Do you vape, and do you have a dog?
If you answered both questions with a “yes,” then you need to know that e-cigarettes pose a deadly risk to pets.
As e-cigs grow in popularity and more people have them at home, in 1 year the number of dogs poisoned rose by 300%. The effects of toxicity include stomach upsets, high blood pressure, seizures and death.
E-Cigs Attract Dogs
One reason e-cigs are an accident waiting to happen is that dogs are attracted to the flavored juice (e-liquid). The e-liquid cartridges contain nicotine and various flavorings that draw the dog to them. Then Rocky just has to chew the cartridge and puncture it with a tooth to be in danger.
Indeed, nicotine is readily absorbed through the gums, so the unlucky dog who chews on a cartridge can be poisoned even if he doesn’t swallow the device. However, for dogs who ingest the cartridges or a refill, the intestine provides the perfect alkaline environment for absorption — meaning the dog can become sick within even 15 minutes.
(A brief digression: Nicotine isn’t the only danger e-cigs pose. For the dog who uses the vaporizer as a chew toy, there’s a chance he may swallow the lithium ion battery or button. In the moist environment of the stomach, a current flows, which can kill living tissue and damage the bowel lining. If a full thickness ulcer forms, then gut contents can leak into the abdomen and cause fatal peritonitis.)
Size and Scale
The strength of the nicotine compared to the relatively small size of a dog makes for a deadly combination. The toxic dose of nicotine for pets is around 1mg/ kg.
Did you know that full-strength vaporizer cartridges contain up to 24 mg/ml? And it gets worse — some refill bottles contain up to 30 ml of e-liquid, which means each one contains 720mg.
Look at this another way: 1 refill bottle contains enough nicotine to poison not 1 30kg Labrador (around 66 pounds) but 24 of them! When you consider how some dogs eat anything, the likelihood of poisoning isn’t farfetched…let alone the consequences for a smaller dog.
Leave that e-cig lying around, and Rocky the Lab, who gets a whiff of it, is likely to chew it. Remember, he doesn’t even have to swallow the cartridge; puncturing the container and having the juice leak into his mouth is dangerous enough.
Signs and Symptoms
It’s almost as if nicotine is designed to be the perfect toxin. It’s rapidly absorbed across gums or the gut wall, gets into the bloodstream and then crosses the barrier that protects the brain.
As I’ve mentioned, the symptoms of toxicity can occur shockingly fast. The nicotine acts on the gut, circulatory system, lungs and nerves, producing some pretty unpleasant symptoms, including death due to paralysis of the respiratory muscles.
More issues caused by nicotine ingestion include:
- Gut signs: Excessive drooling and abdominal pain, leading to sickness and diarrhea.
- Heart and circulation: The dog’s blood pressure goes sky-high. The heart races, the beat becomes erratic and the dog becomes weaker and eventually collapses.
- Nervous system: The dog is over-excited and hyperactive but then starts to stagger and tremble, which can lead to seizures and possible coma.
- Lungs: Initially, the dog hyperventilates and has rapid, shallow breaths, but as the nicotine reaches fatal levels, it suppresses breathing, and the dog passes away from respiratory paralysis.
If your dog is unlucky enough to ingest e-liquid or a vaporizer cartridge, treat this as an emergency, phone the vet and go straight to the clinic. There is no antidote for nicotine toxicity, but supportive treatment may give the pet a fighting chance.
Your vet will take action, such as giving a slurry of activated charcoal by nasogastric tube to try and reduce further absorption. For dogs experiencing over-excitement or even seizures, then tranquilizers such as diazepam can help control the symptoms and take some of the strain from the heart. The vet will also use drugs to support the circulatory system and an oxygen tent to help the dog with breathing difficulties.
Prevention, Not Cure
E-cigs and dogs don’t mix, and this is definitely a case of prevention being better than cure. In the same way you wouldn’t leave prescription meds on a table with your dog around, think of an e-cig in exactly the same way.
Keep all vaping equipment well out of your 4-legger’s reach at all times, and keep refill bottles in a locked cabinet. Only then can you rest easy that vaping isn’t putting your pet at risk.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed Oct. 13, 2018.