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Vaping is a method of smoking and originally marketed as a nicotine replacement product. Vaping, also known as electronic cigarettes, E-cigarettes, or E-cigs, has gained popularity over the past decade. In 2018, an estimated 41 million people were vaping with a global market estimated at nearly 20 billion dollars. As the popularity of vaping continues to rise, so does the increased risk of toxicity to dogs and cats.
How Do E-Cigarettes Work?
E-cigarettes are battery-operated vaporizers that come in various shapes such as a long cigarette, pipe, cigar, pen, or USB memory stick, which simulates smoking cigarettes. The E-cigs have a mouthpiece, reservoir or cartridge filled with E-liquids, a heating element (atomizer), and a power source (battery).
When the mouthpiece is used, the atomizer in the E-cigarette heats the liquid turning it into a vapor that is then inhaled. The aerosol produced resembles a vapor cloud of smoke and is intended to provide the user with the satisfaction of smoking.
The E-liquid contains a mixture of ingredients including nicotine, flavorings, glycerin, propylene glycol, and/or other chemicals. Most E-liquids contain nicotine but there are some products on the market that control only chemicals and flavors. The E-liquid is sold in cartridges and large bottles used to refill cartridges.
E-Cigarettes & Vaping Safety
The safety of E-cigs is yet to be determined. Until recently, evidence suggested vaping was safer than traditional smoking, but data was inconclusive. There are now claims of vaping-related illnesses. According to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been over 1000 cases of vaping-related lung illness in the United States, including 18 deaths. There appears to be new information developed daily about the danger of vaping with the primary concern being inflammation to the lungs and risk of cancer.
These claims have led many states to actively develop legislature restricting the use of flavored vaping products. Restrictions range from a complete ban of the sales of vape products to prohibiting sales to those under 21 years of age, designating the location of the products in stores, or banning specific flavored vape products.
The danger of Vaping to Pets
There are several dangers of vaping to dogs, cats, and other pets. These include:
- Nicotine toxicity can occur from the ingestion of the E-liquid should it be spilled. The flavoring and aroma in the E-liquids make them attractive and enticing to some pets, especially dogs, to ingest. There is a large variation in the chemical components in the various products. Some products contain less than 10 milligrams of nicotine per milliliter (mg/ml); others more than 60 mg/ml. For comparison, a light cigarette contains 8 mg of nicotine while unfiltered cigarettes contain 16 to 36 mg.
- Ingestion of the plastic casing can cause gastrointestinal obstruction if the plastic gets stuck in the stomach or intestines.
- Oral trauma can occur from chewing the sharp plastic.
- Respiratory irritation and long-term effects of second-hand smoke (vapors) can develop in some pets. Some dogs and cats can have difficulty breathing, coughing, panting, wheezing or experience irritation to their nose and eyes. Dogs and cats with underlying heart or lung disease are at greater risk for developing symptoms from second-hand smoke (vapors). Research is needed to determine the long-term effects of vaping on people, dogs, and cats that may include lung cancer.
How Much Toxicity is in an E-Cigarette Cartridge?
There is a significant variation in the nicotine concentration contained in cartridges and bulk liquids. It is estimated that each E-Cigarette cartridge contains on average 6 mg to 24 mg of nicotine. One cartridge has the nicotine equivalent of 1 to 2 regular cigarettes.
According to officials at the petpoisonhelpline.com, “the ingestion of a single cartridge can result in clinical signs for a 50-pound dog and potentially death for a dog less than 10 pounds.” The E-Liquid can also be absorbed through the skin if your pet walks through spilled E-cigarette E-Liquid.
Signs of Vaping E-Liquid Toxicity in Dogs
Clinical signs of vaping E-Liquid toxicity in dogs and cats are dependent upon the amount and the concentration of the e-liquid ingested or absorbed relative to your dog or cat’s body weight. The signs of toxicity generally begin within 15 minutes to 45 minutes of ingestion. Many pets will vomit naturally after ingestion.
When large amounts are consumed, the effects can be life-threatening. Small amounts can also induce symptoms. Without treatment, vaping E-Liquid toxicity can cause paralysis of the breathing muscles. Dogs and cats can die from an inability to breathe, sometimes within a few hours. If your pet exhibits any of the following symptoms, call your veterinarian or nearest emergency clinic immediately. Signs of toxicity may include:
- Dilated pupils
- Heart changes that can include either bradycardia (slow heart rate), tachycardia (high heart rate) and/or cardiac arrhythmias
- Fast breathing or difficulty breathing
- Lethargy (in high doses)
- Stumbling and/or incoordination
Treatment of Vaping E-Liquid Toxicity in Dogs & Cats
The immediate treatment is to reduce the amount of vaping E-liquid in the stomach while keeping your dog or cat alive until the substance is broken down by the body. Despite treatment, some dogs and cats that have ingested large amounts of E-liquid may not survive.
Treatments your veterinarian may recommend include:
- Bathe your pet immediately using a mild dishwashing soap to remove any product on the skin (dermal exposure).
- Induce vomiting if the pet is alert.
- Pump the stomach (also known as gastric lavage) if large amounts were ingested.
- Give repeated doses of activated charcoal to reduce further nicotine absorption.
- Use a ventilator to assist with breathing until the toxin can be cleared from their system for severely affected dogs.
- Give intravenous fluids to help to enhance the elimination of the nicotine.
Provide other supportive care such as oxygen, muscle relaxants, or seizure control medications, as appropriate. Antacids, however, should be avoided because stomach acids decrease the absorption of nicotine.
The prognosis for Vaping E-Liquid Toxicity in Dogs
The prognosis is good when small amounts are ingested, and treatment is prompt and aggressive. The prognosis is poor with large ingestions. If your dog or cat survives the first four to five hours, the prognosis is considered good. Most of the nicotine is eliminated from the body within 16 to 20 hours.
Home Care for Vaping E-Liquid Ingestion
Consult your veterinarian or local emergency facility for instructions on how to induce vomiting at home. If nicotine ingestion is witnessed, inducing vomiting may prevent the toxic signs of nicotine poisoning.
If your pet is showing symptoms of nicotine toxicity, home treatment is not recommended. Immediate treatment by a veterinarian is encouraged.
Keeping Your Pet Safe
The best way to prevent toxicity and other adverse health effects resulting from exposure to vaping chemicals is to eliminate all sources of nicotine from your pet’s environment. This includes cigarettes, ashtrays, cigars, pipe tobacco, new and used nicotine patches, and all E-liquids out of the reach of your pets. If your pet has any exposure, contact your veterinarian immediately.