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Published on April 14, 2017

Give up smoking – for your pet’s sakeGive up smoking – for your pet’s sake

You may know that smoking can lead to cancer, asthma, heart disease and other potentially fatal diseases. But if that doesn’t give you pause, maybe this will: It’s bad for your dog and cat too.

Pets in smoking households are at greater risk for weight gain, cell damage and some cancers, according to researchers.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States, accounting for one in five (human) deaths annually. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 90 percent of all lung cancer deaths can be attributed to smoking.

Now, research from the University of Glasgow shows that dogs living in smoking households ingest a high amount of tobacco smoke. The research suggests that pets may even be at greater risk of health problems from smoke exposure than children in smoking households, noting that because pets are closer the ground, they are more likely to ingest third-hand smoke – that is, tobacco chemicals present in carpets and other surfaces.

“It’s not surprising,” said Cape Cod Hospital thoracic surgeon Jeffrey Spillane, MD. “We have known for a long time that children of smokers have health issues, so it would be logical that pets do, as well.”

Clare Knottenbelt, Glasgow University professor of small animal medicine and oncology, and her colleagues analyzed the nicotine levels in the animals’ fur and looked at whether such levels were associated with any health problems. Additionally, they assessed the testicles of dogs following castration in order to identify any signs of cell damage.

Compared with pets living in non-smoking households, the researchers found that those living in smoking households may be at greater risk of cell damage, some cancers and weight gain.

When analyzing the testicles of castrated dogs from smoking households, the researchers identified a gene that represents a sign of cell damage that is related to some cancers. Furthermore, they found that dogs that lived in smoking households gained more weight after being neutered than dogs from non-smoking households.

However, the researchers also found that these risks reduced when owners smoked outside.

“The study in dogs confirms what we already know – reducing smoking in the house is good for every member of the family – especially for the pets in the environment,” said Thomas M. Burns, DVM, hospital director of Veterinary Associates of Cape Cod in South Yarmouth.

Cats Are In Danger

Cats are most at risk, according to the researchers, because they ingest more smoke than dogs – regardless of whether or not they have access to outdoors. The team speculates that this may be due to the extensive self-grooming of cats, causing them to ingest more tobacco toxins.

While owners who cut down on the number of cigarettes they smoked per day did reduce pets’ smoke exposure, it was not eliminated completely. Cats from households that lowered their cigarette intake to less than 10 daily still had higher nicotine levels in their fur than those from non-smoking households.

“We see the effects of cigarette smoke on pets not only involving diseases like cancers, but also in chronic conditions like asthma,” reported Sadie Hutchings, DVM, of Lower Cape Veterinary Services in Eastham.

Cats, in general, are very good at hiding signs of disease from their owners, and many people will not recognize signs of airway disease in their cats for many months, she said.

“Unfortunately, this condition is sometimes diagnosed during an emergency setting when their cat is suddenly struggling to breath,” she said. “A smoke-filled environment can induce these sudden asthmatic attacks and much like people, can be fatal if they go into respiratory distress without treatment.”

While the research is ongoing, the University of Glasgow team believes the results to date should act as a warning to smokers with 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,” noted researcher Knottenbelt in a press release about the study.

“Hopefully, more pet owners will recognize that improving their own health has serious benefits not just for themselves, but also for their pets that they love so considerably,” said Dr. Burns.