Mar Vista Animal Medical Center

3850 Grand View Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90066




Everyone knows the Surgeon General’s warning about cigarette smoking but what about cigarette eating? Nicotine poisoning is a very real concern anywhere that a pet may find cigarettes, cigarette butts, chewing tobacco, or even nicotine gum, patches, or e-cigarettes. Dogs, particularly puppies, tend to chew things up first and ask questions later. Cats may find a cigarette butt to be a nicely sized pouncing toy worthy of chewing.

(Photocredit: Traumrune via Wikimedia Commons)

Luckily for pets and small children, tobacco tastes terrible. Even chewing tobacco must have flavorings added to make it something worthy of oral enjoyment. Still, cigarettes have plenty of nicotine and even a small cigarette butt can mean serious illness or even death for a small pet.

The toxic dose for nicotine in pets is 0.5 to 1 mg per pound of pet body weight while the lethal dose is 4 mg per pound of pet body weight. So how does this translate to nicotine containing products? A cigarette contains between 9 & 30 mg of nicotine depending on the type of cigarette. When the cigarette is smoked, the nicotine concentrates down in the oral end meaning that a small nub of a cigarette butt will retain 25% of the nicotine contained in the original cigarette. Smoking a cigarette yields 0.5-2.0 mg of nicotine to the smoker but eating the cigarette (or other nicotine product) is a whole different ballgame as all of the nicotine becomes available for absorption into the body. Consider that a 20lb dog would only need 10mg of nicotine to become poisoned and a 40lb dog would need only 1cc (less than a quarter teaspoon) of e-juice.

Cigarettes: 9-30 mg of nicotine
Cigarette butts: 2-8 mg of nicotine
Cigars: up to 40 mg of nicotine
Chewing tobacco: 6-8 mg of nicotine per gram
Nicotine gum: 2-4 mg of nicotine per piece
Nicotine patches: 8.3-114 mg of nicotine
E-cigarette cartridges: 6-36 mg of nicotine
E-juice/E-fluid (to refill E-cigarettes): up to 36 mg of nicotine per ml

Some good news is that nicotine is not absorbed directly in the acid environment of the stomach; the nicotine must move past the stomach into the small intestine for absorption. One of the first things nicotine does in the body is stimulate the vomit center of the brain, thus inducing vomiting which may save the patient’s life if there is more cigarette material in the stomach.



Signs begin as quickly as one hour post-ingestion. Symptoms include:

  • Tremors
  • Constricted pupils
  • Drooling
  • Auditory and Visual Hallucinations
  • Excitement
  • Vomiting and Diarrhea
  • Twitching possibly progressing to Seizures
  • Racing heart rate but slow heart rate with small doses
  • High blood pressure but at higher doses there is a circulatory collapse

It is easy to confuse nicotine poisoning with other poisonings such as strychnine, chocolate, organophosphate insecticide, and certain molds. Hopefully, there will be cigarette materials in the vomit to give away the diagnosis.



Washing out the stomach to get rid of any remaining cigarette materials is helpful but is likely to require sedation. Since most patients are agitated, this is often a good thing anyway. Seizures are treated with seizure suppressing
drugs. It is tempting to use antacids to protect the stomach but as it is the stomach acid that is inhibiting the nicotine absorption, it is best to avoid this therapy. If the pet survives the first 4 hours, prognosis is felt to be good. Nicotine is inactivated by a healthy liver and its metabolites are excreted in urine. After 16 hours, the nicotine ingested should be gone.

Page last updated: 4/22/09