Your Pet Needs You to Stop Smoking!

Jul 03, 2018

By Robyn Smith, DVM

RBVH At Home (House Calls Service)


smokingTobacco use causes significant health risks in people; this has been well studied and is widely known. But did you know the extent to which pets can suffer from tobacco exposure as well? Especially with newer smoking alternatives, such as e-cigarettes and vaping, people may think risks are declining. That simply isn’t so.

The different kinds of smoke

Did you know how many kinds of smoke there are? Three in fact!

  • First-hand smoke is the inhaled burning cigarette, cigar or pipe by the smoker themselves.
  • Second-hand smoke is the exhaled smoke which contains as many as 7000 chemicals, polluting the local environment around the smoker.
  • Third-hand smoke refers to the residue which accumulates as the toxic particles settle out of the air and rest on furniture, clothing, carpets and other surfaces.

The risk caused to pets by exposure to tobacco products and the environment in which a smoker lives varies by the animal species, breed and lifestyle habits. Consider these factors: although dogs get to spend some time outside in fresh air multiple times daily, a cat is always kept within the smoke-contaminated environment. Cats with their meticulous grooming habits and our dogs who lick us to love us will actually ingest a significant number of toxins from the third-hand smoke on the smoker’s body and the pet’s own. Also, our pets spend considerable time lying on the floor and on furniture, putting their mouths and noses directly into the toxic residue that concentrates in lower-lying areas. Our lap-sitting pets are closest to the second-hand smoke and our floor-sitting pets are subjected to the third-hand smoke.

Even though our pets are not the ones lighting up, their bodies suffer right along with their smoking pet owner. Nicotine is broken down in the body, in part, into a substance called cotinine. It can be detected in the blood and urine of cats and dogs living in smoking households (as well as in people). We have proof that our pets cannot be spared from the hazards of smoking if a pet owner chooses to smoke.

The risk of cancer and other diseases

These hazards are well-documented by the veterinary oncologists who treat cancer in pets. Cats who live in a smoking household have a two to four times increased risk of an aggressive oral cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. This comes from ingesting the numerous toxins and carcinogens off their hair coat during grooming. Cats that live in a household with a one-pack-a-day smoking habit are three times more likely to be diagnosed with lymphoma, a systemic form of cancer. When cats have been exposed to five or more years of smoking, a gene mutation associated with carcinogenic change in people can be found in cats, too.

For dogs, their head shape predicts the type of cancer risk they have. Long-nosed dogs with smoke exposure (such as Collies, Greyhounds, Doberman Pinschers and others) will have two times the risk of nasal/sinus cancer. Their long noses work as a filtration system and the many carcinogens from the second-hand smoke become trapped in their mucus and develop into tumors over time. Breeds with shorter noses do not fare better, however. The Pugs, Bulldogs, Beagles, and others with short-to-medium nose length do not have the benefit of that lengthy filtration, and instead, the harmful particles are inhaled into the lungs, causing lung cancer at twice the rate compared to pets in non-smoking households.

Cancer is not the only concern for pets either! Pets with environmental exposure to smoke have higher rates of asthma, pneumonia, damaged blood vessels, allergic skin disease and eye infections. Birds, who are particularly sensitive to pollutants in the air, suffer from cancer, respiratory problems, allergies, and pneumonia as well as skin, heart and fertility problems. Even fish in a smoking household are not spared! The nicotine contained in second- and third-hand smoke is very readily absorbed into the water and poisons them, causing muscle spasms and rigidity which impair comfortable movement, as well as changes in body coloration. Clearly, everyone in a smoking household suffers.

What changes can we make to spare our pets?

Some smokers will only smoke outside their home – which certainly reduces some of the risk. But a 2005 study showed that the homes of outdoor-smokers still contained five to seven times the contaminants compared to non-smoking households. Even though smoking occurs outside, the chemicals and toxins come back in with the pet owner as third-hand smoke. Testing has proven that household surfaces still test positive for third-hand smoke contaminants many months after smoking cessation and thorough sanitation efforts. Opening windows and using air filters can be tried, but these methods pale in comparison to leaving the home – which has already been shown not to be sufficient protection for pets.

Alternative smoking products

If traditional cigarettes, cigars, and pipes are so dangerous, perhaps the newer alternatives of e-cigarettes and vaporizers (used for vaping) which don’t contain tobacco or emit smoke would be considered safe for pets? There are fewer studies because the products are too new and are often used by individuals who exposed their pets to traditional smoke contamination as well, but there is no risk-free option when so many chemicals, toxins, and carcinogens are at play.

Specifically, with electronic nicotine delivery systems, the risk of nicotine poisoning of pets is substantially increased. Nicotine toxicity can be fatal within just 15 to 30 minutes of exposure and due to the scents and flavors associated with these new products, pets are inclined to test and taste. Fatal nicotine doses for dogs and cats range between 20 to 100 milligrams. A regular cigarette contains 9 to 30 milligrams of nicotine, a cigar can have 15 to 40 milligrams, and cartridges for electronic alternatives can have anywhere from 18 to 300 milligrams of nicotine depending on the size (regular use versus concentrated refill size). Even a used cigarette butt retains 5 to 7 milligrams of nicotine; if a pet ingested just three or more of those, it could be toxic. Importantly, there is no antidote for nicotine poisoning.

The aerosol released from electronic nicotine delivery systems is also a significant concern. There are numerous harmful substances contained within that vapor, including the known toxin formaldehyde and also diethylene glycol (antifreeze). These still pose the third-hand smoke risk to our pets as the chemicals settle onto household surfaces or our pets’ bodies. In 2016 the FDA was given the legal ability to regulate all tobacco products, including electronic products. With greater oversight, there will be more extensive testing and analysis of the composition of the exhaled vapor and its health consequences. This will help to protect consumers and their pets alike.

Another variation on the risk associated with smoking and now with electronic devices is the risk of fire and explosion. With the new FDA oversight, there have been published reports of life-threatening injuries, disfigurement or disability associated with the combustible nature of these products. Pets may potentially chew on devices, puncture batteries or cartridges, or even unintentionally turn the device on – all of these actions could result in harm. Traditional smoking is associated with an increased risk of a house fire (a devastating tragedy for a pet), but electronic devices still pose similar risks as well.

A plea from your pet – Stop Smoking!

Pets add such joy and delight to our lives – they, in fact, have the power to make us healthier people! Studies have shown decreases in high blood pressure, improved heart rates and better immune function in pet owners. There are psychological benefits from companionship with the pet directly, as well as a sense of belonging among pet owners as a group. Dog owners take more walks outside and cat owners report reduced loneliness. They do all this, just by being around us.

Your pet needs you – uniquely irreplaceable YOU. For their health, for your health, and for the opportunity to spend long lives in each other’s company, we encourage you to stop smoking.