No-one could have missed the phenomenon of e-cigarettes. On every street, in shops, pubs and restaurants there are people sucking on the pen-like objects. The jury is still out on whether they are better for the smoker’s health than traditional cigarettes but they are undoubtedly very dangerous for our pets.
Electronic cigarettes are battery powdered devices that vapourise a liquid, which is then inhaled. The fluid is held in a small chamber in the middle of the device and is a mixture of glycerin (a colourless liquid), flavouring and nicotine in varying concentrations.
Nicotine is the substance which makes cigarettes so addictive but in the tiny quantities smokers inhale, it is not especially dangerous. It is the tar and other elements which are carcinogenic and this is why many people are opting for e-cigarettes. However, in large doses nicotine it is extremely toxic and can even be deadly.
Many a curious pet, especially dogs and in-particular puppies, have been caught chewing things they shouldn’t. However, while gnawing on a pair of shoes won’t damage their health (unless you catch them!), it is a very different story with e-cigarettes.
The nicotine concentration in e-cigarettes varies; the lowest is 60mg of nicotine in total, while the highest can be as much as 240mg. The toxic dose for dogs is only 4mg/kg and the lethal dose is 9mg/kg. Therefore even the least potent will be harmful to all but the largest dogs and for the average sized pet, most could be lethal.
Symptoms of nicotine poisoning include vomiting, drooling, an increased heart rate and pale gums. These will progress to fitting, after which the dog can slip into a coma and die. It can take between 15 minutes and an hour an a half for these signs to appear, so even if your pet has chewed at your e-cigarette and seems fine, you must seek veterinary advice immediately. Also, make sure you have the device or packaging close to hand so you can tell your vet approximately how much they have ingested.
It is vital that treatment for nicotine poisoning is started as soon as possible. Unfortunately there is no antidote, your vet can only support your pet’s system while their liver detoxifies the poison. Therapies will include; setting up an IV drip, using sedative medications to stop any fits and pumping out the stomach.
Nicotine poisoning has always occurred in dogs but with normal cigarettes, they would have to eat an awful lot and they would most likely be sick before all the toxin was absorbed. However, with the e-cigarettes high concentration of pure nicotine, it’s rapid absorption into the body and their increase in popularity, it is likely both vets and owners are going to see more problems. Therefore, it is important that we are all aware of the dangers this new phenomenon poses and remember to keep e-cigarettes well out of the way of curious noses!