Written by: Alison Laurie, Senior Consultant, Crown Vets Inverness
Nicotine in standard cigarettes poses a serious threat of poisoning to dogs and cats, and the nicotine content in e-cigarettes is just as concerning. The problem is that many pet owners don’t realise this.
The Pet Poison Helpline has encountered a sharp uptake in calls concerning cases of nicotine poisoning in pets that have ingested e-cigarettes or the e-cigarette liquid nicotine refill solution. In fact, over the past six months, cases have more than doubled, indicating that along with their increased popularity, the nicotine-delivering devices are becoming a more significant threat to pets. While dogs account for the majority of cases, the nicotine in e-cigarettes and liquid refill solution is toxic to cats as well.
It has been know that dogs can be poisoned by eating traditional cigarettes or tobacco products containing nicotine for many years but as the use of e-cigarettes has become more widespread sadly nicotine poisoning in dogs has now become much more common.
What are e-cigarettes?
E-cigarettes are simply another way of delivering nicotine. Designed to resemble traditional cigarettes, the battery operated devices atomize liquid that contains nicotine, turning it into a vapour that can be inhaled. The most recent craze is the flavoured e-cigarettes, which are available in an array of flavours from peppermint to banana, and everything in between.
What makes e-cigarettes toxic to pets?
The aroma of the flavoured liquid nicotine in e-cigarettes can be alluring to dogs, it is the flavours that they seem to find enticing. The issue is the amount of nicotine in each cartridge, which is between 6 mg and 24 mg of nicotine. So, each cartridge contains the nicotine equivalent of one to two traditional cigarettes, but bulk purchase packs of five to 100 cartridges multiply that amount many times over, posing a serious threat to any pets who chew these packs. For example, if a single cartridge is ingested by a 25 kg dog; clinical signs of poisoning are likely to occur. But if a dog that weighs 5 kg ingests the same amount, sadly death from nicotine poisoning is possible. Dogs of any weight that ingest multiple e-cigarette cartridges are at risk for severe poisoning. Also in addition to the toxicity of nicotine, the actual e-cigarette casing can result in oral injury and tissue lacerations when chewed, and can cause gastrointestinal upset along with the risk of a foreign body obstruction.
Some e-cigarette users buy vials of liquid nicotine solution for refilling e-cigarette cartridges. The solution is commonly referred to as “e-liquid” or “e-juice.” The small bottles hold enough liquid to fill multiple cartridges, meaning they contain a considerable amount of nicotine. Pet owners should be very careful to store these vials well out of the reach of pets.
What happens when e-cigarettes are ingested by pets?
Nicotine poisoning in pets has a rapid onset of symptoms – generally within 15 to 60 minutes following ingestion. Symptoms for dogs and cats include sudden onset vomiting, diarrhoea, agitation, elevations in heart rate and respiration rate, depression, tremors, ataxia, weakness, seizures, cyanosis (lack of oxygen), coma, and in some severe cases cardiac arrest.
What to do if a pet is exposed?
Because nicotine poisoning can happen so rapidly following ingestion, prompt veterinary care can mean the difference between life and death for a pet. Home care is not generally possible with nicotine exposure due to the severity of this poisoning, even in small doses. If you are at all concerned that your pet may have ingested an e-cigarette or refill cartridges do take action immediately by contacting us for an urgent emergency appointment.
As always, prevention is the best medicine. E-cigarettes, cartridges and vials of refilling solution should always be kept well out of the reach of pets and children.