Though you may not realize it, your pet is more vulnerable to the effects of nicotine than you are. Dogs and cats’ nervous systems are even less able to process nicotine, making them very susceptible to nicotine poisoning. This is why it is important for anyone who keeps tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and vaping devices or nicotine replacement therapy products in their homes to be sure to keep them out of reach of their pet. This includes carefully disposing of all cigarette butts and empty e-cigarette cartridges as even in small doses, accidental ingestion of any of these products could be fatal. It should also be noted that pets can also suffer negative health consequences, particularly to their lungs, of second-hand smoke if they are routinely exposed to it in their indoor environments, so you should limit smoking around your pet.
Sources of Nicotine
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 50 to 60 milligrams of nicotine is a deadly dose for an adult who weigh about 150 pounds. In contrast, a dose of 9-12 mg/kg is considered lethal for most dogs, even less for cats. That is why ingesting just one cigarette, or cigarette butt, can be cause for concern, as the average cigarette contains approximately 12 mg of nicotine. Even more frightening, one e-cigarette cartridge can contain anywhere from 6 to 24 mg of nicotine. Main sources of nicotine that are dangerous for pets are:
- E-cigarettes and their “e-juice” cartridges
- Rolling tobacco
- Chewing tobacco
- Nicotine replacements including gum, lozenges, patches, inhalers and nasal sprays
- Pipe tobacco
- Some pesticides
Symptoms of Nicotine Poisoning in Pets
If a pet ingests nicotine, the symptoms will begin to appear quickly and can worsen dramatically over a short period of time. In as little as 15 to 30 minutes, pets can begin to show gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, neurologic and pulmonary problems. However, some nicotine sources, like nicotine gum, may take longer to be ingested and so symptoms may take up to an hour to appear. The severity of these symptoms will depend on the amount and type of nicotine ingested, as well as the cat or dog's body weight. If your pet has any of these symptoms, you should contact your veterinarian immediately. Common symptoms include:
- vomiting or diarrhea
- drooling more than usual
- labored breathing, weakness or even collapse
- tremors, twitching or seizures
- ataxia (or clumsy movements and balance suggesting poor muscle control)
- constricted pupils
- elevated heart rate (which can lead to cardiac problems later on)
Even if your pet can self-decontaminate by vomiting up the nicotine product, a veterinary evaluation is needed to ensure no permanent damage was done. They will also want to monitor heart rate, blood pressure and neurological status overnight.
Treating Nicotine Poisoning in Pets
Early treatment is critical with any nicotine poisoning. If it has been less than four hours, your vet may be able to prevent damage to your dog’s central nervous system, heart, liver, kidneys and brain. Treatment will depend on the amount ingested, the length of time since the ingestion, and the size of the pet. Pets that are treated and stabilized within the first four hours have a greater chance of a full recovery. That is why you should not wait to see how your pet is doing in the morning, but instead consult a vet immediately.
Most vets will begin by inducing vomiting or performing a lavage to empty the stomach before giving activated charcoal to continue the decontamination. Charcoal sops up the nicotine and prevents it from causing further damage. After this, IV fluids, oxygen therapy, and blood pressure or seizure medications will be given to treat symptoms as needed. Your pet will need to stay overnight so that the vet can monitor their heart rate and blood pressure among other things.
Nicotine poisoning can be a very scary situation. Keeping all nicotine products out of reach of your pet is the best way to make sure that they stay healthy and you never have to worry about the damaging effects of nicotine on their little bodies.
Blog last updated: August 25, 2023