Secondhand Smoke and Your Dog
The health risks and dangers of smoking have been well documented. Indeed, awareness of the impact of secondhand smoke on people (especially children) is on the rise. But secondhand smoke and pets? Finally, awareness of this pet health risk is growing, in part due to several studies published in scientific journals over the past five years.
Cancer is the number one health risk to dogs who live with smokers. Dogs who live with smokers are 60% more likely to develop cancers than dogs that live with non-smokers. Nasal tumors and cancers of the nose and sinuses are found in dogs who are exposed to secondhand smoke. Lung, yes, lung cancer also has been appearing in our canine friends.
The longer the nose/muzzle, the greater the risk of nasal cancers, according to the research, due to the increased amount of mucus membrane exposed to the carcinogens present in the smoke. Nasal cancers are a fast growing and deadly group of cancers and dogs frequently do not live beyond one year after diagnosis.
However, if you think because your dog has a shorter snout, she isn’t at risk, guess again. Dogs with shorter noses or snouts are at a greater risk of developing lung cancer due to the carcinogens not being trapped by the nasal passages but instead allowing the particles to travel to the lungs.
Inflammatory changes in the lungs of dogs sharing a home with smokers indicate that exposure to secondhand smoke can also cause lung diseases such as asthma or emphysema. Exposure to a chronic irritant such as secondhand smoke can also increase the likelihood of developing allergies or chronic irritation thus weakening the dog’s immune system and setting the stage for infections or chronic breathing problems.
Poisoning is another risk posed by sharing a home with a smoker. Tobacco is poisonous to dogs, and some dogs will eat cigarettes or lick ashtrays. Nicotine, the addictive component in tobacco, is highly poisonous to dogs and consumption can be fatal. Consumption, you ask? “My dog isn’t eating my cigarettes, how is she consuming the nicotine?”
In an effort to remove the smell and soot from the cigarette smoke and ashes (respectively), many dogs will self-groom and lick their fur to rid themselves of the smell and soot.
Other pets are susceptible to illnesses caused by secondhand smoke. Impacts upon cats and pet birds have been studied as well. Cancers and other respiratory ailments as well as gastrointestinal illness has been shown to be problematic for cats as they engage in more extensive grooming than do dogs. Birds too, due to their preening behavior, are at high risk for developing cancers from exposure to secondhand smoke.
What can you do?
If you must smoke, do not smoke around your pets. Do not smoke indoors if at all possible and wash your hands thoroughly after each cigarette. Tar and nicotine can be transferred from your hands to your dog’s fur. Let your walks with your dogs be about them and not your habit. When you want to smoke, keep them inside the house and you go outside to light up.
If you can’t completely eliminate smoking from your life, cut down. Reduce and minimize your dog’s exposure to smoke: from your own and other people’s cigarettes. If your dog attends doggy daycare, ask about smoking rules and employees’ habits, and sniff around. The scent of cigarette smoke lingers; people often unwittingly minimize their estimate of how much they are smoking.
Keep it squeaky clean. Empty and wash ashtrays after using them and do not leave cigarette butts anywhere around your home or property.
If not for your own health, let the risk of harming your dog be the incentive you need to change your habits. Quitting smoking is one of the most difficult addictions to break but there are ways to get help. Use the support of your doctor to find safe and appropriate ways to reduce or eliminate smoking from your life: medications and nicotine patches might be helpful, but remember they too can be toxic to your pets. Remember, you you have a say in whether you want to smoke. Your dog has no say in whether he or she wants to be exposed to it. Remember that you share the air!