Pets & E-Cigs: A Lethal Combination

Posted on: 9 April 2015

E-cigarettes are becoming more popular—both for people wanting to cut back on the harmful carcinogens and other substances in regular cigarettes, and those wanting to quit the habit. But that popularity has led to an increase in something else—visits to emergency veterinary clinics. Here's what you need to know to keep your dog or cat safe from the hazards of e-cigs.

What Are E-Cigarettes?

E-cigarettes or e-cigs are devices, often made to look like real cigarettes, which dispense a nicotine vapor that a person inhales to get the effect of smoking. The battery-operated e-cigs contain a cartridge that has a liquid containing nicotine that when ignited, delivers an odorless nicotine vapor. Each cartridge contains the amount of nicotine found in about 2 cigarettes. The benefit of e-cigs is that they don't contain all the other harmful chemicals found in tobacco.

What Is the Danger for Pets?

Nicotine is toxic to animals; however, prior to the availability of e-cigs, an animal had to eat several cigarettes to experience a toxic effect. That was not a common occurrence and therefore not a serious concern for pet owners.

With e-cigs, that has changed. The increased danger for pets is the amount of nicotine in an e-cig cartridge and the fact that the aroma of liquid nicotine can be attractive to pets—especially flavored nicotine cartridges. While a large dog who consumes one nicotine cartridge may experience few toxic effects, a similar amount in a small dog or cat can be fatal. Plus, because the nicotine is in liquid form, it is absorbed more quickly into the bloodstream, producing symptoms very quickly.

Signs of Nicotine Poisoning

Nicotine primarily affects the central nervous system, cardiopulmonary system and gastrointestinal tract. Your pet will likely be agitated and breathing rapidly and may experience drooling, vomiting and diarrhea. Other signs include muscle twitching, shallow breathing, slow heart rate, and cyanosis.  If not treated promptly, cardiac arrest, coma and death can occur. Also, a pet may ingest the entire cartridge shell, causing danger of gastric upset, intestinal puncture or obstruction.

What to Do

Because the onset of symptoms is so rapid, immediate action must be taken to avoid serious, even fatal consequences. There is no home treatment to help your pet. Call your vet or an emergency veterinary hospital for professional treatment. The seriousness of the toxicity will depend on the size of the animal and the amount of nicotine ingested. Of course the best treatment is prevention. Make sure you keep your e-cigs and nicotine refills out of reach.


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