When it comes to our dear pets and keeping them as healthy as possible, I think two simple words illustrate the way we should think about secondhand smoke –and our pets: Yes, dangerous.
Or maybe a few more words: Please limit your pet’s exposure to secondhand smoke.
The facts of secondhand smoke in pets
For over 50 years we have known about the dangers of secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke (also known as ETS or environmental tobacco smoke) is a mix of two forms of trouble:
- Mainstream smoke which is the smoke exhaled by the smoker and
- Sidestream smoke which is the smoke that comes from the end of the lighted cigarette or cigar.
And that smoke is a mix of at least 69 toxic chemicals including things like arsenic, nickel, and formaldehyde. These chemicals and/or the combination of these chemicals cause cancer in people. There is definitive statistical proof that it causes lung cancer and strong evidence that it is linked to at least 10 other cancers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention keep it simple, “no level of secondhand smoke exposure is safe.” I will repeat that: No level is safe!
And just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, even the lingering smoke odor in clothes or furniture or paint (thirdhand smoke) is a combination of toxic particles that last for months. These toxic particles cause illnesses as well.
There is unfortunately a relatively small number of studies in our pets that definitively prove that secondhand smoke causes cancer. The studies completed support that there is a link between the toxic chemicals of secondhand smoke and lymphoma in cats, and chronic bronchitis, lung cancer, and nasal cancer in dogs. Reserach ends there but common sense tells us that it does not end there!
Why I would never smoke in the house or around my pets
The toxic chemicals associated with secondhand smoke are irritating to the sensitive surface of our pets’ eyes, nose, mouth, and lungs. It just follows then that this irritation can cause a number of minor issues, maybe secondary infections, and likely a higher incidence of cancers compared to pets that “always” breathe clean air. Cats have a particularly sensitive respiratory system and are vulnerable to chronic bronchitis or asthma. Obviously for a cat lover, no exposure to smoke is best!
The following health troubles are commonly believed to happen to both dogs and cats exposed to secondhand smoke and as a veterinarian, I believe the connection as well. Keep in mind, we do need more research to study the relationship between secondhand smoke and health concerns in pets.
- Respiratory infections – upper respiratory tract infections, bronchitis, pneumonias
- Drooling / excessive salivation
- Exacerbation of inhalant allergies
- Irritated eyes – conjunctivitis. Slow healing if there is a corneal ulcer
- Tracheal collapse in susceptible dog breeds
- Progression of heart troubles
- Eating cigarettes or cigars can easily be fatal
There is hope
In the 1960s, close to 50% of all North Americans smoked but today that number is down to 20%! If we are trying to encourage friends and family to quit, start a frank discussion about how they are likely harming their beloved pet. The human-animal bond is so incredibly strong that it can provide an amazing incentive to stop smoking.
There are better, stronger, cheaper air cleaners available all the time. Do some research and bring one into your home to help filter the air and protect your pet – the United States Environmental Protection Agency has great information about air cleaners in the home.
The jury is still out, but advocates of vaping claim that the chemicals in the smoke are far safer than regular cigarettes and cigars. Pets can have an irritated airway from any kind of smoke, but vape smoke may be a safer option—watch the research to see if the vape smoke is actually safe.
As a veterinarian my rules are no smoking and no smoke exposure for my pets. Pet treats, an occasional bite of my chicken sandwich, and off-leash adventures, now those are another story!