Smokers Beware

January 03, 2012
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One of my uncles quit smoking a few years ago after a decades-long, multiple-pack-a-day habit. He had tried quitting in the past; I think the biggest difference this time around was the birth of his first grandchild. Not only did he want to protect her from the dangers associated with second hand smoke, but I’m sure he also wanted to do everything possible to ensure he’d be around to see her grow up.

Kids and grandkids are a great reason to stop smoking, but so are pets. More and more evidence is coming to light proving just how dangerous second and third hand smoke is to the animals that share our homes. Second hand smoke is smoke that is exhaled or otherwise escapes into the air and can be inhaled by non-smokers, including pets. Third hand smoke is the residue that remains on skin, fur, clothing, furniture, etc., even after the air has cleared. Both of these categories can be combined under the heading "environmental tobacco smoke," or ETS.

One of the best studies I’ve seen on this topic linked an increased risk of malignant lymphoma (also called lymphoma or lymphosarcoma) in cats with exposure to ETS. The results showed that the relative risk for malignant lymphoma in cats with any household ETS exposure was almost 2 ½ times as great as that seen in cats living in smoke-free households. For cats with five or more years of ETS exposure the relative risk climbed to 3.2.

This study and others also strongly suggest a link between oral cancer in cats and environmental tobacco smoke. These cats are probably grooming the toxins contained in tobacco smoke off of their fur, which results in damage to and cancer of their oral mucous membranes.

Dogs aren’t immune to the effects of ETS. Research has shown that dogs living with smokers are more likely to suffer from respiratory diseases (e.g., asthma and bronchitis) and lung cancer than are dogs that live in smoke-free homes. Also, the risk of nasal cancer increases 2 ½ times in long-nosed dog breeds that have been exposed to high levels of environmental tobacco smoke.

These results shouldn’t be too surprising. The numerous poisons found in cigarette smoke build up in the nasal passages of long-nosed dogs, but are more able to make their way to the lungs of dogs with short or "normal" noses.

Eye problems and skin reactions can also be seen in any type of pet exposed to environmental tobacco smoke.

Owners are always on the lookout for simple ways to keep their pets as healthy as possible. Maintaining a smoke-free home certainly is one way to do this.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: MaxPhoto / via Shutterstock