Nicotine Poisoning in Pets

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

Cigarettes
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Nicotine Toxicity

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.

 Sometimes the danger isn't obvious.

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 of nicotine toxicity:

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

What is the Toxic Dose?

The toxic dose of 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."2

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.

References:
1Nicotine toxic dose

2Nicotine (Cigarette) Poisoning in Pets

Please note: This article has been provided for informational purposes only. If your pet is showing any signs of illness, please consult a veterinarian as quickly as possible.