Pets suffer silently when owners smoke

pets and smoking
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that secondhand smoke kills thousands of people annually. Imagine what it does to pets.

Pets living with smokers are more than twice as likely to get cancer as Fluffy or Fido who live with nonsmokers, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Secondhand smoke has been associated with oral cancer and lymphoma in cats, lung and nasal cancer in dogs, plus lung cancer in birds.

Lymphoma is fatal in three out of four cats within 12 months of developing cancer.

A recent study conducted at Colorado State University shows a higher incidence of nasal tumors in dogs living with smokers. The incidence was specifically found among the long-nosed breeds. Shorter- or medium-nosed dogs showed higher rates for lung cancer.

Dogs affected with nasal cancer normally do not survive more than one year.

Another serious cancer with links to secondhand smoke, called squamous cell carcinoma, occurs in dogs’ and cats’ mouths. 

More than smoke

Secondhand smoke isn’t the only danger faced by pets in smoke-filled environments. They also face the risk of poisoning.

Curious pets (especially dogs) can get into cigarettes and other tobacco products — and when ingested, fatal nicotine poisoning can result.

Laura Magruder, DVM, treats about 5,800 cats and dogs a year at the Evergreen Veterinary Hospital in Salem. She notices a correlation between her smoking clients and their pet’s respiratory problems. “It’s a sensitive issue to discuss,” she said, “but when it affects the health of the patient, we are obligated. Quite often, pet owners aren’t aware of the potential ill effects, so it’s just the extra motivation they need to make healthier decisions.”

The problem isn’t limited to cancer, she noted. “Smoking harms respiratory health, especially in cats. We see inflamed respiratory tracts in both dogs and cats, and as our practice grows, we’re diagnosing more and more asthma in cats,” she said.

Her advice is even more stringent for “pocket pets” (e.g. mice and hamsters) and bird owners. “Birds should not live with smokers,” she said bluntly. “Their respiratory tracts are extremely delicate — and, their lungs don’t breathe like ours do, so the system will shut down.”

How do toxins get in?

  • By ingestion of cigarette or cigar butts which contain toxins.

  • Through grooming — especially in cats, who constantly lick themselves, ingesting toxins on their fur.

  • Smoke toxins land on furniture and bedding, where pets sleep and groom themselves.

  • Dogs are always sniffing the ground — which is where smoke toxins settle. Plus, dogs tend to lick … everything.

  • By drinking water that contains cigar or cigarette butts (which can have high concentrations of nicotine).

  • By breathing secondhand smoke.

  • By eating nicotine replacement gum and patches.

How it harms health

  • Breathing problems in dogs and asthma-like symptoms in cats

  • Salivation

  • Diarrhea

  • Vomiting

  • Cardiac abnormalities

  • Respiratory difficulties and respiratory paralysis

  • Feline lymphoma in cats

  • Lung cancer in dogs

  • Nasal cancer in dogs

  • Death: one cigarette or 1/3 of a cigar is enough to be fatal if ingested

Warning signs of cancer

  • Asymmetrical swelling

  • Lumps and bumps

  • A wound that doesn't heal

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Lameness that can't be attributed to injury

  • An older pet who's not thriving

  • Unexplained vomiting or diarrhea

For pet’s sake, quit! Let us help

This points to one remedy — for both smokers and their pets:  Stop smoking, for everyone’s health. If you must smoke (you know, those times between the stages of trying to quit), smoke only outside — but not in your vehicle, because rolling down the window isn’t effective. 

Your pets are family members, so treat them accordingly. You wouldn’t feed them contaminated food, right? According to a story by a veterinarian in Consumer Affairs, secondhand smoke is just as dangerous.

Salem Health’s Freedom from Smoking Class is offered four times a year. Or, take the online course anytime, starting from here. Call the Community Health Education Center at 503-814-CHEC for more information.