Secondhand Smoke, Nicotine Poisoning Health Threats to Pets

Living with a Smoker Puts Companion
and Household Pets Lives at Risk

By Sussy
Associated Content - September 2, 2007
On Friday, Oklahoma State University detailed in a press release the serious health risks posed to pets and other household animals exposed to secondhand smoke. It's well understood that secondhand smoke is attributed to the health problems and deaths of thousands of Americans every year, but much less attention has been paid to the impact secondhand smoke is having on the lives of the nation's pets.

Dr. Carolynn MacAllister is an Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service veterinarian. She says it makes sense that secondhand imagesmoke would be harmful to dogs, cats and birds living with smokers. She said: "There have been a number of scientific papers recently that have reported the significant health threat secondhand smoke poses to pets. Secondhand smoke has been associated with oral cancer and lymphoma in cats, lung and nasal cancer in dogs, as well as lung cancer in birds."

In 1992, Dr. John Reif, a professor of epidemiology at Colorado State University (CSU) and the department chairman for environmental and radiological health sciences conducted a study entitled "Passive Smoking and Canine Lung Cancer Risk." In 1998, he lead a second similar study. According to Smoke Free Society, Dr. Reif said: "These studies are really the first to make us aware of secondhand smoke on animals. They are the first of their kind."

During the 1998 study, the researchers took into consideration the number of smokers in the home, how many cigarettes were smoked in the home each day, how much time the dog spent in the home, and the age, sex, size and skull shape of the dog. The study found that a dog exposed to secondhand smoke in the home is 1.6 times more likely to develop lung cancer than a dog that isn't exposed.

Dr. MacAllister expanded on that figure and said that secondhand smoke is associated with an increased occurrence of cancer in the nose and sinus area among dogs, as well as a "slight" association with lung cancer. She said that a "recent study conducted at Colorado State University shows that there is a higher incidence of nasal tumors in dogs living in a home with secondhand smoke compared to dogs living in a smoke free environment. The increased incidence was specifically found among the long nosed breed of dogs. Shorter or medium nosed dogs showed higher rates for lung cancer."

Dr. MacAllister said longer-nosed breeds have a greater surface area in their noses that's exposed to the carcinogens in cigarette smoke. She said that the carcinogens tend to build up on the mucous membranes of long nosed dogs, so not as much reaches the lungs. Dogs who develop nasal cancer typically died within a year.

Shorter nosed dogs tend to have more incidents of lung cancer than nasal cancer. MacAllister said this is because "their shorter nasal passages aren't as effective at accumulating the inhaled secondhand smoke carcinogens. This results in more carcinogens reaching the lungs."

Dr. MacAllister said that cats are also victims of secondhand smoke. She said a recent study, conducted at Tuft College of Veterinary Medicine, found a significant correlation between secondhand smoke and squamous cell carcinoma, or oral cancer, in cats. Further, cats that lived with smokers for five or more years had even higher rates of oral cancer.

Dr. MacAllister surmised: "One reason cats are so susceptible to secondhand smoke is because of their grooming habits. Cats constantly lick themselves while grooming, therefore they lick up the cancer-causing carcinogens that accumulate on their fur. This grooming behavior exposes the mucous membrane of their mouth to the cancer-causing carcinogens."

Cats who live in smoking households are also twice as likely to develop malignant lymphoma, another type of cancer that occurs in the lymph nodes. Most cats - 75 percent - died within a year of developing the cancer.

Pet birds, with their hypersensitive respiratory systems, also fall victim to secondhand smoke. Dr. MacAllister said the most serious consequences of birds inhaling secondhand smoke are pneumonia or lung cancer. However, research has also found other health risks, including eye, skin, heart and fertility problems.

In addition to the risks of secondhand smoke, household pets living with smokers are also at risk of nicotine poisoning. Dr. MacAllister explained: "Curious pets can eat cigarettes and other tobacco products if the products aren't stored properly. When ingested, this can cause nicotine poisoning, which can be fatal."

Short of quitting smoking, the next best thing is for smokers to have a designated area in which to smoke that is physically separated from the area where pets are kept. It's also important to keep cigarettes, cigarette butts and other tobacco products put away.

Source Press release; Secondhand Smoke Is a Health Threat to Pets;

© 2007 Associated Content, Inc.