Research suggests that family pets are suffering and put at risk by smokers’ nicotine and smoke inhalation.
It appears that animals inhale more smoke than humans, and digest nicotine deposits when licking their fur.
Pets often snuggle up to their owners when they’re smoking, and spend more time lounging on carpets and furniture which may be covered in carcinogenic particles and deposits.
Dogs are at risk of developing lung or sinus cancer while smaller pets such as birds, rabbits and guinea pigs often face breathing issues and skin disease.
The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons teamed up with The Royal College of Nursing in a campaign to demonstrate to smokers, how their smoking habit can directly harm their pets.
“Many people would be horrified to discover their second-hand smoke was harming their pet, and in some cases seriously shortening the animal’s life.” said Wendy Preston, the RCN’s Head of Nursing
The main risks to animals from passive smoking
Dogs can develop lung or sinus cancer
Cats have an increased risk of developing lymphoma and mouth cancer
Birds, rabbits and guinea pigs can suffer eye, skin and respiratory disease
Smoke exposure worsens bronchitis, asthma and breathing conditions in animals that already have those conditions
Second hand smoke can cause a whole range of other problems too, from skin conditions to weight gain.
Eye complaints. Constant exposure to smoke can irritate the delicate membranes of your pets’ eyes.
In addition – many pets require veterinary treatment and become seriously ill after ingesting cigarettes, tobacco or vaporisers.
A research team from Glasgow university, has been carrying out research on the effects of passive smoking on the pets in its small animal research unit for several years.
40 dogs were recruited on the initial study – half of them from homes with smokers – and samples of their hair were analysed for nicotine levels, while their owners were asked to fill in a survey detailing how often they or any visitors smoked.
The same study was then carried out on 60 pet cats, particularly investigating possible links between second-hand smoke and feline lymphoma, a cancer affecting white blood cells in cats. However, results are more complicated for cats. A cat can be from a smoke-free home yet still have high nicotine levels, because they are free-wandering animals and can potentially become exposed to second hand smoke by visiting outdoor smoking areas.
Professor Knottenbelt the principal researcher on this Glasgow study, stated: “Our findings show that exposure to smoke in the home is having a direct impact on pets. It risks ongoing cell damage, increasing weight gain after castration and has previously been shown to increase the risk of certain cancers.”
“We have already shown that dogs can take in significant amounts of smoke when living in a smoking household. Our current study in cats, shows that cats are even more affected. This may be due to the extensive self-grooming that cats do, as this would increase the amount of smoke taken in to the body.
Passive smoking doesn’t only harm human health, it has recently been suggested that it also poses a potential danger to pets. Recent research carried out by a team at the University of Glasgow found that dogs, cats and small animals such as guinea pigs and birds could be just as much at risk from second-hand smoke as people. Other studies have shown similar findings.
What can I do to reduce the impact on my pet if I smoke?
The best way to protect your pet is to give up smoking altogether. Smoking outdoors will help and having a cigarette in a different room will reduce the amount of smoke that they inhale, however potentially carcinogenic particles are still likely to remain on your clothes furniture and soft furnishings.
Good ventilation may help, as well as air purifiers and regular vacuuming of soft furnishings to lessen the amount of potentially dangerous particles and residue. Even if you maximise ventilation by opening windows or doors, smoke still spreads around your home. Almost 85% of tobacco smoke is invisible and toxic particles from smoke can build up on surfaces and clothes.
Studies have shown that when owners reduced the total numbers of tobacco products smoked in the home to less than 10 per day the nicotine levels in cat hair dropped significantly but were still higher than those in cats from non-smoking homes.
Don’t leave cigarette butts or ash trays in easy access of pets.
Wash your hands after smoking.
Regularly clean and steam carpets to reduce the toxic particles from collecting in the home.
Is it safer to use vaporisers or electronic cigarettes around pets instead?
While there have been no studies to suggest that fumes from electronic cigarettes pose any danger to pets, there have been incidents of poisoning from pets managing to eat them. The Veterinary Poisons Information Service has seen an increase in cases of electronic cigarette poisoning over the past few years, with 113 reported in 2016. There is a massive increase in the use of these devices and so it is likely that this problem is hugely under reported and a growing issue. Therefore, even though electronic cigarettes are a better alternative to harmful tobacco smoke, they must be kept well out of the reach of pets.
Professor Knottenbelt concluded: “We are all aware of the risks to our health of smoking and it is important we do everything we can to encourage people to stop smoking. As well as the risk to the smoker, there is the danger of second-hand smoke to others. Pet owners often do not think about the impact that smoking could have on their pets.”
Whilst you can reduce the amount of smoke your pet is exposed to by smoking outdoors and by reducing the number of tobacco products smoked by the members of the household, stopping smoking completely is the best option for your pet’s future health and well being.”
Written by Emma Hammett for First Aid for Life
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