If your dog ate some cigarette butts, you are rightfully concerned: nicotine toxicity is a real danger when it comes to dogs. The inquisitive nature of dogs makes them particularly prone to ingesting foreign items found on the ground and the quintessential presence of cigarette butts makes this type of toxicity quite likely. Puppies are particularly oral as they explore the world with their mouths and often this entails eating anything on the ground. While ingesting a single cigarette butt may not be a major ordeal, consider that it doesn't take many cigarette butts to make nicotine toxicity happen especially with puppies and smaller sized dogs.
Nicotine Toxicity in Dogs
Every year many dogs ingest cigarettes and cigarette butts. Not only is this a bad habit, but even a dangerous one: nicotine is harmful to dogs and nicotine toxicity is a true fact. Basically, anything that contains tobacco, such as, cigars, snuff, chewing tobacco, nicotine gum and even nicotine patches can cause nicotine toxicity in dogs.
It appears that the level of nicotine toxicity in dogs depends on various factors and the most important are the dog's weight, the amount of cigarette butts ingested and the type of cigarette (brand, light, etc). Several cigarette butts may not do much harm to a large dog, whereas just a few can cause toxicity to a small dog.
While a cigarette butt may seem pretty innocent, consider that it still contains about 25 percent of nicotine from the cigarette. This is because when smoking, a good amount of nicotine ends up accumulating at the end of the cigarette. So don't underestimate those cigarette butts!
"The toxic dose for 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. A cigarette contains 9-30 mg of nicotine depending on the type of cigarette; while a cigarette butt contains about 25% of the nicotine of the original cigarette despite its deceptively small amount of tobacco."~Mar Vista Animal Medical Center
Effects on Dogs
Because nicotine is readily absorbed through the intestinal tract, some of the most common signs of nicotine toxicity in dogs include drooling, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
While many dogs will vomit shortly after ingestion which causes them to sort of "self-decontaminate," ridding themselves of the toxins, some may develop very worrisome symptoms if they are left untreated, such as rapid breathing, instability, weakness, tremors, hyperactivity, seizures, ataxia (wobbliness) collapse, inability to breath and even death in severe cases.
Signs of nicotine toxicity in dogs may occur as early as within an hour from ingestion. Unless the dog vomits the cigarette butts, therefore providing a clue as to why the dog is feeling unwell, nicotine poisoning may be confused with other types of toxicity such as strychnine, chocolate and organophosphate insecticide toxicities.
On top of toxicity from the nicotine content in cigarette butts, small dogs or small puppies may be prone to an intestinal blockage should the cigarette butts get stuck somewhere along the dog's intestinal tract. Watch your dog for signs of a dog intestinal blockage.
"Many dogs will vomit naturally after ingestion. When large amounts are consumed, the effects can be life-threatening, but even small amounts can induce symptoms. Without treatment, nicotine toxicity can cause paralysis of the breathing muscles and your dog may die from an inability to breathe, sometimes within a few hours."~Dr. Kara, veterinarian
At the Vet's Office
So now that you have witnessed your dog ingesting cigarette butts what to do? Your first step would be to give your vet a call to play it safe. Depending on the amount ingested, the weight of your dog, and whether your dog vomited or not, your vet may suggest that you just monitor your dog, induce vomiting in your dog or bring your dog immediately in.
If your dog ingested a toxic amount, has not vomited yet, is not showing symptoms, and the ingestion occurred less than 2 hours ago, your vet may instruct you on how to induce vomiting using 3% hydrogen peroxide (see video below on how to do this). If your dog successfully vomits, follow up with your vet for further instructions. If your dog fails to vomit, you may need to see your vet for a stronger medication to induce vomiting (antiemetic).
While mild cases may only cause the dog to vomit, in many cases hospitalization is required. Unfortunately, there is no specific antidote for nicotine. Dogs are mostly monitored and given supportive care.
Veterinarians may want to keep an eye on the dog's heart rate, blood pressure and neurological status. Dogs affected by nicotine toxicity may require a gastric lavage, IV fluids, activated charcoal to minimize absorption and medications may be given for the purpose of slowing the hear rate if high. If the dog is suffering from seizures, medication such as diazepam (Valium) may be given. In severe cases, dogs may require a ventilator to allow breathing.
As a general rule of thumb, should the dog survive the first 5 hours post ingestion the prognosis is pretty good. Keep in mind though that it takes up to 20 hours for the nicotine to totally leave the body.
As seen, outcome of nicotine ingestion depends on several factors. It seems that how promptly treatment is applied plays a major role in recovery and so is the amount ingested. This means that timing is of the essence, so if your dog ingested several cigarette butts, don't waste time and consult with your vet.
About 1/4 of a filtered cigarette most likely contains around 3 to 4 mg of nicotine. "For a 60lb dog this is unlikely to have any effect, however the safest bet would be to induce vomiting to be absolutely sure." Dr. Edwards, veterinarian
Warning: As much as it may be tempting to give a dog with nicotine toxicity an anti-acid, it is best to refrain from doing so, the reason being that you want stomach acid to be present in this case because it helps inhibit nicotine absorption.
How to Induce Vomiting in Dogs
- Toxicology Brief: The dangers of nicotine ingestion in dogs by Nicole C. Hackendahl, DVM, and Colin W. Sereda, DVM
- Veterinary Partner, Nicotine Poisoning in Pets