Published on January 13th, 2016 | by Debbie Martin0
E-Cigs – Nicotine Poisoning, Toxic Threat to Dogs
E cigarettes and dogs: understanding the risks
It’s long been established that exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke can have disastrous health consequences – not only for humans, but for dogs, cats, and other household pets, too. But there’s a new smoking technology on the scene – one which has revolutionised the practice, and exploded in popularity in recent years.
If you’re a dog-owner and have started to use e-cigarettes – or you’re considering starting – it’s worth pausing to reflect on what impact this might have on your dog. In this article, we’ll examine the dangers, and see just what can be done to guard against them.
With an estimated four million people in Britain turning to electronic cigarettes and the first recorded death of a dog from nicotine poisoning after chewing an e-cigarette, Vets are urging owners to be extremely vigilant. The Veterinary Poisons Information Service also recorded a 300 per cent increase in e-cigs poisoning over the last 12 months.
What’s an e-cigarette?
Those of us who use the product might feel that they have an inkling of just what it does – or at least, what effect it has on us. The purpose of an e-cigarette is to deliver nicotine into the user’s lungs. It does this by combining the substance with a vapour which can be inhaled. But it’s worth taking a closer look at what’s going on inside the device.
Inside every e-cigarette, a few different components come together to produce this effect. The first of these is the cartridge, which contains a solution into which nicotine is dissolved. This solution is often referred to as the ‘e-liquid’, and also sometimes contains other additives and flavourings which make the device a little more palatable.
Next we have the system which turns this solution into vapour, in the form of a specially-designed chamber and a heating coil. We then have a battery, which heats the coil and allow the whole process to take place, and finally a light-emitting diode which gives off that distinctive glow.
While there is some variation between different designs of e-cigarette, the principle is the same – while some might have smaller, larger, or even replaceable elements at each stage, the basic design is fairly consistent.
What’s the problem?
Now, each of these components in isolation pose a threat of one sort or another to dogs – many of whom, as all dog-owners are aware, are especially fond of putting strange new devices into their mouths and biting down on them. Batteries, for example, contain acid which can cause severe burns to a dog’s mouth and digestive system.
But it’s the nicotine cartridge which poses the greatest risk. While a traditional cigarettes contain small amounts of nicotine, spread over a large area, an e-cigarette crams it all into a small capsule. Moreover, this capsule is laced with flavourings designed to make it more palatable. This means that a dog can easily suffer a level of nicotine poisoning that would be simply unfeasible with a traditional tobacco products.
Consequently, the widespread adoption of this new technology has led to many dog-owners unwittingly leaving their e-liquid in places where their dog can get at them. Often, the results are tragic.
What happens when a dog ingests nicotine?
If your dog should ingest nicotine, then the results are unlikely to be pleasant. The substance is an alkaloid with a ph. of around 8. It therefore does not get absorbed in the stomach, as the acids there ionise it. However, once the nicotine reaches the small intestine, with its higher ph. and larger surface area, absorption is much speedier. All in all, it takes around sixteen hours for the substance to be completely removed by the kidneys – and that’s more than enough time for serious harm to be done.
During this window, severe symptoms can manifest. These include gastrointestinal ones, such as vomiting, diarrhoea and pain in the abdomen. The dog’s blood pressure might rise significantly, and its heart might cease to keep a proper rhythm. They may have trouble breathing. In severe cases, the nervous system is effected – a dog may convulse violently, and even slip into a coma.
In fatal cases, the cause of death is often paralysis of the muscles in the respiratory system which allow the dog to breathe properly.
The dangers of e-cigs to dogs are extremely serious if chewed or ingested, and the onset of symptoms is often immediate. These include:
- Hyper salivation
- Abnormal Heart Rate
What’s the prognosis?
If you suspect that your dog has swallowed nicotine, then you should take it to the vet at the earliest possible opportunity. This will give it the best possible chance of survival – since the first few hours are the most crucial in dealing with the symptoms of the poisoning.
Unfortunately, there is no antidote for nicotine. Instead, the symptoms must be managed while the dog’s excretory system does its work. A vet might rinse the dog’s mouth out regularly with water, and its eyes with saline solution.
Oxygen might be administered in order to deal with the dog’s breathing problems. If the dog has swallowed the device’s battery, then this will likely need to be removed through surgery – or, if possible, endoscopy. The dog might be put on a drip to deal with dehydration, and any electrolyte problems which might have developed.
How can I reduce the risk?
As we’ve mentioned, a major factor of the danger stems from the fact that these devices contain very high concentrations of nicotine. In some of the more potent over-the-counter solutions, this concentration is 24mg/ml, while some products available over the internet offer concentrations as high as 100mg/ml. The fatal dosage for a dog is around ten milligrams for every kilo of body weight.
For the most part, the threat comes not from the e-cigarette itself, but from the solution contained in refill bottles – which can be as large as 30ml. Assuming that such a bottle were to contain 24mg/ml liquid, it would prove fatal to even giant breeds like the Mastiff and Great Dane.
This solution should therefore be kept well out of reach of your dog. Keep it stowed high overhead, in a room that your dog never visits. Moreover, you should ensure that you never leave your e-cigarette lying around where your dog might reach it.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you should ensure that any spillages of e-liquid are promptly cleaned. It’s easy to keep dog and e-liquid apart, while the solution is safely in its container – but if soaked into a carpet, or into clothing, a curious dog might be lured toward the spillage by the pleasant odour – suffice to say, this could spell disaster!