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November 20 is National Stop Smoking Day. We have all heard about the detrimental effects of second hand smoke on people. But, have you taken the time to think about its effects on our pets?

Pets not only inhale second hand smoke, but they also ingest tar and nicotine from cleaning their fur or eating the cigarette butts. Health risks for pets can range from respiratory problems, seizures, cancer, or even death.

  Cat's Chest X-ray in a Smoker's Household
  This is a chest x-ray of a cat from a smoker's household

Cats can develop more problems from second hand smoke than dogs, because they are meticulous groomers. Cats will ingest the tar, smoke, and carcinogens that cigarettes give off and land on all surfaces of the house including their hair coats.

Daily grooming over many years can cause oral carcinomas and lymphoma similar to people that chew tobacco. Cats will also breathe in the smoke that can cause asthma-like symptoms of wheezing, coughing, or hyperventilation. Primary lung cancer is not as common but can occur as well.

Dogs will also develop the asthma-like symptoms of wheezing, coughing, and/or hyperventilation from breathing second hand smoke. However, they do not usually develop the mouth problems seen in cats.

Dogs are more likely to develop nasal carcinomas or primary lung cancer. Dogs breathe in the smoke more through their nose, where the nasal turbinates grab the tar and carcinogens before the smoke makes it to the lungs. These carcinogens can develop into nasal tumors later in life.

Like humans, cats and dogs can develop Nicotine addiction from eating cigarette butts or Nicotine patches (new or used). Nicotine by itself is very toxic and only takes 20-100mg to be lethal for a cat or dog. One cigarette may have as much as 2mg of Nicotine with the cigarette butt containing 1mg of Nicotine, where as Nicotine patches may have up to 15mg of Nicotine.

Nicotine will cause the stimulation of the Sympathetic Nervous System causing initial signs of excitation such as a racing heart and fast breathing. At very toxic levels, Nicotine will cause seizures, hallucinations or even death. If you see that your pet has eaten any Nicotine patches or an ashtray of cigarette butts please call your veterinarian immediately!

How can we prevent second hand smoke or Nicotine toxicity in our pets?

The best solution is to stop smoking. However, that is not always so easy. Please consider these steps to help keep your pet healthy in an unhealthy environment:

  • Smoke outside and never in your house, car, or garage; where smoke can become trapped. This will prevent the smoke residue from landing on your pets, walls, furniture, or floors where your pets can lick and ingest the tar and carcinogens.

  • Wash your hands after smoking and before you touch your pets.

  • Wash your pet down with a wet paper towel on a daily basis to remove the smoke and tar from their hair coats.

  • Be sure to throw used cigarette butts and already used Nicotine patches into the trash or a container that your pets can not get into. Keep cigarette packs and unused Nicotine patches up out of the reach of pets.

  • Remember even if you smoke outside, your clothes will contain smoke when you come back into the house. Be sure your pet does not sleep on your coat or lick your clothes.

Dr. Emily Clare Gann is an associate at Illiana Veterinary Hospital in South Holland, IL. A graduate of Purdue University, Dr. Gann earned an undergraduate degree in Animal Science in 1993 and a DVM degree in 1996.