Stories from the surgery: why e-cigarette nicotine is dangerous for cats and dogs

Petplan vet Brian Faulkner has seen plenty of strange and interesting things in his career and this month talks us through a new problem that he and his colleagues have come across.

The surge in e-cigarette usage in recent years means many households have the devices lying around in places where dogs and cats are able to access them which can cause some serious problems…

As a vet with 20 years’ experience it’s rare for me to come across anything that I haven’t seen before.

However, after meeting with some fellow vets recently, talk turned to a new problem that can cause your cat or dog serious harm – e-cigarettes.

E-cigarettes pose a serious threat of poisoning to dogs and cats which many pet owners don’t realise.

The nicotine-delivering devices are becoming a more significant threat to pets. While dogs account for the majority of cases, nicotine in the e-cigarettes and liquid refill solution is toxic to cats as well.

Here are the facts you need to know about e-cigarettes and nicotine poisoning…

What makes e-cigarettes toxic to pets?

The aroma of liquid nicotine in e-cigarettes can be alluring to dogs, and flavoured e-cigarettes can be even more enticing.

The issue is the amount of nicotine in each cartridge (between 6 mg and 24 mg), which contains the nicotine equivalent of one to two traditional cigarettes. However, purchase packs of five to 100 cartridges multiply that amount many times over, posing a serious threat to pets who chew them.

For example, if a single cartridge is ingested by a 25kg dog, clinical signs of poisoning are likely to occur. But if a dog that weighs 5kg ingests the same amount, death is possible. Dogs of any weight that ingest multiple e-cigarette cartridges are at risk of severe poisoning and even death.

In addition to the toxicity of nicotine, the actual e-cigarette casing can result in oral injury when chewed, and can cause gastrointestinal upset with the risk of a foreign body obstruction.

Some e-cigarette users buy vials of liquid nicotine solution for refilling e-cigarette cartridges. 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 them – along with all component parts of e-cigarettes – out of the reach of pets such as handbags that are left on the floor.

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:

 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 – so get your pet to your vet as soon as possible.

Your vet may undertake the following measures:

As always though, prevention is the best medicine. E-cigarettes, cartridges and vials of refilling solution should always be kept out of the reach of pets and children.

Do you have any experiences with similar problems? Let us know your stories below...