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B.C. man's dog nearly dies from fentanyl overdose, prompting warning to other pet owners

Just minutes after returning from a walk through Surrey, B.C., earlier this month, Derek Thornton’s eight-year-old chocolate lab Charlie began acting strangely.

Thornton said Charlie’s eyes were “not quite right” after they arrived home from their stroll in the area of 26 Avenue and 160 Street.

“I was calling his name, he was non-responsive. I lifted his head, at that point his head was just flopping over, his paws are flopping over,” said Thornton, who rushed his dog to Grandview Animal Hospital near his home.

“They intubated him to give him some oxygen and gave him some IV fluids, because his heart rate was down at 40, and his breath rate was at three, three breaths a minute,” said Thornton.

The veterinarian called an emergency animal hospital in Langley, and staff there suggested the clinic try administering the overdose reversing drug naloxone. Thankfully, there were two doses on hand.

“They gave him the first dose, and his breath rate jumped up to 20. And so he was responding, so they gave him a second dose, and he stood up basically from a lifeless dog to back from the dead,” said Thornton.

Once Charlie was stabilized, he was transferred to the Langley animal hospital, which ran some tests that confirmed the dog had overdosed on fentanyl he’d somehow inhaled or consumed while on the walk.

Thornton was dumbfounded. “We were thinking maybe stroke or seizure. Our minds, not at all did they go to drug overdose,” he said. “The dog didn’t do anything wrong, just sniffing for a spot – there just happened to be something on the ground that he sniffed.”

Dr. Hannah Weizenfeld, the senior manager of animal health with the BC SPCA, said accidental overdoses during dog walks are not that uncommon.

“It is something that can be a risk anywhere, but some locations are higher risk than others,” she said, adding drugs can impact dogs very quickly.

“They can seem OK one minute walking them, and the next minute they’re essentially down,” Weizenfeld said, adding “If your dog is normally quite coordinated and all of sudden he’s swaying left to right and potentially drooping in the hind legs, then that could be one of the first signs you notice.”

A shot of naloxone can be life saving, but it has to be administered soon after exposure, and veterinary clinics aren’t always open or nearby.

“If you’re in an area you think your pet might be at risk, it might be helpful to actually carry a naloxone kit you can potently use for your pets,” said Weizenfeld. The medication is safe for pets.

Thornton went to a pharmacy and picked up a free naxolone kit. “Now we have one in the house just in case,” he said.

Charlie has fully recovered from his fentanyl overdose, but Thornton is still haunted by how the situation could have unfolded.

“If we had delayed or didn’t act for whatever reason trying to figure out things at home, then it could have been a different story altogether,” he said. Top Stories

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