, Zuheros popped off the road for a brief period of time. She summoned him, and when he returned, she said she could tell he had been into something.

An hour later, Zuheros was listless, vomiting, and incontinent. In a panic, she took him to ARK Veterinary Hospital, where Dr. Gary Solow examined him. Solow sent Robert to the Burlington Emergency & Veterinarian Specialists in Williston to get the dog tested for toxicity.

The result was a shock: Zuheros was suffering from marijuana toxicity. The two dogs who received medical treatment for their conditions also tested positive for the same ingredient in their vomit – feces.

Solow ordered two blood tests on Zuheros, one for drug toxicity, which tests for 10 different types of drugs, and one for antifreeze, which has similar symptoms to marijuana poisoning.

Robert has one theory about how the dogs became ill. She said she believes it’s possible that the dogs ate human feces that had been deposited in the woods by people who had consumed edible marijuana, and that the undigested THC in the edibles made the dogs high and sick. After the incident, she returned to the area of Mt. Philo where her dog disappeared and found Subway sandwich napkins that appeared to have been used as toilet paper. She saved them for possible testing.

Solow said this theory was not implausible, however unlikely it may seem. “I don’t think we can absolutely say to you ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ but certainly there are enough conversations on veterinary blogs to suggest that dogs have consumed some sort of feces and then have symptoms that were consistent with marijuana toxicity.”

He added that in the interest of accuracy, people should avoid using the term “marijuana poisoning” because “you have a dog that’s stoned, not poisoned.”

Sergeant Paul Ravelin of the Vermont State Police took Robert’s call when she alerted the Williston barracks about the incident. Initially, he was skeptical that this could happen. He checked with the Vermont Department of Health Laboratory, which conducts the blood tests that police take for suspected DUI incidents involving marijuana. They told him that a dog becoming intoxicated from marijuana that had already passed through the human digestive system was unlikely.

“Most of the THC is absorbed before it is eliminated,” Raveline said. He indicated that the amount of feces that would need to be consumed would be significant in order to get one dog stoned, let alone four – and one of them a second time, a week later. “We have to consider there’s a different source.”

Nostrand took Sophie for another walk up Mt. Philo this Tuesday, April 10, being careful to keep her on the leash until well past the point where Robert’s dog went before he became ill. Within an hour of returning home, Nostrand recognized the symptoms – her normally energetic Vizsla was moving slowly, having difficulty standing up, and was behaving the same way the dog did a week before.

A trip to the Hinesburg Animal Hospital and blood and vomit tests revealed that Sophie had once again consumed feces, and once again had marijuana toxicity.

Ravelin said he is planning to visit the site this week to investigate now that three separate incidents have occurred on three different days. State park rules allow dogs off-leash when the park is closed, but in the interest of safety, he encourages pet owners to keep their dogs leashed at all times on Mt. Philo until the issue is resolved.

All dogs are currently back in good health, and while police are investigating, Rick Redding, regional ranger supervisor at the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation said, “Efforts are being made to try and remove feces, both human and animal, from any trails or roadways to the best of our abilities.”

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