Everyone’s heard about the harmful effects of second hand smoke on humans, but we wanted to take the opportunity to visit the impact of second hand smoke on our companion animals:
Question: Can secondhand smoke harm my pets?
Answer: Not surprisingly, the answer is yes. Tobacco smoke contains more than 4,000 chemical compounds, 43 of which are known to be carcinogens. While many studies have shown that exposure to these chemicals can increase people’s chances of heart disease, lung cancer, and other cancers, some recent studies have shown that these chemicals also increase the risk of these diseases to pets.
Research performed at Colorado State University has documented that environmental tobacco smoke has a clear effect on dogs and their chance of falling victim to disease. Studies have shown that the more people smoke in a household, the higher their dogs’ risk of developing certain kinds of cancer. Dogs with long noses are at an even greater risk of developing certain nasal and sinus cancer, as they expose more tissue to the carcinogens when they inhale.
CSU’s research has also shown that the effects of exposure to secondhand smoke are lasting. Chemicals from cigarette smoke can be found in animals’ bodies for a long period of time. In fact, measurable levels of carcinogens can be found in dogs’ hair and urine for months after exposure.
Another study by Tufts University showed that cats exposed to secondhand smoke have an increased chance of developing a type of oral cancer commonly found in smokers–called squamous cell carcinoma–possibly because the carcinogens in smoke can settle on cats’ fur and cats can pick them up as they groom themselves.
Even if they don’t develop cancer, pets can have strong reactions to smoke particles in the air. Just like their human families, pets can develop respiratory infections, lung inflammation, and asthma when exposed to secondhand smoke.
Second-Hand Smoke Affects Pets, Too
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Pet Column for the week of September 26, 2005
Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Kim Marie Labak
University of Illinois
College of Veterinary Medicine
Second-hand smoke, also known as environmental tobacco smoke or ETS, is clearly associated with cancer, respiratory and cardiovascular disease in humans. Several studies have shown that up to 20 different carcinogens contained in tobacco smoke can be inhaled by non-smoking bystanders.
Dr. Timothy Fan, veterinary oncologist at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, explains that although associations between ETS and diseases in animals have not been as extensively researched, a handful of studies show a correlation between ETS and certain forms of cancer in pets.
A Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine study found a strong correlation between ETS and an oral cancer, squamous cell carcinoma, in cats. Cats living with smokers had higher incidence of this type of cancer. Cats living with more than one smoker and cats exposed to ETS for longer than five years have an even higher incidence of this cancer.
Why mouth cancer? Since cats groom themselves quite diligently, cats in smoking households can lick up carcinogens that have been deposited on their fur. Daily grooming over a long period of time can expose the delicate skin in the mouth to hazardous amounts of carcinogens.
The University of Massachusetts in Amherst also found that cats exposed to ETS have a slightly elevated risk of developing malignant lymphoma, or cancer of the lymph nodes. Since the lymph nodes filter the blood, inhaled or ingested carcinogens can build up in these structures.
In dogs, ETS is significantly associated with nasal sinus cancer and weakly associated with lung cancer. A study at Colorado State found a higher incidence of nasal cavity tumors in dogs exposed to ETS than in dogs that live in non-smoking households. This higher incidence was specifically found amongst long-nosed breed dogs such as Collies, and there was no significant increase in nasal tumors amongst short- to medium-nosed dogs exposed to ETS.
Dr. Fan explains that longer-nosed dogs may have a higher incidence of ETS-induced tumors for two reasons. “Smokers inhale smoke through their mouths, and it ends up depositing in the lungs. Bystanders, on the other hand, usually inhale ETS through the nose.” Long-nosed dogs’ nasal passages have a greater surface area on which carcinogens may be deposited before reaching the lungs.
“In addition,” says Dr. Fan, “since a longer nose has nasal passages with a greater number of cells, there is a greater chance that one of these cells can be mutated by carcinogens into a cancer cell.”
Colorado State also found that although short- to medium-nosed dogs exposed to ETS don t have a greater incidence of nasal tumors than those unexposed, they do have a slightly higher incidence of lung cancer, possibly because their shorter nasal passages are less effective at filtering carcinogens out of inhaled air before it reaches the lungs.
Unlike humans, who can develop bladder cancer as a result of ETS exposure, dogs and cats generally don’t run a higher risk of bladder cancer when exposed.
As the human-animal bond becomes stronger, we share more of our lives, our leisure time and our living space with our companion animals, and they become exposed to the same environmental hazards that we do. Many of our habits, including smoking, can affect our pets as they would affect any other member of our household.
Designating a smoking area outside or in a physically separate room of the house may be on way to minimize ETS exposure for pets and other non-smoking family members.
For more information about environmental tobacco smoke and your pet, consult your veterinarian.