In a 2009 study conducted by the journal Tobacco Control found that one in every three pet owners who were smokers would consider quitting after learning about the negative effects on their pets. One in five would ban smoking in their homes. You may be aware that secondhand smoke can affect a human’s health, but did you know that it can be very damaging to your pets’ health as well?
Whether you are an owner of a dog, cat, or bird, secondhand smoke will affect your pets’ health. An growing amount of evidence suggests that secondhand cigarette smoke can cause such risks in companion animals as respiratory problems, allergies, and even nasal or lung cancers.
A 2002 Tufts University study directly linked secondhand smoke to cancer in cats. The study found that cats whose owners are smokers are twice as likely to develop a malignant lymphoma. This type of cancer kills almost 75 percent of afflicted cats within a year.
Grooming patterns make cats extremely vulnerable to cancer. Grooming daily can expose their oral tissues to hazardous amounts of carcinogens. A 2007 study by the University of Minnesota found that cats that live with smokers have nicotine and other toxins in their urine.
A 1998 Colorado State University Study found a higher rate of nasal tumors and sinus cancers in dogs living in a home with smokers, than those living with a non-smoker. This data was found to be more common in long nosed breeds. This same study also showed higher lung cancer rates in short to medium nosed dog due to shorter nasal passages that made it easier for cancer-causing particles to reach their lungs.
Birds can also be affected by secondhand smoke from cigarettes. It increases their chances of pneumonia and lung cancer, but they can also develop eye, skin, heart and fertility problems. Birds that are able to be freed from their cages and sit on a smoker’s hand often develop dermatitis which forces them to pull out their own feathers.
Quitting smoking isn’t easy thing to do; in fact, it is considered the hardest addiction to overcome. Yes, there are reasons as personal health and cost benefits to help encourage you to stop, but why not quit for the sake of furry "family members?" Until then, follow a few simple steps to keep your pet safe: use a high-quality air purifier in your home to help remove excess toxins, wash your hands after smoking before touching your pets, and always dispose of tobacco products in receptacles that can’t be easily accessed by pets. Thursday, November 15 is the National Great American Smoke Out day where thousands of people throughout the county choose that day make the day they quit tobacco. Free resources such as nicotine replacement therapies, quit tools and counseling are available through the Vermont Quit Network at 1-800-QUIT-NOW or locally at (802) 440-4098.
Kiah Morris is the Community Improvement Specialist at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. To learn more about how SVMC and Dartmouth-Hitchcock are working together for a healthier community, visit www.svhealthcare.org. "Health Matters" is a weekly column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public matters and public policy as it affects health care.