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Tobacco (Nicotine) Poisoning in Dogs

What is Tobacco (Nicotine) Poisoning in Dogs?

Nicotine poisoning poses a serious threat to dogs. Typically found in tobacco products like cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco, nicotine is now also present in e-cigarettes, patches, gum, and flavored products, increasing the likelihood of ingestion by our furry friends. While secondhand smoke poses health risks to dogs, inhalation-related nicotine toxicity is rare.

Nicotine acts as a stimulant that targets specific receptors in mammalian nerves, usually activated by acetylcholine. Toxicity leads to excessive receptor activation, resulting in nerve overstimulation and rapid firing. Higher doses can overwhelm the entire nervous system.

In cases of nicotine ingestion by dogs, immediate action is crucial, and decontamination efforts should commence promptly. Symptoms typically manifest within an hour of ingestion. Managing toxicity symptoms often necessitates hospitalization and intensive care.


The symptoms of nicotine toxicity in dogs vary widely, depending on the nicotine concentration in the product and the amount ingested. Overstimulation of nerves can lead to gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea, drooling, and vomiting, alongside agitation, excitement, and constricted pupils. Higher doses may induce seizures, confusion, impaired mobility, and an increased heart rate. Ingesting more than 9-12 mg/kg of nicotine without decontamination is likely fatal.

Typically, patches contain the highest nicotine concentration and pose the greatest risk to dogs. However, even a discarded cigarette butt can contain sufficient nicotine to cause illness. Careful attention is also necessary with nicotine gums, which often have lower nicotine concentrations but may contain xylitol, another toxic substance for dogs.


The ingestion of nicotine products has become more frequent, especially with the availability of flavored options. However, young dogs and puppies may still be drawn to ashtrays or e-cigarettes, regardless of their unpleasant flavors. It’s crucial to keep these products out of your dog’s reach and to be mindful of where discarded items and mostly empty cartridges are disposed of.


The diagnosis of nicotine toxicity relies heavily on confirmed exposure or the presence of tobacco products in a dog’s vomit. Clinical symptoms may closely resemble those of other stimulant poisonings, such as chocolate ingestion, but there are no specific tests available for confirmation. If you observe symptoms of toxicity or suspect access to these products, it’s crucial to promptly inform your veterinarian.


If exposure is identified promptly, typically within an hour, the standard treatment involves decontamination. Fortunately, nicotine is poorly absorbed through the stomach lining. Therefore, inducing vomiting before the products reach the small intestine may prevent toxicity. However, it’s crucial not to induce vomiting at home, as your veterinarian will have safer methods for this process. Seeking immediate veterinary care is vital to manage any potential complications.

Following vomiting, your dog may receive activated charcoal to bind any remaining nicotine in the stomach. Your veterinarian might also opt to sedate your dog and perform gastric lavage using a tube inserted down the throat.

Hospitalization is often recommended, even for mild cases of toxicity, to assist your dog in metabolizing and excreting any remaining toxin. Nicotine undergoes breakdown in the liver and is subsequently eliminated through urine. The administration of a urine acidifier may expedite this process.

Dogs experiencing tremors, seizures, or cardiovascular symptoms may require additional medications to alleviate these symptoms while the toxin is eliminated. These medications often need to be administered via injection. In severe cases, your dog may require ventilator support.

Recovery and Management

Nicotine toxicity and the recovery process typically unfold quite swiftly. Clinical signs usually become apparent within the first hour. If a dog can receive adequate support within the initial four hours following symptom onset, their chances of recovery are very high. It’s uncommon for a dog to require hospitalization beyond 24-48 hours.

The prognosis for nicotine ingestion varies considerably based on the dosage. Low-dose exposures that are managed effectively typically have an excellent prognosis, with a minimal likelihood of long-term effects. Dogs experiencing prolonged seizure activity or significant cardiac alterations may sustain permanent brain or organ damage. However, even in cases of high-dose exposures that are promptly managed and successfully stabilized, complete recovery is possible.

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