Smoke gets in pet's eyes and lungs
IF you're a smoker and pet owner, you might want to think twice before you light up that cigarette.
The harm tobacco can exact on the human body has been common knowledge for many years. Then the dangers of second-hand smoke for humans raised alarm bells. Now, people have begun to realize that our pets are also at risk.
Second-hand smoke contains about 4,000 chemical compounds, 200 of which are poisonous, and 43 known carcinogens. Recent university studies suggest that pets living in households with smokers are at increased risk of falling victim to lung and other cancers, heart disease and respiratory illnesses such as asthma. And the more smokers in a household, the greater the health risk to a pet.
Studies carried out at the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital in the 1990s were the first to spotlight the hazards secondhand smoke posed to dogs. The studies found that exposure to smoke particles in the air increased the risk of cancer of the respiratory system. Dogs with long noses had a greater risk of nasal and sinus cancer, while short-nosed dogs had an elevated risk of lung cancer.
It is thought that dogs with long noses filter out carcinogens through the nose, thus exposing more nasal tissue to carcinogens when they inhale. In short-nosed dogs, the carcinogens go straight to the lungs.
A 2002 study by Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine found that, adjusting for age and other factors, cats living in households where their owners smoked were twice as likely to develop a cancer called feline lymphoma than cats living in non-smoking households. Other studies suggest that higher rates of feline asthma are also the result of the irritants in tobacco smoke.
It's not only breathing in tobacco smoke that can cause harm to pets. Carcinogens in the smoke settle on animals' fur, and when cats and dogs groom themselves they ingest this harmful residue. Cats exposed to secondhand smoke also have a heightened risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma, a type of oral cancer often found in smokers.
Some pets, usually dogs, like to chow down on discarded cigarette butts. These are extremely toxic and can be fatal if ingested. Pet owners should keep any nicotine-containing products -- cigarettes, cigars, chewing-tobacco, nicotine patches -- away from their pets, and dispose of butts safely.
Smokers can protect their pets from exposure to second-hand smoke by only smoking outside. And they should monitor their pets carefully for any warning signs of cancer:
Lung cancer: chronic coughing, weight loss, abnormal fatigue.
Nasal cancer: swelling over the nose or sinus area, sneezing and bloody nasal discharge.
Feline lymphoma: enlarged lymph nodes.
Oral cancer: a mass in the mouth, not eating, drooling.
The best way to protect your pet from the dangers of second-hand tobacco smoke is to quit smoking completely. That way, both you and your pet will have longer and healthier lives.
Daniel Crain, president of the San Francisco SPCA, has been committed to animals all his life and is the current owner/guardian/foster parent of five formerly homeless dogs and one verbose parrot.