E-Cigarette Liquid Is Toxic For Your Pets

Electronic cigarettes, often called e-cigs, are marketed as an alternative to cigarette smoking and “vaping” has increased in popularity in recent years. These devices are a cylindrical body that holds a cartridge containing a liquid solution; some resemble a tobacco cigarette. What makes e-cigs so attractive to pets is the usual “perfect storm” of the owner’s scent, food smells from eating snacks while vaping, accessibility in purses or on coffee tables, and that the e-cig liquid is often flavored like candy or mints. The solution, commonly called “e-liquid” or “e-juice”, contains a base material, flavoring compounds, and nicotine. The base material is generally propylene glycol and either vegetable glycerin or polyethylene glycol.

It is found that glycerin and propylene glycol are of low toxicity when eaten, but the amount in the refill bottles (usually 10-30% of what is in the bottle) is low enough to not be much of a concern. However, nicotine is the bigger issue. Whether any of the compounds used are toxic if inhaled long term is not yet known.

The nicotine levels in these e-liquids can vary in concentration from being completely nicotine-free up to 36 milligrams per milliliter. In some cases, the milliliter (mL) part is dropped from the label, and the e-liquids are advertised as having “X” milligrams (mg) of nicotine. In some e-cigs, the user controls the amount of nicotine delivered by adjusting the flow of e-liquid from the cartridge.

A full e-cig cartridge can contain up to 36 mg of nicotine, which may not sound like a lot until you realize how toxic nicotine is to our pets. Clinical signs of nicotine poisoning can be seen in dogs and cats exposed to a mere 0.5 mg per pound of body weight. For cats and small dogs, ingesting just 20 mg of nicotine can be deadly.

Even more dangerous are the bottles of e-liquid that are used to recharge the e-cig cartridge: the nicotine in these bottles can range from 10 mL to 60 mL or more. When you do the math, a 30 mL bottle of 36 mg/mL e-liquid is more than enough to prove fatal for even a very large dog if the contents are ingested.

Nicotine is readily absorbed by ingestion as well as through the skin. Pets may be exposed when they chew up the e-cigs or the bottles containing e-liquid, or even if they walk through a puddle of spilled e-liquid and get it on their paws. The signs of nicotine poisoning may begin within 15 to 30 minutes of exposure to the e-liquid. In contrast, signs of nicotine poisoning after eating tobacco products may take a few hours as the nicotine must be released from the tobacco.

The first signs normally seen with toxic exposure to nicotine include:

  • Excessive drooling
  • Vomiting with or without diarrhea
  • Agitation or restlessness
  • Increased respiratory rate or panting

With severe intoxications, signs may progress to include:

  • Excitation
  • Disorientation
  • Tremors
  • Twitching
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure

Further progression of signs may result in profound weakness, paralysis, abnormal heart rhythms (including cardiac arrest), low blood pressure, coma and death.

Prompt and aggressive veterinary care is required to successfully manage poisoning from e-liquid exposure. Because the e-liquid is rapidly absorbed across the mucous membranes of the mouth, standard decontamination measures such as inducing vomiting are usually not helpful. Treatment includes managing convulsions and seizures, treating heart and blood pressure abnormalities, ensuring adequate respiration, and providing intravenous fluids to enhance nicotine elimination.

The prognosis for patients exposed to large amounts of nicotine can be quite grave depending on how quickly veterinary care is obtained, and even with aggressive veterinary care some patients will not survive.

It is always important to be aware of the surroundings of your pets. Informing the people around you will be helpful in preventing your pets – or the pets of others – to become exposed to this common toxic material. If you have any further questions or concerns, or if you think your pet may have been exposed to e-cigs, please give our office a call to speak with one of our veterinarians or veterinary staff members.


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