Pets and smoke: poison in the air
Study shows smokers’ pets have higher cancer risk
People aren’t the only ones who suffer serious health problems from secondhand smoke. The health of companion animals is affected as well.
Smoke settles to the floor of a house and consequently animals inhale more secondhand smoke than people, said Jeff Fish, veterinarian at the Animal Medical Center.
“Nicotine is poisonous to them,” he said.
Eating cigarette butts can kill an animal.
So can cigarette smoke. Birds are the most vulnerable to secondhand smoke because of their small size and because their bodies are filled with air sacs.
“They are especially sensitive to respiratory irritants,” said Fish. “Some actually die from it.”
“Birds can experience adverse reactions to secondhand smoke and may develop eye problems, as well as other respiratory problems like coughing and wheezing. Birds that sit on a smoker’s hand can experience contact dermatitis from the nicotine that remains on the smoker’s hand which can cause them to pull out their feathers,” The Clean Air for Pets Project, part of the American Lung Association of New Hampshire, states on its website.
Cats are the next most sensitive group of companion animals. Some are allergic to secondhand smoke. They may have chronic runny eyes or wheeze a lot. They may get sinus infections as a result.
A study done seven years ago found that cats living with smokers have a higher incidence of cancers.
“We think that is because of the carcinogens in tobacco,” said Fish. “It is hard to prove, because there is also a genetic tendency. Secondhand smoke increases their risks.”
Studies done at Tufts University of Veterinary Medicine found that cats living with smokers have a significantly increased likelihood of contracting cancer, specifically lymphoma.
“Cats exposed to secondhand smoke in the home had a higher rate of an oral cancer called squamous cell carcinoma, which may be due to the way cats groom themselves. When cats groom themselves, they ingest the poisons from secondhand smoke that have settled on their fur,” according to The Clean Air for Pets Project.
Oral cancer is not very common in cats, said Fish. Asthma is a common problem associated with secondhand smoke.
“There’s a lot of coughing and wheezing,” he said. “It’s pretty serious.”
Animals admitted to the Animal Medical Center for a day stop coughing when secondhand smoke is the culprit and start coughing again once they return home.
Companion animals can suffer serious respiratory problems from secondhand smoke.
“Dogs can experience allergic reactions to secondhand smoke. Common symptoms of this allergic reaction are the scratching, biting, and chewing of their skin. Owners often confuse this reaction with fleas or food allergies,” according to The Clean Air for Pets Project.
Studies done by John Reif, professor of epidemiology at Colorado State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital, found that dogs living with smokers were 1.6 times more likely to develop lung cancer than those living with non-smokers. Reif also found that dogs have an increased risk of sinonasal cancers.
Dogs with shorter noses like pugs, Boston terriers and bulldogs are more likely to develop lung cancer from secondhand smoke while dogs with longer noses are more likely to get nasal cancers, said Fish.
Some of the warning signs of lung cancer in dogs include chronic coughing, weight loss and abnormal fatigue, said Reif. Warning signs of nasal cancer include swelling over the nose or sinus area, sneezing and bloody nasal discharge.
Small dogs are at more risk of health problems from secondhand smoke because they have a genetic predisposition to have a collapsed (flattened) trachea, said Fish. “Not smoking around them helps.”
Some pet owners have chosen to stop smoking once they understand the problem it causes for their animals, said Fish.
There are some air filters that help. HEPA air filters, which filter out very small particles, are more effective, he said. Ozone filters, however, are not helpful.
“But quitting smoking is the best,” he said. “It just doesn’t happen very often.”