Is your pet a smoker? Well, of course not, but if you or someone in your household smokes, then your pet indeed is a smoker. Much has been published about the dangers of secondhand smoke on non-smokers. So how might secondhand smoke affect pets? 

Both secondhand smoke from the air we breathe in and third-hand smoke hurt pets. What’s third-hand smoke? If you have ever been in the home of someone who smokes in their house, you probably noticed that the walls appeared yellow from tobacco residue. This harmful residue includes nicotine and other chemicals left behind to get on skin, clothes, furniture, carpets and other things where a smoker lives.

Like children, dogs and cats spend a lot of time on or near the floor, where residue lands in carpets and rugs. Unfortunately, carcinogens do not just coat the walls, but also fall on your pets’ fur.

Cats are fastidious groomers, but grooming can be a bad thing for cats living in a smoking household. Cats breathe in secondhand smoke directly, just like dogs, plus when cats groom themselves, they also ingest third-hand smoke particles from their fur.

Studies show that cats living in smoking households have up to four times increased risk of an aggressive type of mouth cancer called oral squamous cell carcinoma. The cancer is often found under the base of the tongue, where the third-hand smoke particles collect after grooming. Of the cats that develop this cancer, fewer than 10% will survive one year after diagnosis, even if they’ve had chemotherapy, surgery or radiation.

Dogs that live with smokers are at an increased risk of developing lung or nasal cancers. 

Dogs with medium to short noses, such as rottweillers and pugs, that live with smokers are more likely to develop lung cancer because their noses do not filter the carcinogens as effectively. Nasal cancer is more common in long-nosed dogs, including collies, greyhounds and dachshunds, because more carcinogens can accumulate in their long noses. 

Exposure to smoke also increases the risk that your pet will develop asthma, bronchitis or other respiratory problems.

It’s not only dogs and cats but other types of pets may be even more seriously affected.  

Birds, like cats, like to groom or “preen” themselves. When they do, they ingest third-hand smoke. Birds are particularly sensitive to smoke, chemicals and other pollutants. When they are exposed, they may develop pneumonia, lung cancer, heart problems, skin and eye irritation, sinusitis and even fertility problems.

“Pocket pets” such as rabbits and hamsters also suffer when exposed to tobacco smoke. In one study, guinea pigs exposed to secondhand smoke developed problems like emphysema and pulmonary hypertension. Guinea pigs exposed to chronic tobacco smoke had decreased weight due to toxic effects on their metabolism.

An owner who smokes will even harm their pet fish. How’s that possible? Both second-hand smoke and third-hand smoke contain toxic nicotine. Because nicotine dissolves easily in water, it can eventually end up in a fish tank’s water and poison the fish inside it. Fish exposed to nicotine can develop muscle spasms, rigid fins and may even die.

Smoke Isn’t the Only Problem

Your pet can develop nicotine poisoning if it eats a cigarette or cigar butt, drinks water that contains butts, eats a nicotine refill capsule or liquid refilling solution from an e-cigarette, or eats nicotine gum or patches.

Nicotine can be toxic even at small doses. Fatal doses in dogs and cats have been reported at as low as 20 milligrams. How much of a tobacco product would a dog or cat have to eat to reach a dose of 20mg? One regular cigarette can contain 9 to 30 mg nicotine. E cigarettes vary but are often more than 20mg.

Signs of nicotine poisoning in pets include:

  • vomiting
  • unsteadiness
  • drooling
  • fast heart rate
  • shaking
  • weakness
  • seizures
  • death

If your pet ingests a cigarette, several butts, a cigar, chewing tobacco, a nicotine refill capsule or liquid refilling solution, get him or her to your veterinarian or a veterinary emergency clinic right away. There is no antidote for nicotine poisoning. Your veterinarian can give supportive care like IV fluids and anti-seizure medications that may help your pet survive until the nicotine leaves his or her system.

The best way to prevent these serious health problems is to quit smoking and maintain a smoke-free environment for your pet. Although confining smoking to the outdoors can help, your pet will still be exposed to nicotine and carcinogens on you and your clothing. Vaping is touted as better, but the e-cigarettes still produce toxic chemicals.

So, if you know anyone who is having a hard time trying to quit smoking, perhaps knowing that they are quitting to help save their pets’ lives too may be just the motivation that they need.  

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