Secondhand Smoke Harms Dogs and Cats Too

Cat health

Secondhand smoke doesn’t just make people ill, it can affect your dogs and cats and other pets as well. As we celebrate National Pet Health Insurance month, it is “important that pet owners take action to protect their beloved domestic pets from the dangers of secondhand smoke,” according to Dr. Cheryl G. Healton, DrPH, president and CEO of the American Legacy Foundation, an independent public health organization that helps prevent young people from smoking and assists smokers in quitting.

In a study conducted at Tuft College of Veterinary Medicine, researchers found a strong correlation between secondhand smoke and the development of certain cancers in cats, including mouth cancer. One reason cats are highly susceptible to oral cancer is because of their grooming habits, according to Dr. Carolynn MacAllister, a veterinarian at Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service. When cats lick themselves, they pick up cancer-causing substances that have accumulated on their fur, which then are absorbed through the mucus membranes.

Cats that live with smokers also have a higher risk of getting malignant lymphoma, which occurs in the lymph nodes. This form of cancer is fatal to 75 percent of cats within one year of onset. Secondhand smoke is also associated with an increased occurrence of cancer in the sinuses and nose among dogs, as well as a slight association with lung cancer. Dogs that have long noses are more susceptible because they have more surface area for the carcinogens to accumulate. Nasal cancer also is often fatal within one year.


Dogs that have short or medium noses show higher rates for lung cancer, notes Dr. MacAlllister. The reason for this greater occurrence is that their shorter nasal passages do not gather the carcinogens as effectively as do longer nosed dogs. Therefore more cancer-causing substances reach the lungs.

Bird lovers should beware as well. The respiratory system of birds is highly sensitive to air pollutants, and secondhand smoke is especially dangerous. MacAllister notes that pneumonia and lung cancer can develop in birds exposed to secondhand smoke, as can eye, heart, skin, and fertility problems.

Many people consider their dogs, cats, and other pets to be a part of the family. The best way to protect pets and other family members against the dangers of secondhand smoke is to quit smoking. At the very least, smokers should go outside well away from the house when smoking. Opening the windows is not enough. Smoking in the house even when pets and other people are not in the house does not alleviate the problem, as cancer-causing substances from secondhand smoke accumulate in the furnishings, carpets, and structural materials of the home
The Animal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) also suggests the following steps to help alleviate the harm to cats, dogs, and other pets from secondhand smoke and tobacco. Use a high-quality air purifier in the home. Change your clothes after smoking and wash them or let them air out outside. Wash your hands after smoking and before you touch your pets. Keep ashtrays clean. Dispose of cigarettes, nicotine gum, smokeless tobacco, and other tobacco products where they cannot be accessed by pets.

American Legacy Foundation, April 9, 2009
Animal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
MacAlllister C. Secondhand smoke is a healthy threat to pets. Oklahoma State University, August 31, 2007.

Written by Deborah Mitchell
Tucson, Arizona
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