Dogs living with owners who smoke are at particular risk for lung and nasal cancers.
Cats trapped in smoke-filled environments are at risk for malignant lymphoma, a common feline cancer which in under a year takes the life of three out of every four cats that develop the fatal disease.
"The evidence is striking," says Steven Hansen of the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center.
"Most veterinarians believe pretty strongly secondhand smoke presents a strong danger to dogs and cats with pre-existing respiratory problems," he says.
"And extrapolating, why would you expose a healthy animal?"
It’s probably not a huge surprise to learn that just as human health is at risk from second and third-hand smoke, so is the well-being of four-legged family members in smoking households.
Cigarettes and other tobacco products contain deadly toxins, and toxins poison every living thing, including beloved companion animals.
I have personally witnessed the devastation pet parents feel when I inform them their precious pet has developed a cancer that is linked to exposure to cigarette smoke.
As a pet owner, it’s difficult enough to hear that your dog or cat is seriously ill.
But many people who learn it is their own bad habit or that of a family member that caused their pet’s illness, experience tremendous feelings of guilt on top of the anxiety and sadness that comes with caring for a very sick or dying pet.
Smoking-Related Cancer in Dogs
Your dog is aging about seven times faster than you are. Compared to the lifespan of humans, everything in your dog’s lifetime is sped up – including how quickly toxins act on his system and how fast diseases like cancer develop as a result.
Some breeds of dogs exposed to second and third-hand smoke are more prone to develop nasal cancers.
Dogs with long noses, like collies, German shepherds and most varieties of hounds, are more likely to develop tumors in their noses and sinuses than other breeds. Survivability rates for canine nasal cancer are dismal – most pups die within a year.
Symptoms of nasal cancer include sneezing, bloody nasal discharge, and swelling in the nose or sinus area.
Canine lung cancer from cigarette smoke occurs more often in short-nosed dogs like pugs, boxers, Pekinese and other brachycephalic breeds. Their shorter nasal passages allow more carcinogenic smoke particles to reach their lungs.
One study found that dogs living in smoky environments have a 60 percent greater risk of lung cancer. Chronic coughing, extreme fatigue and weight loss are some of the warning signs of lung cancer in canines.
Cats Get a Double Whammy from Cigarette Smoke
A Tufts University study concluded that cats living with smokers are twice as likely to get malignant lymphoma as kitties living in smoke-free homes.
Part of the reason for the increased risk is that in addition to inhaling tobacco smoke, cats also ingest the toxins from cigarettes when they groom themselves. Grooming activity moves carcinogens from your kitty’s fur into her mouth and bloodstream.
All pets in a smoking household are at some risk of developing disease, including birds. Birds are very sensitive to inhaled pollutants, and they can also be harmed by tobacco and nicotine residue on items (and people) in their environment.
It’s Not Just About the Smoky Air
There are other ways your dog, cat or other pet can be poisoned by tobacco products, including:
- By eating any portion of a cigarette or cigar
- By drinking water that is contaminated by a cigarette butt
- By ingesting a stop-smoking aid like nicotine gum or a nicotine patch
Nicotine is toxic to pets, and eating a cigarette, chewing tobacco, or even just a portion of a cigar can be fatal.
Signs of nicotine poisoning include drooling, constricted pupils, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, seizures and cardiac abnormalities. If you think your pet has ingested a nicotine product, call the Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 immediately and/or get him to a vet or emergency clinic right away.
How to Minimize Your Pet’s Exposure to Smoking Products
- Don’t smoke inside your home or any place your pet spends a lot of time, and don’t allow others to poison your pet’s environment, either. Remember, it’s not just about contaminants in the air. Smoke particles cling to everything inside a home, so the rug your dog lies on, or the comforter your kitty naps on are coated with cigarette residue if people smoke indoors.
- Don’t leave butts for your pet to find, in ashtrays, other receptacles, or on the ground.
- Dispose of nicotine gum or patches appropriately.
- After smoking, wash your hands before handling your pet. If your dog likes to snuggle in your lap, change to clothes you haven’t smoked in. If your kitty likes to rub his head against yours to claim you as his own, make sure he’s not being exposed to smoke particles clinging to your hair.
- And finally, consider quitting. If you haven’t done it for the sake of your own health, maybe concern for the health of your furry best friend will be just the incentive you need to give up your smoking habit once and for all.