E-cigs: Why This Popular Smoking Trend Is Not Good News for Your Pet

arthritis in cats and dogsHave you jumped on the electronic cigarette trend as a healthier option for your smoking habit? Do you have a son or daughter who regularly smokes electronic cigarettes? This method of consuming nicotine is becoming a popular alternative to traditional cigarettes. According to the FDA, e-cig use has risen dramatically in the past few years. A recent report shows that about 3 million high school and middle school students were regular users of e-cigs in 2015, which is up from 2.46 million in 2014. Why are we writing about e-cigs in a blog about pet health? Because e-cigs pose a significant health threat to your dog or cat.

What Are E-Cigarettes?

Electronic cigarettes, more commonly known as e-cigarettes, e-cigs or vape pens, are small devices that dispense a nicotine vapor that people inhale to get the same effects of smoking. The battery-operated e-cigs hold a cartridge that has a liquid form of nicotine. When a smoker ignites the e-cig, it delivers a nicotine vapor. Each e-cig cartridge contains about the same amount of nicotine as found in 2 cigarettes but without all the other harmful chemicals found in tobacco. Unfortunately, with the rise in e-cig use has come a related increase in visits to emergency veterinary clinics.

Why Are E-Cigs Dangerous for Pets?

Nicotine is toxic to animals. Before the availability of e-cigs, an animal needed to consume several cigarettes to experience a toxic effect. Cigarettes are generally not enticing to dogs and cats, and therefore they are not a serious concern for pet owners. With the increasing popularity of e-cigs, that has changed. According to the Pet Poison Helpline, calls about nicotine poisoning in dogs or cats that have ingested the liquid nicotine in e-cig refill cartridges have increased significantly over the past couple of years.

The increased danger for pets is due to the amount of nicotine in an e-cig cartridge and the fact that the aroma of liquid nicotine can be attractive to pets—especially flavored nicotine cartridges. Plus, the nicotine cartridges are often sold in packages that may contain as many as 100 cartridges. Although a large dog that ingests one nicotine cartridge may show little or no toxic effect, in a small dog or cat a similar amount can be fatal. Also, since the nicotine is in liquid form, it’s absorbed into the bloodstream faster, producing symptoms and toxic effects very rapidly. Plus, the cartridge itself can injure your furry friend’s mouth or cause a life-threatening intestinal blockage.

What Are the Signs of Nicotine Poisoning?

Nicotine mainly affects an animal’s central nervous system, cardiopulmonary system and gastrointestinal tract. If your pet ingests liquid nicotine in an amount equal to 2 or more cigarettes, he or she will likely experience drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, agitation and rapid breathing. Other signs of nicotine toxicity include shallow respiration, decreased heart rate, muscle twitching, and cyanosis or bluish skin and mucous membranes.  If left untreated, cardiac arrest, coma and death can occur.

What Should You Do for a Nicotine Overdose?

Because the onset of symptoms is so rapid, immediate action must be taken to avoid serious, even lethal consequences. There is no home treatment to help your pet. Call your vet or an emergency veterinary hospital for professional treatment. The seriousness of the toxicity will depend on the size of the animal and the amount of nicotine ingested.  Of course the best treatment is prevention. Make sure you keep your e-cigs and nicotine refills where you pet can’t get to them, and be sure to impress upon your kids who smoke e-cigs the importance of keeping them away from your animals.

E-cigs may be a somewhat healthier alternative for humans than regular cigarettes because of fewer toxins, but they are definitely NOT safer for your pets. If you believe your cat or dog has consumed liquid nicotine from an e-cig cartridge, you can’t afford to “wait and see.” Call Powell Veterinary Service at 970-352-9164 and we can begin life-saving treatment for your furry friend.