‘He was on the brink of death’: B.C. dog survives fentanyl overdose

Click to play video: 'Family dog almost dies from drug overdose in Surrey'
Family dog almost dies from drug overdose in Surrey
A Surrey family is warning pet owners after their dog almost died from a drug overdose. As Janet Brown reports, a routine bathroom break before bed turned into a terrifying rush to save his life.

A South Surrey man is hoping his story can help save four-legged lives, after his dog narrowly escaped a fatal opioid overdose.

The close call came earlier this month, after Derek Thornton took his eight-year-0ld chocolate lab Charlie for a walk near 160 Street and 26 Avenue.

About half an hour after they got home, Thornton’s 10-year-old son came and told him Charlie was acting strangely.

Click to play video: 'Dog recovering after drug overdose at Surrey park'
Dog recovering after drug overdose at Surrey park

“His eyes were open but he was lying still like he was sleeping. His eyes were cloudy, kind of flickering, not quite right, he wasn’t responding to his name, I lifted his head and his head just kind of flopped down, kind of lifeless. I lifted his paws, same thing — he was quite unresponsive,” he said.

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The family quickly called a local veterinarian that was open late and rushed Charlie for help. When he arrived at the vet, his pulse was extremely low and the dog was taking just three breaths per minute.

Staff intubated Charlie and stabilized him, before calling ahead to a pet emergency hospital in Langley, who suggested they try Naloxone on the the pup.

After one dose, Charlie’s breath rate climbed to 20 per minute, and after a second dose, he stood up, Thornton said.

“The doctor in Langley effectively confirmed opioids at that point which was kind of a shock to us,” he said.

“The vet there said most likely fentanyl. They said he probably just sniffed it on the ground somewhere, because he didn’t get into anything in particular that night, but it’s happening more and more.”

Thornton believes his family was lucky because they were able to get to a vet that was open in under 15 minutes, and Charlie was treated quickly.

Click to play video: 'Possible dog overdose on Vancouver Island'
Possible dog overdose on Vancouver Island

The incident left the entire family rattled.

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“He’s 80 pounds. My 10-year-old son is 80 pounds. Yeah, it’s scary — I mean he was on the brink of death. Anyone or any pet smaller than him maybe wouldn’t have made it,” he said.

“We were pretty panicked carrying Charlie out down to the car; our kids were crying their eyes out and screaming. We really didn’t know what we were dealing with.”

Dr. Hanna Weitzenfeld, senior manager of animal health for the B.C. SPCA said drug poisoning in dogs is not uncommon in British Columbia, amid the province’s opioid public health crisis.

While she said there isn’t data to show it is a growing problem this year, it is something that happens often enough that pet owners should be prepared for the possibility.

“Some of the signs you could look for might be drowsiness, not responding to his name if the dog normally does, wobbliness, or seeming like they are out of it or uncomfortable, whining, weakness, droopiness,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Dog rushed to emergency vet after consuming THC'
Dog rushed to emergency vet after consuming THC

“Those might be some of the first signs, but sometimes it can progress quite quickly to being recumbent, lying on the ground, breathing slowing down, that kind of thing.”

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Weitzenfeld said given the potential risk, it may be a good idea for pet owners to speak with their veterinarian about obtaining a Naloxone kit.

She added that owners should always keep a close eye on their furry friends, and that no part of the region is immune from possible dangerous accidents.

“It really could be anywhere,” she said. “I could walk out my front door and have this happen with my dog.”

Back in South Surrey, Thornton said he’s hoping his family’s experience can be an important lesson for others.

He said many people have asked him where the incident happened, but his message is that it could happen anywhere and it’s more important for people to know the signs and to be prepared to deal with an overdose.

Click to play video: 'Pot and pets: B.C. veterinarian seeing spike in THC toxicity cases since legalization'
Pot and pets: B.C. veterinarian seeing spike in THC toxicity cases since legalization

“Raising awareness I think is a better use of our time and energy than being angry about it, because being angry about it doesn’t do anything,” he said.

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Charlie has since fully recovered, but in the wake of the incident the family went out and picked up a Naloxone kit for their own home.

What’s more, the incident has been a frightening life lesson for his own family — including his 13-year-old son who just started high school.

“I think it helped hammer the point home when we said, ‘You know when we talked about drugs being mixed with things? The thing they’re mixing the drugs with is what Charlie overdoes on and that could very well be you, and we don’t want that obviously,'” he said.

“Not to make light of it, but we were giving him the drug talk — we didn’t think we needed to give our dog the drug talk.”

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