Home » Pet Health » Toxins and Your Pet » Nicotine’s Harmful Effects On Your Pet


Nicotine is a chemical compound found in tobacco plants. It is an addictive substance, and exposure to even just a small amount can significantly impact health. There are several ways to obtain nicotine, including skin patches, gum, e-cigarettes, and other inhalable techniques. Each of these preparations can be a danger to your pet. If your furry friend consumes nicotine, they can suffer short-term and long-term effects.

Short-term effects – Upon reaching the lungs, nicotine rapidly enters the bloodstream and then goes to the brain. Inside the brain, it triggers various chemical reactions that stimulate the release of adrenaline from the adrenal glands. Adrenaline elevates blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing rate. Nicotine also triggers the release of dopamine in the brain, which stimulates the pleasure centers making smokers feel active and re-energized.

Long-term effects – Prolonged nicotine consumption through cigarette smoke can have widespread damaging effects on the heart, lung, kidney, and reproductive systems. Nicotine also contributes to the hardening of the blood vessels, which obstructs the blood, leading to a heart attack or stroke. Nicotine and its derivatives can cause a wide range of cancers, including cancer of the lungs, mouth, esophagus, larynx (voice box), throat, bladder, kidney, liver, stomach, pancreas, colon, and rectum. It can also lead to a blood cancer called acute myeloid leukemia.

Exposure to nicotine in pets can lead to similar harmful effects.

What are the signs of nicotine toxicity?

A single cigarette contains 9 to 30 milligrams of nicotine, and a cigar has 15 to 40 milligrams. Exposure to nicotine doses ranging from 20 to 100 milligrams can be fatal to dogs and cats. Nicotine toxicity can also result from directly ingesting nicotine products, such as cigarette butts. Fortunately, most pets will avoid eating cigarette butts due to the unpleasant taste and smell. However, chewing tobacco in any form can be a potential threat to a pet’s health. If your pet ingests tobacco-based products, we recommend you contact your vet as soon as possible rather than wait for symptoms to appear.

Repeated exposure to nicotine can lead to numerous signs and symptoms in your pet. If the following symptoms appear, these may be signs that your pet is suffering from tobacco or nicotine poisoning:

    • Loss of balance – Loss of balance in animals, called ataxia, can appear as unsteady or uncoordinated movements.
    • Respiratory distress – Respiratory distress can appear as a change in your pet’s typical breathing pattern (faster or slower), wheezing sounds, or both.
    • Diarrhea – While diarrhea can indicate digestive or dietary issues, nicotine poisoning can also cause diarrhea.
    • Vomiting – Nicotine strongly activates the vomiting center in the brain, resulting in spontaneous vomiting. Although seeing your pet sick can be upsetting, vomiting helps expel the nicotine product, preventing further nicotine absorption, and reducing its toxic effects.
    • Elevated heart rate – The resting heart rate in cats is 120-140 beats per minute and 70 to120 beats per minute in dogs. High-dose exposure to nicotine can elevate your pet’s heart rate.
    • Excess drooling – Because the root causes of excessive drooling vary, your vet must identify the cause and provide the appropriate treatment.
    • Seizures – Seizures in dogs and cats closely resemble human seizures, where signs include collapsing, muscle twitching, and drooling.

Although these symptoms may indicate many things, knowing the signs of nicotine poisoning will help determine if your pet has possibly encountered nicotine. Your vet will be able to confirm why your pet is showing these signs and can recommend how best to treat your pet.

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Last Updated: October 12, 2022

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The following sources were referenced to write the content on this page:

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The Pet Cancer Foundation’s medical resource for pet owners is protected by copyright.

For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy.