Smokers know cigarettes pose health risks to them, but what many may not realize is that cigarettes can also cause serious illness, and even death, for their pets. From poisoning caused by ingesting cigarette butts to skin allergies from smoke exposure, our canine companions experience a multitude of problems from having a human guardian who uses tobacco.
One of the most common ways dogs are sickened by a pet guardian's use of tobacco is by eating a product, whether a cigarette butt or nicotine replacement patch. Puppies are especially prone to this life-threatening behavior. It takes much less nicotine to poison your pet than it does to poison you. Symptoms of nicotine poisoning in both dogs and cats include tremors, drooling and seizures. If your pet has eaten a nicotine product, you should take him to the nearest emergency veterinary hospital. The best prevention is to stop smoking. If you continue to use nicotine products, keep cigarettes, cigars, ashtrays and nicotine-replacement products designed to aid in the quitting process out of your pet's reach.
Just like with human smokers and humans exposed to secondhand smoke, there is an increase in the likelihood of certain types of cancer among animals who have lived with someone who smokes. According to a 1998 Colorado State University Study, increased incidents of nasal, sinus and lung cancer have been found among dogs who live with a smoker. Long-nosed dogs are more likely to develop nasal cancer as the result of secondhand smoke exposure, while short-nosed and medium-nosed dogs are more likely to develop lung cancer. A 2002 Tufts University Study found that cats living with smokers are 2 times as likely than felines living in smoke-free homes to develop malignant lymphoma (the most common form of feline cancer), which kills 3 out of 4 cats within a year of being affected. Cats are especially prone to suffering damage from secondhand smoke, as they groom themselves often, thereby exposing their oral tissues to large amounts of carcinogens on a daily basis.
Like humans, animals often have allergic reactions to exposure to secondhand smoke. As you probably expected, this can include eye irritation and respiratory reactions such as wheezing, coughing and sneezing. What is surprising, however, is that allergies caused by smoke can manifest themselves in another way in animals. Skin allergies can be caused, or worsened, if your pet is exposed to secondhand smoke. We often assume that a pet who is scratching or biting at his skin is experiencing a flea or food allergy, but for some pets, the allergy causing these issues may be smoke.
Of course, the most effective preventative measure is to quit smoking around your pet -- however we understand that this is easier said than done. Until then, you can minimize the risks of your pet suffering from tobacco-related illness by doing the following:
• Smoking outdoors only.
• Invest in a high quality air filter to help remove excess toxins in your home.
• Change clothes after smoking, and wash clothing right away.
• Always your hands after smoking before you touch your pets.
• Wash your hair after you smoke, before your pet comes near you.
• Be diligent about cleaning out ashtrays and don't leave them where your pets can reach.
• Store ALL tobacco products (i.e. cigars, cigarettes, nicotine gum, patches, snuff, smokeless tobacco, etc.) in places your pets can't access, always dispose them in receptacles that they can't get into.
By Bethney Foster
About the Author
Bethney Foster is social justice coordinator for Mercy Junction ministry, where she edits the monthly publication "Holy Heretic." She is also an adoption coordinator with a pet rescue agency. Foster spent nearly two decades as a newspaper reporter/editor. She graduated from Campbellsville University, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in English, journalism and political science.