Today we’re tuning in to the Great American Smokeout, an annual event that encourages and offers support to smokers to quit smoking or make a plan to do so. If you or someone you live with is a smoker, please keep in mind that it’s not just two-legged folks in your household who are harmfully exposed. Secondhand smoke and thirdhand smoke is bad for your pets, too.
According to the Great American Smokeout page on Cancer.org, “smoking remains the single largest preventable cause of death and illness in the world.” Furthermore:
- About 32.4 million American adults still smoke cigarettes.
- Smoking causes an estimated 480,000 deaths every year, or about 1 in 5 deaths.
- More than 16 million Americans live with a smoking-related disease.
Secondhand smoke vs. thirdhand smoke
By now we’re all very familiar with the dangers posed by secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke refers to any smoke that is inhaled by non-smokers in the vicinity. According to the CDC, 2.5 million non-smokers have died from health problems caused by exposure to secondhand smoke since 1964. In children, exposure to secondhand smoke is attributed to ear infections, asthma attacks, respiratory infections, and more. In adults, secondhand smoke can cause heart disease, lung cancer, and stroke.
Thirdhand smoke is smoke residue that attaches to indoor surfaces like furniture, carpets, and walls. This residue builds up over time, and can’t be eliminated by simply airing out the room or opening windows. Thirdhand smoke is especially problematic in households with infants and young children, who are more likely to mouth objects and touch affected surfaces.
What secondhand and thirdhand smoke does to your pets
Cats, dogs, and other pets that live in a household with a smoker are susceptible to the harmful effects of cigarette smoke and accidental poisoning by nicotine ingestion. The FDA provides an in-depth look at the specific harm that secondhand smoke and thirdhand smoke may cause for different animal species. Here’s a brief overview:
As any cat parent knows, cats are fastidious groomers. Cats living in a smoking household are much more likely to have thirdhand smoke residue all over their fur coats and paws—which they then ingest every time they groom themselves. Studies show that:
- Cats living in smoking households have 2-4 times the risk of developing an aggressive type of mouth cancer called oral squamous cell carcinoma.
- Cats that live with people who smoke more than one pack of cigarettes a day have 3 times the risk of developing lymphoma.
Secondhand smoke is the bane of dogs living in a smoking household. Dogs that already have asthma or respiratory issues will experience worsening symptoms after inhaling secondhand smoke. The risk for cancer is also increased, depending on the dog breed:
- Long-nosed dog breeds like Greyhounds, Borzois, and Doberman Pinschers that are exposed to tobacco smoke have a doubled risk of nose cancer.
- Short- and medium-nosed breeds like Pugs, Bulldogs, and Beagles have a higher risk of lung cancer.
Birds are very sensitive to air pollution. They also groom or “preen” themselves like cats. Therefore, pet birds that live in a smoking household can develop irritated sinuses, pneumonia, allergies, lung cancer, feather plucking, heart problems, and more.
Guinea pigs exposed to secondhand smoke have an increased risk of developing emphysema, pulmonary hypertension, and decreased weight gain due to toxic effects on their metabolism. There’s a fair chance that hamsters, gerbils, and other “pocket pets” will experience these same issues when around smoke.
Finally, even pet fish can experience the harmful effects of secondhand and thirdhand smoke. How? Nicotine dissolves easily in water; it can eventually end up in a fish tank’s water and poison the fish inside it.
Prevent your pets from being exposed to smoke
If you must keep your pet in a household where someone smokes, please take care to prevent them from exposure to secondhand smoke and thirdhand smoke. A few tips include the following:
- Never smoke around your pets.
- Smoke outside; never smoke in your house, garage, or car.
- Wash your hands after smoking and before you touch your pet.
- Safely dispose of cigarette butts and used nicotine patches where your pet can’t accidentally ingest them.
- Bathe your pets frequently or wipe them down with a wet paper towel to remove smoke residue.
- Don’t let your pet sleep on your coat, clothes, or other items that have come in contact with smoke.
Cover photo by Syed Ali on Unsplash