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Fact check: Are San Francisco dogs overdosing on drug-laced poop?

Dog owners let their dogs roam free in the play area of Alamo Square in San Francisco on July 20, 2022. | Morgan Ellis/The Standard

Recently, a San Francisco dog owner claimed their pooch overdosed after ingesting human feces laced with trace amounts of drugs.

As the city battles a drug crisis and substance use remains front of mind for many San Franciscans, some pet owners are wondering if their pups face an increased risk of accidental overdoses—from eating human poo.

The Standard spoke with veterinarians at San Francisco Animal Care and Control and the city’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals branch about this issue; the institutions treat thousands of city pets per year. Here’s what they said. 

Yes, It’s Possible

Some pets like to eat everything—including things that are clearly not food. 

A dog gets a whiff of pancakes at a community event on Feb. 12, 2022. | Sophie Bearman/The Standard

“It is possible for our dogs and animals to get into things when they're out and about, like in dog parks, in areas that are highly trafficked by other individuals,” said Lindsey Meyer, an associate veterinarian at the San Francisco SPCA. “It's always hard for us to really say where a dog's ingestion came from, like what specifically caused them to throw up?” 

When it comes to overdoses, vets said dogs can overdose or go into toxic shock if they’ve ingested an opioid or other substances, including marijuana or cold medicine. 

“This is, of course, difficult to definitively prove since guardians don’t often know exactly what their dog may have gotten into, [the dog] may have been unsupervised or off-leash and the effects may take several hours,” said Shari O’Neill, chief veterinarian at SF Animal Care and Control. “There’s often no specific testing done in these cases, and the toxicity is treated with supportive care.” 

Though O’Neill and Meyer say pet hospitals can often check for drug toxicity through basic tests, the tests can be inaccurate. 

Dog owners and their dogs enjoy Francisco Dog Park in San Francisco on July 22, 2022. | Juliana Yamada/The Standard

No, It’s Not That Common 

One dog owner, interviewed by ABC7, said their vet witnesses dog drug toxicity “a few times a week," though the source did not name the vet in ABC7’s coverage.

But both experts The Standard interviewed said they hadn't personally witnessed an animal overdose on an opioid or drug in San Francisco, specifically from ingesting human feces.

“I do feel like I had a case in private practice that fits this scenario some years ago,” said O’Neill, referring to her time working outside of the city municipal shelter. “Guardian witnessed a dog ingest what they thought to be human feces on the beach, and the dog began to show signs of toxicity an hour or so later.”

And Meyer, who has spent the last five years on the SPCA’s staff, said the issue is perhaps not as prevalent as reports make it seem—at least not for opioids. 

“I wouldn't necessarily say it's like a severe threat for, specifically, dogs in San Francisco, but I definitely think it's something that people just need to be aware of,” Meyer said. “If you take your dog out to the park and then you're home 30 minutes later, and they're acting abnormal, act on that sooner rather than later.”

A fence surrounds the perimeter of the parking lot at San Francisco Animal Care and Control (SF ACC) in San Francisco, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023.
A fence surrounds San Francisco Animal Care and Control in San Francisco on Feb. 2, 2023. | Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

Maybe Just Keep an Eye on Your Pet

So what can you do if you’re concerned your pet got into something unsavory or potentially dangerous? 

Max the golden retriever begs for a bowl of macaroni. | Liz Lindqwister/The Standard

For starters, Meyer says you can call a poison control hotline or go to an emergency pet hospital. But other than that, it’s more about watching your pet, being upfront with your vet and making sure your pets aren’t left unsupervised on busy streets or parks. 

“Some dogs just love food, and if it is like a brownie with marijuana in it, it makes it more likely that they're going to try to eat it,” Meyer said. “The sooner we can figure out what's wrong or intervene, the more positive the end result will be.”

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