How Cigarettes and Smoking Impact Your Pet’s Health

dog, pet, smoking

A growing body of research shows there are no safe levels of exposure to secondhand smoke -- for humans or for animals. And one new study shows that nearly 30 percent of pet owners live with at least one smoker -- a number far too high given the consequences of exposure to secondhand smoke (SHS).

An estimated 50,000 Americans lose their lives to secondhand smoke annually and 4 million youth (16 percent) are exposed to secondhand smoke in their homes. A number of studies have indicated that animals, too, face health risks when exposed to the toxins in secondhand smoke, from respiratory problems, allergies and even nasal and lung cancer in dogs and lymphoma in cats.

In addition, the ASPCA, one of the largest animal rights groups in the U.S., lists tobacco smoke as a toxin that is dangerous to pets. Said Dr. Sharon Gwaltney-Brant, medical director of the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center:

"Nicotine from secondhand smoke can have effects to the nervous systems of cats and dogs. Environmental tobacco smoke has been shown to contain numerous cancer-causing compounds, making it hazardous for animals as well as humans.”

In order to better protect dogs, cats or other pets, the foundation and ASPCA recommend that smokers -- who often consider their domestic pets a part of the family -- "take it outside" when they are smoking.

Dr. Becker's Comments:

It comes as no surprise that secondhand tobacco smoke is completely toxic to pets. Your dog and cat share some common physiology with you, so many things that are toxic to you are also toxic to them.

You have been hearing about the hazards of second-hand smoke for years. But chances are, you haven’t heard much about third-hand smoke.

A recent study from Harvard Medical School, published in the January 2009 Journal of Pediatrics, found additional health risks associated with what they termed “third-hand smoke,” describing the invisible yet toxic brew of gases and particles clinging to smokers’ hair and clothing, cars, and carpeting that lingers long after the second-hand smoke has cleared the room.

Third-hand smoke is what you smell when a smoker gets into an elevator with you after going outside for a cigarette, or in a hotel room where people have been smoking.

Your nose is giving you fair warning to stay away!

The 2009 Harvard study found small children to be uniquely susceptible to this toxic residue, and the same can be said for your pets.

Not only is your pet breathing smoke-filled air, but he is lying directly on the carpet and furniture -- and on your lap -- and picking up anything clinging to it. Then he grooms himself, ingesting whatever toxic particles are present.

In most households, your cats and dogs can’t get away from polluted air, unless they are fortunate enough to have a “doggie door” that leads outdoors. Most animals are trapped, victims of their owners’ habits, and opening a window is not enough.

Studies Confirm, Tobacco Smoke is Bad News for Fido

Even very small amounts of inhaled smoke can have damaging effects on your pets.

  • A 2002 Tufts University study linked second-hand smoke to cancer in cats. The study found that cats living with smokers are twice as likely to develop malignant lymphoma—the most common feline cancer--as those in non-smoking households. Lymphoma kills 3 out of 4 afflicted cats within 12 months.

One reason cats are so vulnerable to the carcinogens in tobacco smoke is they are meticulous groomers. Daily grooming over a long period of time can expose their delicate oral tissues to hazardous amounts of carcinogens.

  • A 2007 University of Minnesota study showed that cats who live with smokers have nicotine and other toxins in their urine.

  • A 2007 Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine study linked second-hand smoke to oral cancer in cats (squamous cell carcinoma.) Cats living with more than one smoker and cats exposed to environmental tobacco smoke for longer than five years had even higher rates of this cancer.

  • A 1998 Colorado State University study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found a higher incidence of nasal tumors and cancer of the sinus in dogs living in a home with smokers, compared to those living in a smoke-free environment. The nasal/sinus tumors were specifically found among the long-nosed breeds such as retrievers and German shepherds. Unfortunately, dogs with nasal cancer do not usually survive more than one year.

  • The same study showed higher lung cancer rates in short to medium nosed dogs who live with smokers, such as boxers and bulldogs. Their shorter nasal passages made it easier for cancer-causing particles to reach the lungs.

  • Another study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that dogs in smoking households have a 60 percent greater risk of lung cancer.

Let’s not leave out our little feathered animal companions. Birds are not impervious to the damage from cigarettes.

A bird’s respiratory system is hypersensitive to any type of airborn pollutant. Dr. Carolynn MacAllister, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service veterinarian, states that the most serious consequences of smoke exposure in birds are pneumonia and lung cancer, but they can also develop eye, skin, heart and fertility problems. Coughing and wheezing are common reactions.

Birds lucky enough to be free of their cages but end up sitting on a smoker’s nicotine-coated hand often develop dermatitis and end up pulling out their own feathers.

Educating the Public is Slow, and Getting Them to Change is Even Slower

Having knowledge about the risks of smoking does not automatically lead to a change in behavior, as you well know. Smoking is usually the result of a powerful addiction.

There are many reasons to quit smoking -- the two most common ones being personal health and cost.

But what about quitting for the sake of your furry family members? A recent survey suggests your pet’s health might be your strongest motivator.

The Henry Ford Health System in Detroit conducted an online survey to find out if pet owners, given information about the negative health effects on their pets, would snuff out their cigarettes. Of the 3,293 U.S. pet owners surveyed, 28 percent said they would try to stop smoking based on the knowledge that it was harming their pets.

In the U.S., there are 71 million pet owners. About one-fifth of those are also smokers.

This seems to imply that educating pet owners could have a significant impact on reducing smoking rates—and that would greatly improve the health of people and animals alike.

If you won’t quit for yourself, will you do it for Fluffy?

Recognizing Nicotine Poisoning

In addition to inhaling carcinogens, your smoking habit can harm pets in some surprising ways:

  • By ingesting cigarette or cigar butts, which contain high levels of nicotine and other toxins

  • By drinking water that contains cigar or cigarette butts, where nicotine has become concentrated

  • By ingesting nicotine replacement gum and patches, or cigarettes, cigars or snuff

The toxic level of nicotine, for both dogs and cats, is 0.5-1.0 mg of nicotine per pound of body weight. In dogs, 10 mg/kg is potentially fatal.

One cigarette contains 15-25 mg of nicotine, depending on the brand. The butt of a cigarette has a surprisingly large concentration of nicotine for its size -- 4 to 8 mg.

Signs and symptoms of nicotine poisoning in your dog or cat include:

  • Tremors, twitching, or seizures

  • Drooling

  • Constricted pupils

  • Auditory and visual hallucinations

  • Excitement, racing heart (but slow heart rate with small doses)

  • Vomiting and diarrhea

If you suspect your pet has ingested nicotine, call your vet immediately or the Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435.

What You Can Do to Protect Your Pets -- Until You Quit Smoking

Exposing your loved ones and pets to second- or third-hand smoke is clearly not helping their health. You owe it to your pets to clean up your act.

To minimize their risks while you’re working your way up to quitting smoking, you can:

  • Follow the advice of the ASPA and “take it outside.” Smoking only outdoors will prevent a large share of smoke particles from settling into your home or car, reducing your pet’s toxic load.

  • Use a high-quality air purifier in your home to help remove excess toxins.

  • Change your clothes after smoking, and wash your clothing right away--or at the very least, air it out outside.

  • Wash your hands after smoking, and before you touch your pets

  • Ideally, wash your hair after you smoke, especially if you have a pet (or a child) that will be in close proximity to you.

  • Keep ashtrays clean -- don’t leave them for your pets to find.

  • Dispose of cigars, cigarettes, nicotine gum, patches, snuff, smokeless tobacco, etc. in receptacles that can’t be accessed by pets.