While it’s true that electronic cigarettes have been touted as the safer, greener alternative to regular cigarettes or cigars, they pose certain dangers to our furry friends and many veterinary clinics are now reporting cases of animals that have become ill due to them. Worryingly, a high proportion of owners are completely unaware of how hazardous they can be and are typically less concerned about leaving their vaping supplies in plain sight of their pet than they would have been with their regular cigarettes.
What’s dangerous about them?
Liquid nicotine is a frequent component of E-cigarettes and is a known toxin to our animals, even in small amounts. Just as the regular nicotine in ‘old-fashioned’ cigarettes must not be consumed, liquid nicotine can cause stomach upsets, an increased heart rate, tremoring, seizures and even death. Owners can expect to see side effects in as little as 15 minutes, as this chemical gets to work quickly.
It’s important to note that nicotine in any form poses these same risks, so those curious critters that eat nicotine gum or patches are at the same risk of becoming ill and require the same urgent treatment.
Another issue is that animals (particularly the likes of our Beagles and Labradors!) may decide the casing of the E-cigarette is tasty enough to eat. As this won’t be digestible, there is a risk of a gastrointestinal obstruction. Symptoms of this tend to take longer to become apparent and can include vomiting, lethargy and a loss of appetite.
Why do animals eat them?
A real concern when it comes to E-cigarettes is that they are often highly appealing to animals as they can come in a variety of interesting flavours and smells, including the likes of ‘cotton candy’ and ‘green apple’. For most, this makes them more likely to eat them and animals that could have previously been trusted around regular cigarettes may not be as sensible around these more tempting alternatives.
What about inhaling the vapour?
It’s less clear how toxic this is to dogs and cats. There are studies suggesting that inhalation of second-hand vapour may be harmful, but that hasn’t been confirmed. However, it seems likely that, given their sensitivity to nicotine, there is at least a potential issue here.
A bigger worry is the inhalation of the vapour by pet birds. Birds have a very efficient respiratory tract, and due to its unique physiology, it absorbs inhaled chemicals much faster than a dog, cat or human will. While it is uncertain how dangerous this is in practice, it seems sensible to avoid vaping around pet birds, and if possible, not around dogs and cats either.
How sensitive are dogs to nicotine?
The degree by which an animal is affected is completely dose dependent and there will be a varying amount of nicotine in each cartridge. The less the pet weighs, the less of a tolerance they will have, so cats and youngsters are most at risk.
What should I do if my pet has nibbled on a cartridge?
If there is a possibility that your pet has been exposed, time is of the essence and they need to be seen by a vet ASAP to give them the best chance of a full recovery. Therapy usually consists of hospitalisation and intravenous fluids. Animals may be given an injection to cause them to vomit, depending on how long ago the nicotine was ingested, and they will also likely be given frequent charcoal meals to help absorb as much of the toxin as possible. Some of the more unwell patients will need quite intensive supportive care and may even require oxygen therapy and medicine to stop any seizure behaviour or abnormal heart rhythms.
As with most risky objects, the best way to keep our dogs and cats safe is to ensure they never have access to our vaping products. Think of them as curious toddlers who explore the world with their mouths and will try to put anything in there that they can! Ideally, all vaping products would be locked away when not in use, particularly in homes with cats who are real acrobats that can reach high up cupboards and shelves from a young age.