Drug-Sniffing Dogs Are Overdosing On Opioids

By Bill Galluccio

June 15, 2018

Drug-sniffing dogs are the latest victims in the growing opioid epidemic that is spreading across the country. When police bring the K9 units to search for illegal drugs, the dogs risk becoming exposed to lethal amounts of opioids, including fentanyl. 

While dogs have a higher tolerance for opioids than humans, inhaling even a small amount of fentanyl, which is 50 times more powerful than heroin, can result in the animals overdosing on the drug. 

“Dogs are not as sensitive to opioids as humans are,” Cynthia Otto, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Working Dog Center told Fox News. She explained that it takes 20 times the dose to create anesthesia for a dog as it would a human. “If a dog is showing sign of opioid intoxication, that means they were exposed to a really big dose.”

"A poppy seed size of the powder can kill a dog," Dr. Maureen McMichael of the University of Illinois' College of Veterinary Medicine told the Chicago Daily Herald

To make matters worse, many officers lack the training to identify the signs of overdose in their K9 companions. “This is a really big issue,” Otta warned. “Lots of these canine officers are exposed, and their handlers don’t even know what an overdose looks like [in these animals].” 

As word spreads about the deadly risk opioids can pose to K9 units during routine searches, many officers have started to carry a canine version of naloxone, which can be used to reverse the effects of exposure to the deadly drugs. 

Groups like IllinoisVetMed are also trying to raise awareness of the serious issue and are working to train local police about the warning signs of opioid overdose in their dogs, and how to handle a situation when they are exposed to a dangerous amount of illegal drugs. 

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