Looking for some New Year’s resolution ideas? Quitting smoking is a pretty good one. It’s also probably one of the hardest things some of you will ever try to do.
So if saving your own life isn’t enough of a reason, how about saving your pet’s life?
We have known how cigarette smoke negatively affects pets’ health for decades. But every year, we learn that secondhand smoke causes more diseases and cancers, or worsens existing diseases, in our furry and feathered friends who must live in a cloud of poison.
Smoke Poisons Your Pet’s Health
Secondhand smoke is exhaled tobacco smoke blown into the air in your home. Thirdhand smoke is the residue that clings to you, clothing and every surface in your home. This smoke also permeates your beloved housemates’ fur and feathers.
Cigarettes release over 7,000 chemicals when lit. And 93 really bad toxins released through cigarette smoke on the FDA’s list include formaldehyde, lead, arsenic, hydrogen cyanide, toluene and uranium.
Cancer-causing compounds released from nicotine stick to surfaces while others go back into the air. Pets breathe in harmful gases from carpets and furniture, inhale or ingest poisoned house dust, or lick their nicotine-saturated coats. The highest concentration of harmful compounds settle in your carpets, rugs and furniture, where pets spend most of their time.
The smoking human is also a great source of poison for the pet. Licking smokers or being held against smokers’ clothes gives pets a good dose of thirdhand smoke.
When a pet living in a smoker’s environment arrives at my hospital, the pet smells as if he just smoked a pack in the car. While I take blood or give an injection, my technician and I have to breathe in the stink and realize this pet’s life is in danger.
Risks to Pets in Smoking Households
Although research is far more advanced concerning the effects of smoking on humans, it has been proven that pets exposed to cigarette smoke are at high risk for certain conditions and cancers.
- Nasal and lung cancer in dogs: Long-nosed breeds such as dobies and Greyhounds who live in a smoker’s home are at double the risk for nose cancer than similar breeds who live smoke-free. Short- and medium-nosed breeds are at higher risk for lung cancer because the cancer-causing smoke particles aren’t trapped in the nasal cavities — they have a more direct route to the lungs.
- Oral cancer in cats: These incredible groomers have 2–4 times the risk of aggressive oral cancers, such as fast-growing squamous cell carcinoma, if they live with smokers. Most kitties are dead within several months because their mouth tumors make it impossible to eat.
- Lymphoma in cats: This is one of the first proven links between smoking and disease in pets. Cats who live in households where more than a pack of cigarettes is smoked a day are at 3 times the risk of developing lymphoma. Treatment requires aggressive chemotherapy, but most cats are dead within 6–12 months.
- Birds: Birds exposed to cigarette smoke can develop sinus, eye, lung, skin and heart problems. They may also become feather pickers.
- Pocket pets: These little guys develop changes in the lung, similar to people. Their lung capacity is small to begin with, so any toxic insult causes an attack on their metabolism and breathing capacity. They lose weight and become sickly.
- Fish: A recent study showed that 1 smoked cigarette butt dropped into a fish tank containing young minnows killed half the fish in 96 hours.
- Exacerbation of existing diseases: Many pets suffer from allergies without being exposed to cigarette smoke. But cigarette smoke can worsen diseases, creating the need for more medications that carry side effects. Dogs or cats with a chronic cough from causes such as a collapsing trachea or kitty asthma are made worse when living with a smoker.
Much is still unknown, but common sense tells us that other cancers and conditions may be linked to secondhand and thirdhand smoke.
Compassion for Smokers
Addiction experts confirm that quitting smoking may be one of the hardest addictions to kick. Many people want to quit but just can’t.
So one way to help your pet is by smoking outside in a “smoking jacket”: Wear that ratty old coat outside on the porch while smoking — and keep it away from your pets inside. Pets, children and other folks inside the house will thank you for it in this new year and all the years to come.
- FDA: Resources for You: www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/ResourcesforYou
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was last reviewed Jan. 4, 2017.