By Dr. Becker
Most cigarette smokers are aware of the risks, not only to their own health, but also to others around them who are exposed to their habit. But what many people don’t understand is the danger smoking poses for pets.
Secondhand smoke is smoke that is exhaled or released into the air from a burning cigarette or cigar. Thirdhand smoke is the residue that remains in the smoker’s environment on furniture, rugs, curtains, fabric lampshades, clothing, human skin, animal fur, and other surfaces. Both second and thirdhand smoke are referred to as environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) – and research shows that ETS is dangerous to animals living with smokers.
Smoking and Your Canine Companion
Research shows that dogs living in smoking households are more likely to suffer from respiratory diseases like asthma and bronchitis, and also lung cancer, than dogs living with nonsmokers.
- A Colorado State University study 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.1 The nasal/sinus tumors were specifically found among the long-nosed breeds such as retrievers and German Shepherds. Sadly, dogs with nasal cancer do not usually survive more than one year.
- The same CSU study showed higher lung cancer rates in short to medium nosed dogs, such as Boxers and Bulldogs, who live with smokers. Their shorter muzzles allowed more 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.2
Your Cat May Be Even More Sensitive Than Your Dog to ETS
Cats are particularly vulnerable to the carcinogens in tobacco smoke because they are constantly cleaning themselves. Daily grooming exposes delicate oral tissues to hazardous amounts of cancer-causing substances. Even minimal amounts of exposure to second or thirdhand smoke can damage your kitty’s health.
- A 2002 Tufts University study linked secondhand smoke to cancer in cats.3 The study found that cats living with smokers are more than twice as likely to develop malignant lymphoma, which is the most common feline cancer, as those in smoke-free homes. And cats with five or more years of ETS exposure had a three times higher risk.
- A 2007 University of Minnesota study showed that cats who live with smokers have nicotine and other toxins in their urine.4
- A 2007 Tufts University study linked secondhand smoke to oral cancer (squamous cell carcinoma) in cats.5 Kitties living with more than one smoker and those exposed to ETS for longer than five years had even higher rates of this cancer.
Deadliest of All: Smoking Around Your Pet Bird
According to Dr. Carolynn MacAllister, director of continuing education and extension at Oklahoma State University Center for Veterinary Health Sciences, secondhand smoke has also been associated with lung cancer, pneumonia, and eye, skin, heart, and fertility problems in pet birds.6
Your bird’s respiratory system is exquisitely sensitive to any type of pollutant in the air, and certainly secondhand cigarette smoke. It’s a very bad idea to smoke around your bird, or to allow anyone else to. If you do smoke, you should avoid lighting up inside your home. It’s also very important after smoking a cigarette to wash your hands, rinse out your mouth, and change your clothes before handling your bird.
Since smoking is so highly toxic to birds, people who smoke should really avoid keeping a bird as a pet.
Minimizing Your Pet’s Exposure to ETS and Smoking Products
- Don’t smoke inside your home or anywhere your pet spends time, and don’t allow others to poison your pet’s environment, either. And keep in mind that while going outside to smoke helps, it doesn’t eliminate ETS exposure.
In fact, studies show that infants of parents who smoked outdoors were still exposed to five to seven times as much ETS as infants of nonsmokers. We can assume the same is true for pets. And remember that 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 blanket your kitty naps on are coated with cigarette residue if people smoke indoors.
- Don’t leave cigarette butts for your pet to find, in ashtrays, other receptacles, or on the ground. Dispose of nicotine gum or patches appropriately.
- Don’t assume e-cigarettes are a safer alternative to smoke around your pet, as the FDA has found they also contain a number of potentially toxic chemicals.
- 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 headbutt you, make sure he’s not being exposed to smoke particles clinging to your hair.
- If anyone in your family smokes and you have a bird, I strongly encourage you to rehome your pet to a smoke-free environment.
- Get a quality air filter unit and keep up with filter changes as recommended by the manufacturer. Open doors and windows to allow your house to breathe and offer fresh air to your pets, especially those trapped inside all day (usually cats and birds).
- 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 or feathered best friend will be the motivation you need to give up your smoking habit once and for all.