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Nicotine Poisoning in Pets

Cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, and nicotine patches and gum are toxic


Nicotina (tobacco) plant by net_efekt on Flickr

Nicotina (tobacco) plant

© net_efekt on Flickr
It has been known for quite some time that second-hand cigarette smoke is dangerous to pets and people. Consuming discarded tobacco or nicotine products is also a risk. Pets (and children) may find discarded cigarette or cigar butts, nicotine patches, nicotine gum and chewing tobacco and decide to give them a taste test. Especially curious puppies.

All of these tobacco products contain nicotine, which can cause illness and even death in fairly small amounts. This quick tips is to alert people of this danger and a reminder to dispose of these products safely away from pets.

Sometimes the danger isn't obvious, as seen in this case from the Veterinary Medicine Forum:

JudiBC writes: "My landscaper, when mowing our doggy pen (a large area where they are allowed to be in our yard - supervised) chews tobacco and every week our dogs become ill (all five) for two to three days after this area is mowed. We finally discovered that the landscaper was spitting out the tobacco as he was mowing the doggie pen and that our dogs were finding this unusual treat very interesting. At first we thought it was the chunks of grass that fell off the mower, then we discovered the chunks of tobacco. Lots of them. I have since learned that this can be toxic to pets and the symptoms are, vomiting, diarrhea or loose stool."

I hadn't thought of this scenario before, and I appreciate this post and am glad that her dogs are now doing fine. This is a great warning for everyone, especially people that don't smoke or chew tobacco -- dogs can find and eat things before we are even aware of what happened, as evidenced by the "worst things my pet has eaten" viewer-submitted stories.

Toxic signs seen from tobacco ingestion
The first thing the body does after ingestion of tobacco/nicotine is to get rid of it, seen as vomiting. Here are the common signs from nicotine toxicity:

  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • tremors or trembling
  • drooling, hypersalivation
  • constricted pupils
  • excitement, odd behavior
  • seizures
  • death

What is the toxic dose?
The toxic dose for nicotine in pets is 1/2-1 mg per pound of pet body weight, while the lethal dose is 4 mg per pound of pet body weight.1 The type of nicotine (cigarette butt, nicotine gum, etc.) and the size of the animal make it difficult to have a "one size fits all" answer, but in short, according to Wendy C. Brooks, DVM, DipABVP: "a 40 lb dog would get very sick after eating one cigarette but would need 11 cigarettes to die from nicotine poisoning." Read full article: "Nicotine (Cigarette) Poisoning in Pets"

What is the treatment for nicotine toxicity?
Ingestion of nicotine is considered an emergency, and time is of the essence. If possible, have the type of nicotine and the approximate amount of nicotine that your pet ingested ready for your vet for aggressive treatment. Your veterinarian will want to: induce vomiting if the animal hasn't already vomited, administer activated charcoal, and start supportive therapy -- IV fluids, medications to control seizures and other nervous system effects if indicated. The sooner the body is rid of the nicotine (by vomiting and breakdown in the liver) the better the prognosis.

It should be noted that stomach absorption of nicotine is poor, but tobacco can be caustic to the stomach. Antacids should not be administered however, because stomach acids are primarily what inhibit the nicotine absorption. Nicotine is absorbed well from the small intestines though, so prompt treatment will prevent more of this toxin from getting into the bloodstream.

Trying to quit?
Check out the Quit Smoking site at About.com for tips and support.

1Nicotine toxic dose - from VeterinaryPartner.com

Photo: Nicotina (tobacco) plant by net_efekt on Flickr

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