What I Learned About the Effects of E-Cigarette Liquid on Pets After I Caught My Dog Licking Vape Juice Bottles

I'm grateful I saw what Nacho was doing before he ingested too much.
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Jill L. Ferguson
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I'm grateful I saw what Nacho was doing before he ingested too much.

Recently, I walked past my stepson Kenny's room to find Nacho, our red heeler Australian cattle dog, with the crazy-eyed look of someone jonesing for a fix, his big tongue licking the outside of bottles of vape liquid on the floor.

With scents and flavors like cinnamon gummy bear, cotton candy, and cloudberry, it's no wonder vape liquid is appealing to dogs (as well as humans), but what seems sugary and sweet is actually harmful to animals, according to the experts I talked to after this incident (after I moved the bottles to the top of Kenny's dresser so they'd be out of Nacho's reach).

Don't worry — this is as close as Nacho got when I took this photo.

Don't worry — this is as close as Nacho got when I took this photo.

E-cigarettes and vape products contain a minimum of four or five ingredients, according to ProjectVape: vegetable glycerin (the base), propylene glycol (a solvent), flavor, nicotine, and sometimes a bit of distilled water. And in states where it's legal — like Washington, where I live — vape and e-cigarette products may contain marijuana and its active ingredient THC, which can cause loss of bladder and bowel control, anxiety, vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy bordering on unconsciousness, according to Bay Area vet Dr. Eric Barchas

Those are certainly things I would never want Nacho to experience.

The ASPCA Pet Poison Control Center lists cigarettes and nicotine under their list of Human Medications and Cosmetics and says this about them:

Cigarettes and other tobacco products contain nicotine, which has the potential to produce severe vomiting, depression, an elevated heart rate, decrease in blood pressure, seizures, respiratory failure and, in severe cases, even death.

E-cigarette liquid (known as e-liquid or e-juice) is used to recharge the cartridge for an e-cigarette. The amount of nicotine in these bottles could easily kill a dog if the contents were ingested. Often the liquid is flavored, making the product more appealing. As such, we urge pet parents to keep all tobacco products out of their pets' reach. If accidental ingestion occurs, seek veterinary help immediately.

Because of all of this information and Nacho's love of the sweet liquid, I called the ER vet he's seen in the past. Kelsey, a technician at Blue Pearl Emergency Medicine for Pets in Renton, Washington, came to the phone and said that while they haven't seen an increase in pet patients suffering from nicotine or e-juice poisoning at their hospital, she thinks it's because they would refer the patient to Poison Control. 

"Poison Control keeps a database of the list of ingredients of each brand of e-liquid and for each flavor because there's a huge variation in the composition of each flavor and from brand to brand," Kelsey said. ProjectVape concurs, saying that some of the larger manufacturers even use medical-grade nicotine.

The Pet Poison Helpline's website says that they have seen an increase in patients — mostly dogs. 

"We've handled cases for pets poisoned by eating traditional cigarettes or tobacco products containing nicotine for many years," says Ahna Brutlag, DVM, MS, DABT, DABVT, and associate director of veterinary services at the Pet Poison Helpline. "But, as the use of e-cigarettes has become more widespread, our call volume for cases involving them has increased considerably."

The Pet Poison Helpline says that not only are the ingredients dangerous (poisoning could occur between 15 to 60 minutes after ingesting, the speed and severity determined by dog weight and metabolism), but also the e-cigarette casing and e-juice containers can cause oral injuries, too. They also remind people that, "Home care is not generally possible with nicotine exposure due to the severity of poisoning, even in small doses" and that keeping all of these ingredients out of the reach of the dog in the first place is always the best course of action.

I'm grateful I saw what Nacho was doing before he ingested too much. Kenny and his friends now know possible ramifications of leaving the products around the house. If you suspect that your pet has been exposed to these or other poisonous substances, call your vet or local animal hospital immediately. You can also call the ASPC hotline at 888-426-4435 (there's a $65 consultation fee) or the Pet Poison Helpline at 800-213-6680 (their consultation fee $49).