No Butts about it: the dangers of smoking around pets

Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Feb 07 2012

Something in the air

If you’re a smoker, I know that you know that it’s in your best interest to quit. I also know that some people are more concerned about the health of their pets than they are about their own health. That’s why it is important to remember that environmental tobacco smoke is dangerous to our pets.

When toxins in tobacco smoke settle on the floor, couch and bed, it can gather on your pet’s fur. Because cats are such fastidious groomers, they are more prone to the ill effects of toxic build-up. Cats that live in houses with smokers are at an increased risk of oral squamous cell carcinoma. Not only is this type of cancer painful, it is also difficult to treat.

Cats that live with smokers are also at an increased risk of developing asthma over time. And if your cat already has asthma, smoking in the house will hinder her treatment.

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Perhaps the most disturbing trend we see with cats who are exposed to second-hand smoke is in their risk of developing lymphoma, or cancer of the lymph system. If a cat lives with one smoker, her chances of developing lymphoma are TWICE that of cats who live with non-smokers. And if a cat lives with two smokers, her chances of developing lymphoma are a staggering four times higher.

Dogs are not off the hook, either. Nasal cancer rates are higher in dogs who live with smokers, particularly if the dog is a long-nosed breed. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that second-hand smoke exacerbates atopy (or inhaled allergies), as well.

In addition to exposing pets to second-hand smoke, smokers should be aware that cigarettes and other forms of nicotine pose a toxic threat to pets if ingested. Puppies are probably most at risk, as they are curious and love to chew on odds and ends, but adult dogs and cats also sometimes end up accidentally ingesting whole cigarettes, cigarette butts or chewing tobacco. Nicotine gum and patches are also toxic, so be sure to keep these out of paw’s reach.

Nicotine poisoning causes symptoms such as tremors, excessive drooling, hallucinations, excitement and an increased heart rate, and if enough nicotine is ingested, death can occur. The toxic dose of nicotine is about 4 milligrams per pound, so smaller dogs and cats are obviously more at risk.

Quitting smoking now greatly reduces your own risk of cancer over time. Just two weeks after quitting, circulation and lung function improves, and after one year the risk of coronary heart disease is half of what it is for smokers. But if these benefits don’t convince you, consider the health of your pet. If quitting smoking is just not in the cards right now, do your best to protect your pets by smoking outdoors and keeping indoor ashtrays clean and free of potentially dangerous butts.

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