Smoking is bad for people and secondhand smoke is bad for pets. No news there. The real news is that the now ubiquitous e-cigarette can also pose a deadly danger to dogs. If you thought secondhand smoke was dangerous, wait until you hear about the evils of e-cigs.
Smoking is less cool than ever before. Today, fewer than 12% of Americans smoke, down from 25% in 1997. Smoking has become so unacceptable that we’ve pushed puffers outside restaurants and malls, cordoned them off in airports and offices, and taxed the heck out of their cartons and packs. That’s when smokers got clever.
Over the past five years, you’ve probably noticed stylish ads featuring handsome movie stars sucking on sleek straws. That Hollywood hunk is actually getting his nicotine fix through a new form of smokeless cigarette affectionately known as e-cigarettes. “Freedom to have a cigarette without the guilt,” touts one celebrity puffer. Pure puffing pleasure without pesky permission – that and a highly concentrated, potentially deadly toxin for pets.
Recently, news outlets reported the case of puppy in the United Kingdom that chewed an e-cigarette and died. You read that right; a dog chowed on an e-cig and croaked. As a veterinarian, this alarms me because I’d never seen a pet die from cigarette ingestion. Sure, I’d seen a few vomiting, hypertensive and hyperactive dogs that had dumpster-dived discarded tobacco cigarettes over the years, but never a death. This was scary news to me.
The risk of e-cigs lies in the concentrated amount of nicotine crammed inside each small cylinder. If a dog ingests the liquid inside the cartridge, they’re being exposed to up to 36-mg of pure nicotine. Dogs, especially puppies, are more sensitive to nicotine than humans, so this dose could prove lethal – as the recent heartbreaking case in the United Kingdom proves. By comparison, a human who tokes on a tobacco cigarette will only absorb 1 to 2 milligrams of nicotine.
Before you say, “My dog would never eat one of those,” consider this: I’ve never had a client think their dog would eat 6 golf balls, 16 rocks from a driveway, two buckets of already-eaten chicken wings, a pair of Victoria’s Secrets lace panties, 3 AA batteries or a shaving razor. After removing these items (and many more) from the digestive tracts of dogs over the past 22 years, an e-cigarette seems perfectly possible to this practicing veterinarian. It’s also critical to keep in mind the puppy that died only chewed on the e-cigarette, drinking the toxic tincture. One bite followed by one sip could be too much for your pet.
If you think switching to e-cigarettes will eliminate any risk for your pets, think again. I’d further argue that these concentrated containers of poisonous nicotine could also pose a risk for toddlers intent on exploring the world through their mouths. This tragic dog death has raised my awareness of the hazards of e-cigs. I hope together we can spread the word and prevent future fatalities.