Smoking and How It Affects Your Pets

You don’t want to give up smoking for your own health or because you smell or even if people look down on their noses at a lower class habit. Would you do it for your companion animals?

Cats living with smokers are twice as likely to acquire malignant lymphoma as those in non-smoking households, reports Tufts University and Massachusetts University scientists. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology entitled "Environmental Tobacco Smoke and Risk of Malignant Lymphoma in Pet Cats” links second-hand smoke to cancer in cats. Feline lymphoma is the most common cancer in domestic cats.

All household pets are exposed to the same environmental contaminants as their owners. In fact, their exposure levels might read even higher than those of human household members who can spend time away from the home Cats not only inhale smoke, they also ingest particulate matter by licking it from their fur while grooming. The number of household smokers also appears as a factor with nearly a double relative risk for cats living with one smoker and four times the risk for cats living with two or more smokers. The risk increased according to the duration and level of the cat's tobacco exposure. Cats living with humans smoking a pack or more a day had a three-fold increased risk.

Nicotine poisoning is not uncommon – a smoker who feeds something to his dog or cat after he has smoked a cigarette can kill them. Tobacco products can be fatal to dogs, cats, fish and birds if ingested. Signs of nicotine poisoning can develop within 15 to 45 minutes and include excitation, salivation, panting, vomiting and diarrhoea. Signs of advanced stage nicotine poisoning include muscle weakness, twitching, depression, collapse, coma, increased heart rate and cardiac arrest.

Veterinarians have long known that cigarette smoke is irritating to the respiratory system and can cause problems for dogs and cats, including lung cancer, asthma and allergies. Dogs living in a smoking household have a 60% risk of developing lung cancer.

Overall dogs and cats exposed to secondhand smoke have nine times increased chance of developing lung disease than the humans in the household. Dogs and cats have much smaller lung capacity than humans so the smoke has a relatively greater impact on their lungs. Smoke and particles in smoke gravitate and concentrate at floor level, right where your dog and cat are breathing. Cats and dogs ingest particles into their systems when cleaning themselves.

Of the 4,700 toxic substances in a cigarette, 43 are carcinogenic such as benzene, ammonia, 4-obiphenol, butadiene, and benzopyrene, crotonaldehyde, lead and cresol. 1-aminonaphthalene causes lung, liver and leukemia cancers in animals and is toxic for fish. A dose is as low as 0.05 mg causes tumours. Acetaldehyde causes cancer in animals. Small amounts of acetaldehyde irritate the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract of animals and interfere with the exchange of nutrients from the mother to the placenta, resulting in growth retardation, malformation and death of the fetus. Carbon monoxide causes decreased birth weights, fetal damage. Nicotine in tobacco smoke is absorbed almost instantly by inhalation, ingestion and skin contact and can result in seizures, vomiting, growth retardation, reduced body weight and brain development in animals. Acrylonitrile leads to deformation in the fetus and Toluene depresses the central nervous system.

In 1992 a study entitled, “Passive Smoking and Canine Lung Cancer Risk”. And in 1998, titled “Cancer of the Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinuses and Exposure to Environmental Tobacco Smoke in Pet Dogs”. found that skull shape had an effect on the risk of lung cancer in dogs. Dogs with long noses (like German shepherds, collies) have a higher risk for nasal cancer and dogs with short noses (like pugs) have a higher risk for lung cancer. Some of the warning signs of lung cancer in dogs include chronic coughing, weight loss and abnormal fatigue. Warning signs of nasal cancer include swelling over the nose or sinus area, sneezing and bloody nasal discharge.

Birds have a very extensive respiratory system made up of specialized lungs and 9 air sacs. The canaries were kept in coal mines as ‘sentinels’ because they were more sensitive to the poisonous gases or lack of oxygen in the air. If the canary was dead, the miners knew they better get out fast! Because birds are more sensitive than humans to such gases, anything that adversely affects humans such as cigarette smoke is significantly riskier to birds.

Veterinarians have long reported that exposure to cigarette smoke is a common cause of respiratory problems in birds. Some of the clinical problems include conjunctivitis, sinusitis, air sacculitis, rhinitis, and dermatitis. It has been found that butadiene exposure caused arteriosclerotic heart disease in birds. Bird keepers still expose their birds to these harmful substances even if they only smoke outside. When smoking, toxic substances in the smoke settle in your hair, clothes and hands. Birds are exposed to these substances when they walk back in your home. Birds absorb materials through their skin, such as topical steroids.

The pollutants settle on birds' plumage. Pet birds living in such a home will have feathers that are dull and dark, often feeling greasy to the touch. Their normal attempts to preen and keep the feathers in good order will be in vain, and they will end up over-preening and plucking themselves in attempts to get rid of the noxious deposit. Most parrots that have become bald because they have pulled out their feathers are the direct result of cigarette smoking in the home. So are itchy feet causing the bird to chew the skin on its feet developing scabs and secondary infections?

The nicotine that is swallowed in the preening process will poison the bird, leading to digestive malfunction and nervous signs. Birds that are handled frequently by nicotine-stained fingers will not only have permanently dirty plumage, but the chemical will often act as a direct skin irritant.

When birds inhale the smoke, the tars, nicotine, and hydrocarbons settle in the lungs and air sacs. Blood pressure will rise, lungs will function with reduced efficiency, and the heart will become damaged by the toxins and the extra work it has to perform. A bird that suddenly dies of heart failure in a smoker’s home will have congested and black air-sac membranes and lungs. This is known as anthracosis.

Anything that applies to a bird will also apply to fish. There have been hundreds of cases where fish have sickened and died for no other reason than that the aquarium owner has changed the water with nicotine-stained hands or has transferred the fish from a plastic sac to the aquarium – and the plastic has been held by smokers or someone has smoked in a room. Fish that are put in glass prisons in offices, shops and airports – as they are in India – have short and miserable lives, dying of nicotine.

So if you won’t stop smoking for the people in your house – do it for the animals in your care.

*Proper wildlife rehabilitation is an extremely biologically and ecologically responsible attitude toward all living things.*