Most adults who smoke recognize that second- and third-hand smoke is harmful to other people around them, especially children. But not as many smokers realize their habit can also damage their pet's health.
Animals can develop lung damage and certain kinds of cancer just like humans do when exposed to second-hand smoke, residual chemicals from cigarettes, and even the hands and clothing of a smoker.
According to veterinary oncologist Heather Wilson-Robles of Texas A&M University, in an interview with Medical Daily:
"Animals with asthma or bronchitis may have difficulties controlling their disease. A lot of vets, even though not much literature is published to prove that, would tell you that they have seen similar experiences. The owner quit smoking and the pet's lung problems or disease improved."
Why Pets Are at Such High Risk from Exposure to Cigarette Smoke
The fact is pets may have an even greater risk of smoking-related disease than children if smokers don't wash their hands after holding a cigarette. The toxins left behind on human hands can easily wind up in a cat or dog's fur.
And to make matters worse, while most smokers wash cigarette toxins off their hands several times each day, the family pet often goes weeks between baths. This means the animal is spending every second of every day in between baths basting in the harmful chemicals deposited on his coat.
"There are studies that show that dogs exposed to large amounts of second-hand smoke have significant changes to their lung tissue over time," said Wilson-Robles.
"These changes range from fibrosis, or scarring of the lung tissue to precancerous and even cancerous lesions."
And kitties, who spend a good portion of their time grooming themselves, often ingest the chemicals deposited on their fur and can become seriously ill. A case report published in 2012 gave an account of a cat that developed a tracheal carcinoma after exposure to large amounts of second-hand smoke in the home.
Another study published in 2002 by Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine concluded second-hand smoke may double the risk of lymphoma development in cats.
Signs of Smoking-Related Health Problems in Pets
Signs that a pet is suffering the effects of second- or third-hand smoke include a dry hacking cough that gets progressively worse. Animals with asthma, allergy-related lung disorders or bronchitis are at particular risk. According to Wilson-Robles:
"Asthma patients may have more frequent asthma attacks and their symptoms may be more difficult to manage medically. Animals with allergic lung disease will often have more severe symptoms if they live in a smoking household and these symptoms may persist all year round rather than being seasonal."
Another way tobacco products can be hazardous to pets is if a dog or cat decides to sample a cigarette from the trash or some other source. Ingestion of tobacco products can cause drooling, trembling, and GI upset (vomiting and diarrhea). High doses of nicotine can cause behavior changes, seizures and even death in pets. And cigarette butts are very dangerous because they contain 25 percent of the nicotine found in the cigarette.
Protecting Your Pet
Clearly, the most effective way to treat tobacco-related health problems in your pet is to give up the habit yourself if you smoke. Whether you're the smoker in the household or someone else is:
"Pet owners need to immediately quit smoking around the animal and wash their hands thoroughly after smoking before touching the pet or anything it may come in contact with," says Wilson-Robles. "If your dog or cat eats a cigarette, chewing tobacco, cigar, etc. call an emergency clinic nearby for directions on how to treat this toxicosis. In most cases the tobacco will induce vomiting by itself, but if not, vomiting should be induced to clean the stomach out and prevent systemic and possibly even lethal nicotine toxicosis."
A good rule of thumb is to take the same precautions with your pet as you would with a child. Smoke outside. Wash your hands after smoking. Get an air purifier. If possible, change your clothes to insure chemical tobacco residue doesn't transfer from your clothes to your pet.
If you suspect your pet is suffering from smoking-related problems of any kind, I encourage you to make an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Dr. Karen Becker is a proactive and integrative wellness veterinarian. You can visit her site at: MercolaHealthyPets.com
Her goal is to help you create wellness in order to prevent illness in the lives of your pets. This proactive approach seeks to save you and your pet from unnecessary stress and suffering by identifying and removing health obstacles even before disease occurs. Unfortunately, most veterinarians in the United States are trained to be reactive. They wait for symptoms to occur, and often treat those symptoms without addressing the root cause.
By reading Dr. Becker's information, you'll learn how to make impactful, consistent lifestyle choices to improve your pet's quality of life.