E-Cigarette Toxicity in Cats


Electronic cigarettes (commonly referred to as E-cig, personal vaporizer or Electronic cigarettes or electronic nicotine delivery system), are becoming increasingly popular and with that is an increased risk of toxicity to cats and dogs.

What are E-Cigarettes?

Electronic cigarettes are marketed as nicotine replacement products to replace smoking traditional cigarettes. E-cigarettes provide smokers with a smoke-free source of nicotine, commonly referred to as “vaping”.

E-cigs are battery-operated vaporizers in the shape of a long cigarette which simulates smoking cigarettes. The E-cigs are filled with E-liquids which contain nicotine. The liquids are purchased in cartridges – and packaged in groups of 5 to 100 cartridges.

The atomizer in the E-cigarette heats the liquid which turns it into a vapor which is then inhaled. It creates a vapor cloud that looks like cigarette smoke. The E-liquid contains a mixture of ingredients including nicotine, flavorings, glycerin and propylene glycol.

The E-cigs produce an aerosol that resembles smoke and gives the “smoker” the satisfaction of smoking. According to https://www.sciencenews.org/ vaping product sales are big – in fact “last year it was projected to hit an estimated $1.7 billion dollars”.

Are E-Cigarettes Safe?

The safety of E-cigs to humans has yet to be determined. Some evidence suggests that it may be safer but traditional smoking but data is not conclusive. Studies regarding the effects of the vapors have not been completed. Sciencenews.org goes on to say that “people may think vaping is safe, but FDA has seen no data establishing anything like that”.

The flavored e-liquid can contain 10 times the amount of nicotine as traditional cigarettes. The flavoring and aroma in the E-liquids makes them attractive and enticing to some cats to ingest. Some products are spilled and absorbed through the skin when a cat walks through them.

There are three problems with ingestion of e-cigarettes for cats:

1. Ingestion of the plastic casing can cause a gastrointestinal obstruction

2. Oral trauma from the sharp plastic when chewed and

3. Nicotine Toxicity from ingestion of the E-liquid

Ingestion of E-Cigarette E-liquids can cause nicotine toxicity.

How Much Toxicity is In an E-Cigarette Cartridge

Each E-Cigarette Cartridge contains 6 mg to 24 mg of Nicotine. One cartridge has the nicotine equivalent of 1 to 2 regular cigarettes.

According to the petpoisonhelpline.com, “the ingestion of a single cartridge can result in clinical signs and potentially death for a dog less than 10 pounds.” The same level of toxicity would apply for a cat.

What are Signs of E-cigarette E-Liquid Toxicity in Cats

The clinical signs of toxicity are dependent upon the amount and the concentration of the e-liquid ingested or absorbed relative to your cat’s body weight. The E-cigarette E-Liquid can be absorbed when ingested as well as through the skin if the pet walks through spilled E-cigarette E-Liquid.

The signs of toxicity are dose-dependent and generally begin within 15 minutes to one hour of ingestion. Many cats will vomit naturally after ingestion. 

When large amounts are consumed, the effects can be life-threatening, but even small amounts can induce symptoms. Without treatment, nicotine toxicity can cause paralysis of the breathing muscles and your cat may die from an inability to breathe, sometimes within a few hours. If your cat exhibits any of the following symptoms, call your veterinarian.

  • Tremors
  • Weakness
  • Stumbling and/or incoordination
  • Depression
  • Hyperactivity
  • Lethargy (in high doses)
  • Fast breathing or difficulty breathing
  • Drooling
  • Dilated pupils
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Possible seizures
  • Collapse
  • Either bradycardia (slow heart rate), tachycardia (high heart rate) and/or cardiac arrhythmias
  • What is the Treatment for E-cigarette E-Liquid

    The immediate treatment is to reduce the amount of nicotine in the stomach while keeping your cat alive until the nicotine is broken down by the body.

    Despite treatment, some cats that have ingested large amounts of nicotine may not survive.

    Your veterinarian might do any of the following:

  • Induction of vomiting if you witnessed the nicotine ingestion and the pet is alert. Ask your veterinarian for advice. It is recommended to NOT use antacids as the acid in the stomach helps decrease the absorption of nicotine.
  • If exposure was dermal, bathing the patient immediately using a mild dish-washing soap is recommended.
  • Pumping the stomach (gastric lavage) may be recommended if large amounts were ingested.
  • Repeated doses of activated charcoal are used to reduce further nicotine absorption.
  • A ventilator to assist with breathing until the toxin can be cleared from their system for severely affected cats.
  • Intravenous fluids help to enhance elimination of the nicotine.
  • Other supportive care as needed such as oxygen, seizure control medications such as diazepam (valium).
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