KITCHENER -- A new study from the University of Guelph found more dogs are accidentally ingesting products containing THC, as cannabis use gains popularity in North America.

In a news release, researchers said the data came from the United States, but there are similar problems in Canada.

“We found in the data that there was an association between a reduction in penalties for cannabis use and possession and dogs being poisoned with cannabinoids,” said lead author and PhD candidate Mohammad Howard-Azzeh in the release. “There is some evidence to suggest these poisoning events are increasing in the U.S.”

The research looked at cannabinoid and non-cannabinoid calls to the Animal Poison Control Centre (APCC) at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The ASPCA has a veterinary database called AnTox, which stores data on toxicology calls.

Dr. David Pearl and Howard-Azzeh studied data from 2009 to 2014. They examined effects of state-level cannabis legislation, county-level socioeconomic factors, and individual characteristics in reports on dog poisoning.

According to the study, there was a significant increase in reports of dogs suffering from cannabis poisoning in areas with legalized cannabis. The study also found that accidental poisoning is more common in jurisdictions with high income variability, in urban areas, and in smaller, male and intact dogs.

“A growing number of research efforts are aimed at understanding the effects of less restrictive legislation on human consumption, health and abuse of cannabis products, but little is known about the effects of these factors on dogs,” Pearl said.

“Dogs are not very discriminating in what they eat and are known to snatch food from kitchen counters and bedside tables as well as eat things off the floor or ground,” said Howard-Azzeh. “Those eating habits appear to extend to cannabis products.”

Cannabis poisoning in dogs can cause clinical signs like disorientation, vomiting, incontinence, irregular heart rates, hyperexcitability, hyperthermia, vocalizations and seizures.

The researchers said loosening restrictions around cannabis use can make products like cookies, cakes and candies with THC more accessible.

“We have evidence that dogs are being exposed to cannabis more frequently throughout the study,” Howard-Azzeh said. “If there’s more cannabis in the environment, there’s more opportunity for dogs to eat it.”

The researchers said the study will help prepare vets and public health for what to expect now that cannabis is legalized, and could help launch public awareness campaigns to prevent poisoning.

“There is an education message in this in that just like children, pets can accidentally ingest these products,” Pearl said.

The study was published in "PLOS One."