By: Jo Marshall
Certified Veterinary Technician at Pet Poison Helpline
After reading a recent news article about a puppy that died after ingesting the liquid from his owner’s e-cigarette, I decided it was time to gather some useful information on this exposure for our pet-owning friends.
What is an e-cigarette?
Electronic cigarettes are battery-operated devices designed to look like regular tobacco cigarettes that are used as a delivery system for nicotine. They work when an atomizer heats liquid containing nicotine and turns it into a vapor that can be inhaled. It creates a vapor cloud that looks like cigarette smoke. E- cigarettes are many times used as a part of smoking cessation plans.
Why are they dangerous to pets?
Nicotine is toxic to pets! Dogs can develop clinical signs of vomiting, diarrhea, agitation, elevations in heart rate and respiration rate, depression, tremors, ataxia, weakness, seizures, cyanosis, coma, cardiac arrest and death with large ingestions. Nicotine has a rapid-onset of clinical signs, generally within 15 minutes to an hour of ingestion. Induction of emesis is many times not recommended with nicotine exposures because of the rapid occurrence of clinical signs associated risks.
How much does it take to hurt your pet?
The actual e-cigarette can result in oral injury when chewed. We can also see gastrointestinal upset and the risk of a possible foreign body obstruction. The e-cigarette cartridges are the real problem. Each cartridge contains 6 mg to 24 mg of Nicotine along with Propylene glycol, Glycerin, and flavoring agents. This is the nicotine equivalent of 1 to 2 regular cigarettes. They are purchased in packs that contain 5 to 100 cartridges. Ingestion of a single cartridge can result in clinical signs for a 50 pound dog and potentially death for a dog less than 10 pounds. Chewing multiple vials increases the risk of clinical signs and death exponentially.
My pet just chewed and e-cigarette, now what?
Evaluation of the ingestion and veterinary care needs to be immediate because of the rapid occurrence of clinical signs. Prompt and appropriate veterinary care can save your pets life. Home care is not generally possible with this exposure because of the severity of the clinical signs with even small doses. And as always, prevention is the best medicine. The e-cigarettes and cartridges should be kept out of the reach of pets and children as you would with regular cigarettes and ashtrays.