My Dog ate Cigarettes. What Should I Do?

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Key Takeaways:

  • Just one cigarette could be fatal to a small pooch
  • Nicotine is a toxic ingredient to worry about in cigarettes
  • Nicotine’s effects can be seen just one hour after ingestion

We’re all familiar with the warning about cigarette smoking and tobacco chewing being bad for the health of us humans, but what about our dogs? 

While we don’t need to worry about our furry friend smoking, they may be at risk of munching on a cigarette butt while out on a walk or if left unsupervised. Luckily tobacco tends to have a horrible taste for our dogs, and your pooch is unlikely to eat a whole pack of cigarettes. Having said that, just a tiny cigarette butt can cause serious illness or even death for a pint-sized pooch. 

Nicotine is the active and, therefore, toxic ingredient in tobacco, with a single cigarette containing between 9-30 mg of nicotine. In an unsmoked cigarette, the nicotine concentration is fairly evenly distributed throughout the cigarette, but the act of smoking draws the nicotine toward the butt.

This means there’s increased nicotine concentration in the oral end of a cigarette after being smoked, with up to 25% of the original nicotine content remaining in a smoked cigarette butt. 

How many cigarettes are toxic to dogs?

As with most toxic products, the amount required to cause toxic side effects varies with the size of your pooch and whether they have any health concerns. The toxic dose of nicotine is 1-2 mg/kg of body weight, and a single cigarette can contain between 9-30mg of nicotine, depending on the brand and strength.

The lethal (fatal) dose of nicotine for our pooch pals is about 8mg/kg of body weight. This means that a single cigarette could be deadly for a small 10kg dog if eaten. Nicotine concentrates in smoked cigarette butts, and approximately 25% of the total nicotine can be found in a smoked butt, meaning that just one cigarette butt could be toxic or even lethal to a small pooch. 

This is partly due to the fact that a chewed cigarette or tobacco makes all the nicotine within available for absorption through the intestinal tract into the bloodstream, which increases the risk of toxicity.

What would happen if my dog ate a cigarette?

Luckily, nicotine toxicosis is rare, and fatalities are even rarer due to cigarette ingestion. This is due to a combination of the nasty taste of cigarette tobacco and the fact that dogs often vomit immediately after eating a tobacco product before significant absorption of nicotine has occurred.

The first signs you’re likely to notice are hypersalivation, abdominal pain, or a hunched stance with vomiting and diarrhea following on. 

Clinical signs are rapid, and you may notice an increase in your dog’s respiratory rate followed by a reduced breathing rate.

When Should I Take My Dog To the Vet?

As there are such variable amounts of nicotine within cigarettes depending on the brand and strength of the product, and as the toxic dose of nicotine is quite small, it’s prudent to contact your veterinarian if your dog has eaten a cigarette butt. 

If you can get your pooch to your veterinarian rapidly, they may be able to induce vomiting (within an hour or so of ingestion) and further reduce the risk of clinical signs developing.

What if my dog ate plenty of cigarettes but seems fine?

Many dogs appear completely fine for a period of time after eating something they shouldn’t have eaten, and cigarettes are no exception to this.

It takes time, albeit a short amount of time, for the nicotine to be absorbed and to start causing clinical signs. It can take as little as 15 minutes for nicotine to be absorbed into the bloodstream and start to cause adverse effects. 

Luckily nicotine isn’t directly absorbed from the acid environment and has to move into the small intestine from the stomach in order to be absorbed. One of the first things you are likely to notice if your dog ate a cigarette is vomiting, as nicotine stimulates the reticular formation of the medulla oblongata (vomiting center in the brain).

If your dog ate cigarettes, you should contact the dog Poison Helpline at (855) 764-7661 to ascertain the risk of toxicity to your dog. 

Signs that my dog ate a cigarette

The clinical onset of signs that your pooch ate a cigarette can occur just one hour after ingestion. Nicotine is the active and thus toxic ingredient in cigarettes and is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. Nicotine affects the gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, pulmonary, and neurological systems causing an extensive list of clinical signs including but not limited to the following list:

  • Vomiting
  • Hypersalivation
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Severe hypotension (low blood pressure) and circulatory collapse at very high doses
  • Tachycardia (increased heart rate)
  • Bradycardia (reduced heart rate) at low doses
  • Cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats)
  • Ataxia (incoordination)
  • Weakness
  • Mydriasis (pupil dilation)
  • Seizures
  • Tachypnea (increased respiratory rate)
  • Respiratory depression (reduced respiratory rate and intensity)
  • Twitching
  • Excitement
  • Seizures

How do veterinarians treat dogs that have eaten a cigarette?

Suppose your dog ate the cigarette within an hour of presentation to the veterinary clinic, and they are not yet showing any clinical signs. In that case, your vet may induce emesis to rid the stomach of any remaining cigarette product and reduce the nicotine load on the body, if possible, through vomiting. 

Gastric lavage, also known as washing out the stomach, may also be performed under general anesthesia to rid the stomach of remaining cigarette material is helpful but carries a risk of aspiration of the contents into the lungs and should only be done under special circumstances in a veterinary hospital. 

Activated charcoal is also often administered after vomiting has stopped in order to bind the nicotine and prevent further absorption into the bloodstream. This will need to be administered for a couple of doses with food.

A big part of treatment for nicotine toxicity is supportive. Your veterinarian will hospitalize your dog for at least a short time to provide intravenous fluids to support your dog’s circulation and encourage filtration of the blood through the kidneys, which excrete the nicotine. A dog’s healthy liver will metabolize nicotine into inactive metabolites that can also be excreted via feces to a lesser extent. 

Suppose your dog is suffering signs of tremors or seizures and pain. In that case, your veterinarian will administer medications to suppress tremors and treat seizures while providing strong pain relief to your dog too.

How Long Will It Take My Dog to Recover?

Nicotine is a rapid-onset drug that is metabolized and eliminated from the body relatively rapidly. 16 hours after nicotine has been ingested, it should be completely eliminated from the body via the urine and feces. 

Rapid treatment is key, with most dog’s surviving without long-term ill effects once treatment is instituted. The prognosis for dogs that have eaten cigarettes varies depending on how much they’ve eaten and if they have any other health problems. But the chances of a complete recovery improve if they survive the first four hours after ingestion and are stable. 

You can expect your dog to have an intensive few hours of treatment, but hopefully, your pooch should be fully recovered within 24 hours after ingestion once aggressive and timely treatment has been instituted. Recovery is also affected by any other illnesses or diseases that your dog may have, such as liver or kidney disease.

Final Woof

Nicotine is a nasty toxin found in cigarettes that can cause some horrible health effects for our pooches if ingested. Similar effects are seen in both humans and dogs in the cases of overdose, but our canine counterparts aren’t as tolerant, and a tiny dose can be fatal.

As the nicotine concentrates toward the oral end of the cigarette as it’s smoked, these cigarettes still contain significant amounts of nicotine and can be dangerous for our pooch pals. 

Prevention is better than cure, so keep all cigarettes, even smoked ones, away from little paw’s reach. If your dog eats a cigarette butt, you should contact your veterinarian and the Pet Poison Helpline immediately to assess their risk and get treatment started as soon as possible. 

Photo of author
Since graduating from Dublin, Ireland in 2013 with an honors Veterinary Medicine degree, Edele has enjoyed working with as many species of animal as possible. Edele is currently working in clinical practice while studying towards Advanced Practitioner status with the RCVS in the UK. Passionate about education and writing, Edele’s goal is to maximize the pet-owner bond and welfare through education accessible to everyone. Never found without her middle-aged Weimaraner, Purdy (who still thinks she’s 18 months old), Edele spends her limited time outdoors with her horses, hiking and traveling home to Ireland to spend time with family.

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