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Previous articles have given you information various things relating to e-cigs such as the laws relating to smoking at work and the use of e-cigs at work.

Image Copyright John Haslam - licensed under Creative Commons

Image Copyright John Haslam – licensed under Creative Commons

There are many articles on the net about the positive benefits for your health of moving away from tobacco based cigarettes to their digital counterparts, but very few about the dangers that e-cigs can pose to animals (either your pets if you work from home, or other working animals such as guard dogs, farm cats or even farm animals).

I’m sure that nowadays, everyone will have a basic understanding of what an e-cig is (after all you can buy them in many different types of shops and outlets here in the UK) and many people will how they work, but for those of you that don’t know about these ideas, here is a brief outline:

  • An electronic cigarette is a battery powered device that vapourises a liquid, which is then inhaled by the “smoker”.
  • The liquid (which may be flavoured) is held in a small chamber in the middle of the device and is a mixture of glycerin, nicotine in varying concentrations and often flavouring of some sort (mint and various types of fruit for example).  This is often called an e-liquid and can be brought in separate “bottles” in the same way that ink cartridges could be brought for the old fountain pens.
  • There is no naked flame or burning ember and hence no smoke which is why in the UK using e-cigs is not counted as smoking under the current laws.

Why might it be dangerous?

Nicotine is the substance which makes cigarettes of all varieties so addictive but in the tiny quantities smokers inhale, it is not especially dangerous. However, in large doses nicotine it is extremely toxic and can even be deadly and this is where the problems for animals can start to occur.  If the animal chews your e-cig, gets hold of the bottle of liquid, or laps up any spillages when you are refilling then they are at serious risk. The nicotine concentration in e-cigarettes varies; the lowest is 60mg of nicotine in total, while the highest can be as much as 240mg. When you think that the toxic dose for dogs is only 4mg/kg and the lethal dose is 9mg/kg. Therefore even the least potent will be harmful to all but the largest dogs and for the average sized pet or young puppy, most could be lethal. For cats, the toxic dose rates are, even lower at about 2.3mg/kg of body weight, and normally the smaller the animals body the lower the toxic dose will be. So given this, you can start to see where issues can lie.

What should I look for?

Symptoms of nicotine poisoning include the following, some are easily identifiable, others not so much unless you are a vet:

Obvious symptoms include (in no particular order):

  • vomiting;
  • drooling;
  • diarrhea;
  • pale gums;
  • constricted pupils;
  • over excitability and hysteria;
  • body tremors or spasms, which may progress into seizures and then coma;
  • slobbering.

Less noticeable symptoms include:

  • a galloping heartbeat or racing pulse;
  • high blood pressure;
  • hallucinations

As you can see from the three less noticeable symptoms above these would normally only be visible to a vet.

It can take between 15 minutes and 90 minutes for these signs to appear, so even if your pet has chewed at your e-cigarette and seems fine, you should seek veterinary advice immediately. Also, make sure you have the device or packaging close to hand so you can tell your vet approximately how much and what they have swallowed.

As with all poisoning, time is of the essence – and it is vital that treatment for nicotine poisoning is started as soon as possible. Unfortunately there is no antidote, your vet can only support your pet’s system while their liver detoxifies the poison. Treatments will include; setting up an IV drip, using sedative medications to stop any fits and pumping out the stomach.

Nicotine poisoning has always been a possibility with our animals but with normal cigarettes they would have to eat an awful lot of them and they would most likely be sick before all the toxin was absorbed. The danger with e-cigarettes is the high concentration of pure nicotine, which is rapidly absorbed into the body tissues. Given their increase in popularity over recent years, it is likely both vets and owners are going to see more problems due to e-cigarettes. This is supported by figures from The Veterinary Poisons Information Service, which offers vets specialist advice about poisoned pets and has seen a massive increase in dogs swallowing e-cigarettes and e-liquid this year compared to the same period last year. In order to save yourselves from the pain of an early bereavement of a pet and the cost of the vet treatment it is important that we are all aware of the dangers this poses to our beloved animals, and take sensible precautions and remember to keep e-cigarettes well out of the way of curious noses, and wipe up any spills immediately.

Hopefully this article has made you a little more aware of the possible dangers to your animals and given you clues as to how to prevent them.

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