E-cigarettes can kill … your pet

There is a lot of debate over how safe — or unsafe — electronic cigarettes are to people. But one organization says it’s important to make sure those same people think about their pets, too.

The Pet Poison Helpline says there is no debate on how such nicotine-delivering devices can hurt animals, to the point of poisoning a dog or cat. And the biggest problem, they say, is that many pet owners don’t realize it.

The helpline group has had a spike in recent calls concerning nicotine poisoning in pets that ingested e-cigarettes or liquid nicotine refill solutions. In fact, those calls have doubled over the past six months, reflecting what the organization believes is increasing popularity over the cigarette alternative.

Although dogs account for the majority of cases coming into the helpline, nicotine in e-cigarettes and liquid refills can be toxic to cats as well, the group says.

“We have handled cases for pets poisoned by eating traditional cigarettes or tobacco products containing nicotine for years,” said Ahna Brutlag, an associate director of veterinary services at Pet Poison Helpline, in a release. “But, as the use of e-cigarettes has become more widespread, our call volume for cases involving them has increased considerably.”

E-cigarettes are another way of delivering nicotine. They are designed to resemble traditional cigarettes, however the battery-operated devices atomize liquid that contains nicotine, turning it into a vapor that can be inhaled. The most recent craze is flavored e-cigarettes, which are available in an array of flavors from peppermint to banana cream pie, helpline workers said.

The aroma of liquid nicotine in e-cigarettes can be alluring to dogs, and flavored e-cigarettes could be even more enticing. The issue is the amount of nicotine in each cartridge — between 6 milligrams and 24 milligrams.

Each cartridge contains the nicotine equivalent of one or two traditional cigarettes, but the purchase packs of five to 100 cartridges multiply that amount many times over, posing a serious threat to pets that chew them.

For example, helping official said, if a single cartridge is ingested by a 50-pound dog, clinical signs of poisoning are likely to occur. But if a dog that weighs 10 pounds ingests the same amount, death is possible.

Dogs of any weight that ingest multiple e-cigarette cartridges are at risk for severe poisoning, and even death.

In addition to the toxicity of nicotine, the actual e-cigarette casing can result in oral injury when chewed, and can cause gastrointestinal upset with the risk of a foreign body obstruction.

Some e-cigarette users buy vials of liquid nicotine solution for refilling cartridges. The solution is commonly referred to as “e-liquid” or “e-juice.” The small bottles hold enough liquid to fill multiple cartridges, meaning they contain a considerable amount of nicotine, officials said. Pet owners should be very careful to store them out of the reach of pets.

Nicotine poisoning in pets has a rapid onset of symptoms — generally within 15 to 60 minutes following ingestion. Symptoms for dogs and cats include vomiting, diarrhea, agitation, elevations in heart rate and respiration rate, depression, tremors, ataxia, weakness, seizures, cyanosis, coma and cardiac arrest.

Because nicotine poisoning can happen so rapidly following ingestions, prompt veterinary care can mean the difference between life and death for a pet. Home care is not generally possible with nicotine exposure, officials said, due to the severity of the poisoning, even in small doses.

Owners should take action immediately by contacting a veterinarian, or calling the Pet Poison Helpline at (800) 213-6680.

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