Did you know that nicotine can be highly toxic and even fatal if your pet ingests it? Depending on the source of the nicotine and the size of your pet, even a small amount can cause serious complications. Keep reading to find out what to look for, common sources of exposure and what can be done if your pet accidentally ingests nicotine.
What Type of Nicotine Can Be Toxic to Pets?
In general, all forms of nicotine can be toxic for your pet. This includes unused cigarettes, cigarette butts, nicotine patches, nicotine gum, e-cigarettes, chewing tobacco and cigars. Different forms of nicotine will carry different risk levels. This is because each item listed above has a different amount of nicotine present.
How Much Nicotine Is Toxic?
Pets only need to absorb 0.5–1.0 mg per pound of body weight for a toxic dose. The lethal dose is 4mg per pound of body weight. In general, the table below shows averages of nicotine levels in common sources: Cigarettes: 9–30 mg of nicotine
What Does Nicotine Toxicity Look Like?
Once ingested, nicotine toxicity can cause abnormal signs within an hour. Your pet may vomit or start to drool and become nauseous. This can then progress to abnormal nervous system signs such as excitement, twitching, hyperesthesia (increased sensitivity to light, sound, touch), tremors, hallucinations and seizures. Once at the veterinarian, your pet may be found to have an abnormal heart rate and blood pressure.
These abnormal signs can be caused by a number of toxins including caffeine, human medications, moldy food and algae. Therefore it is extremely important to be honest with your veterinarian when you speak with them about what your pet may have had access to. Trust me when I say as veterinarians, we will not be making any police reports about what your pet ingested. We just want to know what is causing their abnormalities so we can help them.
Can Other Ingredients They Ingest Be Toxic With the Nicotine?
Yes! Xylitol, or a type of sugar-free substitute very commonly used in human foods and products can be highly toxic to pets. This ingredient can actually cause life threatening hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, in pets. At higher doses, pets who ingest this may be at risk for acute liver failure. Please make sure to bring any packages with you to the veterinarian when you go so that a full list of ingredients your pet ingested is known.
Is There a Cure for Toxicity?
Once absorbed, there is no magic reversal medication for nicotine toxicity. If your veterinarian is able to induce vomiting in your pet and remove a portion of the ingested material, your pet will have less chance of absorbing a toxic dose. However, once it’s absorbed, all your veterinarian can do is support your pet. This will typically mean putting the pet on IV fluids, monitoring their heart rate, blood pressure and neurologic status and treating abnormalities that present themselves. Your pet may need to be hospitalized for up to 24 hours until all of the toxin has been excreted by the body.
If your pet has underlying liver and/or kidney issues, they may be more susceptible to the toxic effects of nicotine.
Depending on the amount ingested and the size of your pet, nicotine can be fatal to your pet.
Any Good News?
The only good news is that nicotine has a terrible taste if not flavored. Pets likely won’t eat large quantities unless it is flavored. Most cats, because they are even more picky eaters, may pick up the foreign material even less than dogs. However, some cats may find a nicotine patch, e-cigarette or cigarette butt on the floor and find it fun to play with. After playing with it for awhile curiosity may get the best of them and they may take a bite. Never say never when it comes to toxin exposure risk in your pets!
Another saving grace for these naughty pets is that nicotine will frequently activate the vomiting center in the brain, causing your pet to vomit up the freshly eaten toxin. This may help them self-decontaminate and greatly reduce the amount of nicotine absorbed into their body.
Nicotine is also not highly absorbed in the stomach, it gets absorbed into the bloodstream much easier once reaching the intestines. Therefore if your pet vomits on its own, or your veterinarian is able to induce vomiting to remove a large portion of the toxin, your pet hopefully did not absorb a highly toxic dose.
As stated above, toxic signs can occur within an hour of ingestion. Do not hesitate to get your pet to the nearest veterinarian if you are concerned they ingested even a portion of any product containing nicotine. The faster your pet can be decontaminated (made to vomit) and started on treatment, the better chance they have at survival.
If you are not within an hour to an emergency veterinarian, call the ASPCA Poison Control Center immediately to find out what you should do.
Featured Image Credit: Igor Normann, Shutterstock