I recently wrote an article about the risks of second-hand smoke to pets, but did you know that dogs can be poisoned by nicotine too? While there are carcinogens in second-hand smoke, what many people may not consider is that any tobacco product has nicotine, as do all the nicotine preparations for smoking cessation. A dog can be poisoned without ingesting smoke from a cigarette, pipe or cigar. The forms we are most familiar with are cigarettes, cigars, pipe and chewing tobacco, snuff, nicotine patches, nicotine nasal spray, nicotine inhalers and nicotine gum. Nicotine in its pure form is odorless, unless it sits for a time and then it takes on a slight tobacco smell. It was derived from the tobacco plant and is a poisonous alkaloid.
Nicotine has been used by gardeners for years as a commercial pesticide and fumigant. Powdered nicotine comes in a can with a wick that, when lit, becomes a smoke that is extremely toxic to anything in the vicinity. Any greenhouse that employs this insecticide must make sure all windows and doors are tightly sealed to keep the smoke from escaping. Nicotiana (Flowering Tobacco) is a plant grown in many ornamental gardens. Its flowers come in many color variations and it is a member of the Nightshade family. It was even sent as a medicine to the court of Catherine de’ Medici in 1559, by the French ambassador to Portugal.
Nicotine toxicity depends on the weight of your dog and the amount ingested. Nicotine is toxic at the level of 5 milligrams per pound of your dog’s weight. A toxic amount of nicotine to a small dog would only have to be between two and four cigarettes. The nicotine residue in a cigarette butt can still be significant. The nicotine products our pets ingest most often are nicotine patches and gum, as well as cigarette butts and cigarettes. Dogs can be attracted to nicotine gum and chewing tobacco due to the supplements that are used to make them sweet: sugar, molasses, honey and syrups.
The amount of nicotine in a product depends on its size and type of product. A cigarette butt can contain between 4 and 8 milligrams of nicotine. Depending on the brand, a cigarette can contain between 15 and 25 milligrams of nicotine. Other nicotine amounts: a cigar has between 15 and 40 milligrams, Snuff has between 85 and 121 mg per 1/4 ounce, a piece of nicotine gum contains 2 to 4 mg, and a nicotine patch can have between 8 and 114 mg per patch.
If your dog has ingested nicotine, you will often see signs within an hour. Depending on the amount of nicotine your dog has eaten you may see hyperactivity, difficulty breathing, rapid breathing, lack of coordination, stumbling, tremors, depression, vomiting, drooling, weakness, seizures, dilated pupils, diarrhea, collapse, cardiac arrhythmias and in large doses, lethargy. If left untreated, nicotine toxicity can paralyze a dog’s breathing muscles and this can cause death within hours.
Your veterinarian should be consulted to determine the best treatment for your situation. It is important to immediately reduce the amount of nicotine in your dog’s stomach; this will lessen the amount of nicotine your dog’s body may have already begun to process. Your vet may induce vomiting or have you do it at home if a small amount was ingested. Administering activated charcoal can be used to keep your dog’s body from absorbing additional amounts of nicotine. It may be necessary to pump your dog’s stomach if the nicotine amount was large. Fluids given intravenously may also be suggested to help flush the nicotine from your dog’s system. In spite of treatment, some dogs that ingest large amounts of nicotine may not survive.
Whichever form it is in, nicotine is toxic to our dogs. It does not take much to send them to the vet’s office or have you reaching for the phone to call the poison control hotline. If you feel your dog may have ingested nicotine, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Read more articles by Ruthie Bently
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