The vote to legalize marijuana in Maine had barely been tallied when Dr. Leah Goodman started fielding phone calls from people asking if they could give their pets marijuana for pain and anxiety.

It didn’t come as a surprise to the veterinarian with the Forest Avenue Veterinary Hospital in Portland.

“We were waiting for it,” she said. “People here love their pets. They want to help their dogs and give them the benefits of (marijuana).”

But veterinarians in Maine and across the country say that, as more states legalize marijuana, pet owners need to take extra care to ensure Fido doesn’t get into tempting treats like pot brownies. They also say pet owners should be aware that while there could be some medical benefits to cannabis, its use in animals hasn’t been thoroughly studied and is not approved for pets by the Food and Drug Administration.

Dr. Ahna Brutlag, a board-certified veterinary toxicologist with the Minnesota-based Pet Poison Helpline, said most cases of pets ingesting cannabis involve dogs, but the helpline has also been consulted about cats, pet pigs, rabbits, ferrets, horses, pet birds (including a Lovebird and a Sun Conure) and even a kinkajou that ingested her owner’s marijuana brownies.

“Pets are opportunistic, indiscriminate eaters, so if you leave something tasty in their vicinity, don’t be surprised if they eat it – all of it,” she said in an email.

“One of the biggest concerns with pets ingesting marijuana-laced foods is that they don’t just stop with one brownie, they’ll eat as many brownies as possible.”

RISE IN CALLS TO POISON HELPLINE

In the past six years, the Pet Poison Helpline has seen a 448 percent increase in calls about pets getting into their owners’ marijuana. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals poison control center in 2014 received calls about 539 cases of animals accidentally consuming cannabis, up from 320 in 2013.

Two-thirds of the calls to the Pet Poison Helpline involve edibles and nearly all are for dogs. Five years ago, most consultations involved pets ingesting dried marijuana buds.

“Today, the majority of our cases involve pets ingesting edible products (‘medibles’),” Brutag said. “As many of these medibles also contain chocolate, this can pose an additional risk of poisoning, especially for cats and dogs.”

When dogs or cats ingest marijuana, their symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on how much they ingest. The symptoms – which vets say are uncomfortable for the animals – can last hours or days. Common signs of marijuana toxicity in pets include severe depression, walking “drunk,” lethargy, coma, low heart rate, low blood pressure, dilated pupils, hyperactivity and seizures. Many dogs will lose control of their bladders and dribble urine.

Dr. Heidi Sproul of Animal Emergency Clinic and Surgical Care in Portland said she used to work in an emergency clinic in Chicago, but has seen far more cases of pets ingesting cannabis since moving to Maine.

“We see it a lot,” she said. “I can only imagine that it will get worse.”

A STRESSFUL, EXPENSIVE EXPERIENCE

Sproul said some dogs need to be hospitalized overnight to receive intravenous fluids and be monitored for low blood pressure and other problems. It’s a stressful – and expensive – experience for the dog and owner.

Neither Goodman nor Sproul have ever treated a cat that has ingested marijuana.

“Cats are a little smarter about what they eat,” Sproul said.

As more states legalize recreational or medical marijuana, the stigma around marijuana use seems to be going down and owners are more likely to fess up that their pet ingested marijuana, according to Brutlag.

“Sometimes it’s a guessing game because it looks like a lot of different toxicities,” Sproul said. “It is important they tell us because some of the other toxicities have secondary effects. Sometimes you have to drag it out of them.”

Veterinarians recommend pet owners keep their marijuana buds and edibles well out of reach of pets. If a pet does ingest a cannabis product, owners should contact their veterinarian immediately.