Another sign that the opioid crisis is getting worse is that dogs — both pets and police animals — have been exposed to these drugs.
The opioid crisis is still more dangerous for people than for animals.
An estimated 91 people in the United States die from an opioid overdose every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But the aftershocks of the crisis have started to appear in veterinary offices and emergency rooms.
Veterinarian Adrian Walton published a video on his Facebook page last month warning pet owners to be honest if their pet is exposed to opioids.
In the video, Walton, the owner of the Dewdney Animal Hospital in Vancouver, Canada, pets a tiny shih tzu puppy named Wally, which he said had nearly died that morning due to an opioid overdose.
Walton warned in the video that the dog was saved only because the owner admitted the dog had likely ingested an opioid called fentanyl, which can be 50 times more powerful than heroin.
“This puppy should have died. Under normal circumstances, by the time we figure out what's going on it's too late,” Walton told Healthline.
Vets just need to know
The vet said his goal with the video was not to shame the owner, but instead to encourage other pet owners to seek help if their animal ingests opioids or other drugs.
“We are constantly having animals … brought in who were exposed to various narcotics, and the most common one was pot,” he explained.
The owners “always lie,” Walton added.
However, Walton stressed that veterinarians don’t care about the owner’s drug use. They just need to know how to treat the animal.
“We don’t care what they ingest and inhale … the idea is be honest with the veterinarian,” he said.
Watson said in this case the puppy had ingested an opioid that was slowing its breathing and heartbeat to dangerously low levels. If the veterinary team had waited for tests to come back, the puppy would have died.
“This puppy was probably 30 seconds away from death,” said Walton.
They were able to revive the puppy with a shot of an opioid antidote designed for canines.
Walton is not the only vet having to deal with the aftereffects of the opioid epidemic.
In response to the crisis, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) joined with the University of Illinois to make a video to provide vets with information about how to use the human version of an opioid antidote, which is given as a nasal spray.
While animals are usually given an injectable opioid antidote, the AVMA expects that in a pinch, the medication could also be used to save dogs.
“Anecdotally we’ve seen more stories about working dogs being exposed to dangerous, illegally obtained opioids, but we don’t have any statistics to show how often this is happening, or if it’s actually happening more often, or it’s just an increase in awareness and reporting,” AVMA spokesman Michael San Filippo told Healthline.
San Filippo said in a statement that due to the ongoing opioid epidemic vets should be prepared and ready to diagnose and treat an opioid overdose in animals, especially drug-sniffing dogs.
“Veterinarians should be prepared to treat patients that have been exposed to opioids, and to serve as a resource for law enforcement and others who have questions about how to respond to animals that have been exposed to these drugs,” he said.
Multiple police departments, including departments in Massachusetts and Hartford, Conn., have also started carrying around opioid antidote for their canine units — the drug-sniffing dogs that may be used to detect illegal substances.
The Massachusetts State Police confirmed they launched the program earlier this summer, and that one officer already treated his dog when he was concerned it had been exposed to an opioid.
“He realized he didn't have time to get the dog [to the vet] and he injected the dog with the canine Narcan dose and the dog came right back to a normal condition,” a spokesman for the Massachusetts State Police told Healthline.