Most people are aware that smoking cigarettes has been known to cause lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease, and many other health conditions in humans. Studies have also shown that exposure to environmental tobacco smoke, known as secondhand smoke, has been linked to a very lengthy list of diseases in children such as asthma, ear infections, and even infant death syndrome.
There are more than 40 substances found in secondhand smoke that can cause damage to your DNA and cause cancer. Nicotine, tar, and carbon monoxide are just a few of the carcinogens found in cigarette smoke. Sadly, those suffering from diseases caused by passive tobacco smoke exposure are simply innocent victims. While the health risks have been well established for humans, humans are not the only members of the home that are at risk. Our pets can also suffer.
Not only do pets share our homes and breathe the same air as we do, but their grooming behavior and lifestyles may increase the intensity and duration of their exposure to smoke compared to that of the humans in the household.
Our Pets Breathe What We Breathe
I like to make the analogy to getting an insurance policy. If you have an insurance policy then you will likely know what I am talking about. The company you are receiving the policy from often requires you to have a physical exam, blood testing, and urine testing. Based on your results, they can get an overall picture of how healthy you are. One of the substances they are looking for in the urine is cotinine. This indicates the presence of nicotine in the body and they can tell you are either a smoker or exposed to high levels of secondhand smoke.
Just as in humans, in the veterinary world, we can detect cotinine in the urine of both dogs and cats exposed to secondhand smoke. As a result, we know that small dogs who spend a good deal of time in the laps of their smoking owners may have cotinine levels equivalent to that of the smokers themselves. Crazy, right?
Nicotine can also be detected on hair. Not only do dogs and cats inhale our cigarette smoke, but they also receive a double dose of nicotine when they clean their fur, ingesting nicotine that is on the hair. Smoke residue in the environment tends to settle and adhere to things lower in the environment (furniture upholstery, carpet, dog beds, etc). Our pets receive additional exposure this way.
Effects On Dogs
Just as humans can suffer from smoking related illnesses, our dog counterparts can also suffer from diseases such as cancer and lung disease. It has been shown that repeated expsosure to secondhand smoke negatively effects the normal respiratory function in dogs. Studies have shown that dogs who are constantly exposed to secondhand smoke can get carbon deposits in their respiratory tract. These carbon deposits are what is found in the lungs of people who smoke. This is just further proof that your smoking is affecting your dog as well.
Dogs who are exposed to secondhand smoke are at increased risk for developing a number of different diseases. Skin allergies is one of the most common reasons dogs are seen by the Veterinarian. Like we discussed previously, the smoke residue can build up in the hair coat of dogs. This increases the chances of your developing allergic skin diseases. Developing nasal cancer is also a concern but it doesn't stop there. Dogs with underlying heart disease also suffer from more severe damage to heart blood vessels which can make the condition worse.
Effects On Cats
You know we can't forget about our furry feline companions. While we do not know as much about how secondhand smoke impacts cats, we do know something quite concerning. The most common form of cancer that cats develop is lymphoma. We do know that repeated exposure to secondhand smoke increases a cat's chances of developing this type of cancer.
Cancers of the mouth are common in humans that smoke. Sadly, we have seen an increase in the number or oral cancers in cats who belong to smokers.
Minimize Their Exposure
Quitting is difficult and that is understood but there are some things you can do to minimize your pet's exposure to secondhand smoke. Steam clean your carpets, curtains and upholstery on furniture to remove accumulated smoke residue from your home. Bathe your pet frequently to remove any residue from his/her fur. Once you’ve cleaned everything and everyone, smoke outdoors away from your pet to prevent the re-accumulation of smoke on your pet and in your home.
As a Veterinarian, I am concerned about the health and well-being not only of my patients but of my clients as well. Please consider what has been discussed in this article and think about what you can do to reduce your pet’s exposure to environmental tobacco and increase their quality of life.