Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are becoming more and more popular. Though not proven to be healthier than regular cigarettes, that is the current public perception, not to mention the fact that they seem to be more socially acceptable, with the vapors from an e-cig typically thought to be less offensive than secondhand smoke. What is an e-cig, exactly? The Pet Poison Helpline explains:
Electronic cigarettes are battery-operated devices designed to look like regular tobacco cigarettes that are used as a delivery system for nicotine. They work when an atomizer heats liquid containing nicotine and turns it into a vapor that can be inhaled. It creates a vapor cloud that looks like cigarette smoke. E-cigarettes are many times used as a part of smoking cessation plans.
We are still unsure about the toxicity of the exhaled vapors and how, exactly, they affect pets, but the main danger comes from exposure and ingestion. Nicotine is highly toxic to pets, even in small doses.
E-cigarettes employ cartridges that each contain between 6 and 24 mg of nicotine mixed with propylene glycol, glycerin, and flavoring agents. The nicotine concentration is equivalent to approximately one to two cigarettes. Some e-cigarettes that are rechargeable (instead of battery operated) can be refilled with larger bottles, but the traditional e-cigarette cartridges can be purchased in quantities of five to 100 cartridges.
Ingestion of a single cartridge can cause adverse symptoms in a fifty-pound dog and probable death for a ten-pound dog. Though dogs are more likely to get into trouble with e-cigarette cartridges, cats are also at risk, not to mention children. The cartridges come in all sorts of flavors, many of which are enticing to pets. E-cigarettes and their cartridges should be kept out of the reach of pets and children as any poison should, but there are inadequate warnings on most e-cig packaging.
What are the signs and symptoms my pet might display if he has ingested nicotine from an e-cig?
• oral injury or gastrointestinal upset or foreign body obstruction from chewing the e-cig
• vomiting and diarrhea
• foaming at the mouth
• increase in heart rate and respiration rate
• tremors or seizures
• cardiac arrest and death
If your pet has ingested even a small amount of nicotine, there will be a rapid onset of symptoms (usually within fifteen minutes to an hour depending on how much has been ingested and the weight of the animal). For this reason, it is vital that you get your pet to the veterinarian immediately for treatment.
If I use e-cigs, what precautions can I take to make sure my pet isn't at risk for poisoning?
Keep all e-cigs, cartridges, and accessories out of reach of your pet at all times. Exhale your vapor in well ventilated areas, preferably outdoors or away from your pet. In addition, do not refill your e-cig or change the cartridge around your pet in case you inadvertently spill the refill fluid or drop a cartridge.
The bottom line? Though e-cigs are thought to be healthier than smoking traditional cigarettes, they may pose an even higher risk to our pets. Use caution, and be prepared to take quick action if your pet is exposed.
E-cig photo source: smokelesscigarettes2.com