The Little-Known Side Effects of Vaping on Pets

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

nicotine poisoning pets

Story at-a-glance

  • As the popularity of vaping increases, veterinarians are seeing a rise in the number of pets poisoned by liquids used in e-cigarettes, in particular, nicotine and THC
  • E-cigarettes containing liquid nicotine are very toxic to pets due to the high concentration of the drug in vaping products
  • E-cigarettes containing liquid marijuana are also highly toxic to pets, especially dogs, who are up to 10 times more sensitive to THC than humans
  • Another problem with THC vaping products is a lack of research into their side effects in pets, as well as unknown potencies and added ingredients
  • If you know or suspect your pet has ingested any sort of vaping product, call your veterinarian, the nearest emergency animal hospital, or an animal poison control center right away

The dangers of vaping have been all over the news lately, which is raising awareness about what can happen to humans who indulge. But what many people don’t realize is that vaping and vape products can also be hazardous to pets.

The initial intent of electronic cigarettes when they hit the market a dozen years ago was to help smokers kick the habit. More recently, these devices have become popular with users of both THC (the ingredient in marijuana that delivers a high) and CBD (cannabidiol).

Vaping Products Pose a Serious Danger to Pets

If by chance you’re not sure what e-cigarettes are or do, they’re simply a delivery system. The “cigarette” cylinders are battery-operated devices that turn liquid nicotine (or THC or CBD) into vapor that is inhaled. When a person is using an e-cigarette, he or she is said to be “vaping.”

The bad news for pet parents who use these devices is that regardless of what product you’re vaping, it poses a danger to your animal companion. For example, e-cigarettes containing liquid nicotine are highly toxic to pets. Most regular cigarettes contain between 8 and 40 mgs of nicotine per cigarette, while e-cigarettes can contain up to 80 mgs per teaspoon of liquid,1 and refill containers of liquid nicotine can contain up to a whopping 500 mgs per teaspoon.

In addition, many liquid e-cigarette products contain flavoring agents that can make them irresistible to pets, especially dogs. According to Pet Poison Helpline, “The most recent craze is flavored e-cigarettes, which are available in an array of flavors from peppermint to banana cream pie, and everything in between.”2 It’s easy to imagine how a dog might be drawn to a curiosity that smells like banana cream pie, isn’t it? According to a September 2014 warning by the Pet Poison Helpline:

“… [The helpline] has encountered a sharp uptick in calls concerning cases of nicotine poisoning in pets that ingested e-cigarettes or liquid nicotine refill solution. In fact, over the past six months, cases have more than doubled, indicating that along with their increased popularity, the nicotine-delivering devices are becoming a more significant threat to pets. While dogs account for the majority of cases, nicotine in e-cigarettes and liquid refill solution is toxic to cats as well.”3

Why Nicotine E-Cigarettes Are So Toxic

Each e-cigarette cartridge contains about the same amount of nicotine as two regular tobacco cigarettes. Even worse, the nicotine cartridges are purchased in packs of 5 to 100, so if a pet chews into a pack of cartridges, the danger of poisoning increases exponentially.

According to the Pet Poison Helpline, ingesting a single cartridge will cause signs of toxicity in a 50-pound dog, so in a 10-pound dog, just one cartridge can be life-threatening. And any dog of any weight can be severely and even fatally poisoned if they ingest multiple nicotine cartridges.

In addition, if chewed, the cartridges themselves can cause injury to your pet’s mouth, and gastrointestinal (GI) upset and/or obstruction if they are swallowed. Finally, some people fill their own e-cigarette cartridges from bottles of “e-liquid” or “e-juice” that contain significant amounts of nicotine. Obviously, these bottles of nicotine pose the greatest poisoning hazard to pets.

Cats can be in double trouble because e-cigarette vapor contains propylene glycol, which is proven to cause Heinz body hemolytic anemia in kitties. Heinz body destroys red blood cells. Cats can ingest propylene glycol by licking or chewing an e-cigarette.4

Symptoms of Nicotine Poisoning

If your pet ingests nicotine, signs of poisoning will be apparent within about 15 to 60 minutes, and the greater the amount ingested, the more severe the symptoms, including:






Muscle weakness



Increased heart and respiration rates





Cardiac arrest

Another feature of liquid nicotine that makes it so dangerous is that it can be absorbed through your pet’s skin or the mucous membranes of her mouth. When a dog eats a regular tobacco cigarette, the liver gets rid of much of the nicotine before it hits the bloodstream.

But nicotine absorbed through the skin or mouth bypasses the liver and goes directly into the bloodstream, which means more of the nicotine is gets into your pet’s system.

Veterinarians Are Beginning to See Pets Who’ve Ingested Vaping Products Containing THC

A recent story out of Madison, Wisconsin highlights the dangers of other substances used in e-cigarettes. A dog was taken to an emergency animal hospital after eating a marijuana vaping device.

"It seemed like a very typical marijuana ingestion. The dog seemed pretty severely affected," Tristan Daugherty-Leiter, an emergency veterinarian, told Channel 3000 news. "The owner fortunately admitted to the ingestion of it."5

Classic symptoms of toxicity in dogs who’ve ingested marijuana in forms other than liquids include wobbly drunklike movements, urine dribbling, a dazed or glazed look in the eyes, low body temperature and anxiety.

These symptoms occur because dogs have more cannabinoid receptors than any other animal we know of,6 and are up to 10 times more sensitive to THC than humans.7 This means trace amounts of THC — amounts most humans wouldn’t even notice — can be toxic for dogs. Since there is very little research on the toxic effects of liquid THC in pets, it’s difficult for veterinarians to predict side effects.

"The concern and the problem is that with any of these vaping liquids, the concentration is just an absolute mystery. There is very little information out there that is credible or useful," Daugherty-Leiter said. "So, you have no idea how much they got, you have no idea in terms of what the dose the dog may have gotten, how long this might last."

Side effects of a toxic liquid THC overdose in pets can include tremors, salivation, diarrhea, high heart rates, cardiac arrhythmias, seizures and death, according to Daugherty-Leiter. Since the liquids used in vape devices tend to be more concentrated, the side effects pets experience are also more intense, and might not be immediately obvious.

"Even if they seem to look normal initially, they can certainly have effects pretty quickly that you may not realize," he said.

It’s also important to realize that the oils and chemicals released into the air during vaping can also affect small animals, especially pet birds — as can residue that accumulates on human hands, clothing, furniture, and automobile upholstery.

Exposure to Vaping Products by Pets is a Medical Emergency

If you suspect or know your pet has ingested liquid nicotine, THC, or another vaping liquid, call your veterinarian or the nearest emergency animal hospital immediately. You can also call the Pet Poison Helpline at 1-855-764-7661, or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435.

Remember: poisoning from vaping liquids can happen very rapidly, so immediate veterinary care can mean the difference between life and death for your pet. Home care is usually not sufficient. To help prevent poisoning, make sure e-cigarettes, refill cartridges and/or bottles, and any other vaping products are kept well out of the reach of furry family members (and children as well).