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My dog ate tobacco: what are the risks and what should I do?

Author: Adel Saadoun, Veterinary Doctor

Because of their curious and greedy nature, dogs tend to chew or ingest everything they find in their path to the point where it is necessary for the owner to organize himself so that the dog does not ingest anything he comes across. One situation that comes up quite frequently is the ingestion of tobacco by the dog.

Has your dog swallowed tobacco? The potential for intoxication is high. In this article, we will explain the dangers of tobacco and its components on your dog’s health and how to react to this situation.

What are the dangers of tobacco for dogs?

The toxicity of tobacco for dogs is mainly due to the nicotine it contains. Nicotine is very toxic to the central nervous system and acts by inhibiting certain neuroreceptors.

Nicotine is an alkaloid that is easily absorbed by the intestinal mucosa and is therefore rapidly released into the bloodstream.

Even at low doses, cigarettes and especially nicotine are toxic and can be responsible for the appearance of several clinical signs.

The most common circumstances for tobacco poisoning are when the dog ingests or chews cigarettes, cigars or chewing tobacco. In some cases, poisoning can be caused by ingestion of nicotine contained in electronic cigarette refills.

Nicotine in dogs: what are the toxic doses?

nicotine poisoning in dogs

When swallowing tobacco, dogs consume much more nicotine than when inhaled by smokers. Indeed, after consumption, the nicotine absorbed is in larger quantities than contained in the cigarette. It is therefore important not to rely on the information on the packet, particularly concerning the quantity of nicotine which can vary between 3 and 30 mg per cigarette.

The toxic dose of nicotine in dogs is 0.5 to 1 mg per kilogram of body weight. In other words, clinical symptoms of nicotine intoxication in dogs can appear at this dose. On the other hand, the lethal dose is 10 mg per kilo of body weight.

Symptoms of tobacco poisoning in dogs

Because of its rapid absorption through the intestinal mucosa, nicotine can be found in the bloodstream in less than an hour. In other words, symptoms may appear as early as one hour after ingestion. The severity of the symptoms depends mainly on the dose swallowed.

However, the main symptoms are:

  • Digestive: diarrhea, vomiting and hypersalivation. In the case of low dose intoxication, signs may be limited to this stage.
  • Nervous: the nervous signs are characterized by agitation, muscle tremors, convulsions or mobility disorders. Some complications may occur, such as respiratory and cardiac difficulties.

In case of intoxication at very high doses, the dog risks total paralysis and then death due to its inability to breathe.

Tobacco poisoning in dogs – what to do?

The first thing to do when your dog has accidentally ingested tobacco is to call a vet. If only digestive signs are observed, the veterinarian can perform a gastric cleansing to remove the nicotine, using activated charcoal.

In severe cases, hospitalization is necessary and the dog is put under surveillance. An infusion to eliminate the toxic substance and to fight hypertension induced by nicotine can be performed. Symptomatic treatment against the signs of intoxication may also be prescribed: treatment against vomiting, diarrhea or convulsions.

The vital prognosis depends on the quantity of nicotine swallowed. Indeed, the prognosis is good if the quantity is low and very severe if the quantity is high and the treatment delayed.

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