We're quick today to protect children from harmful diseases and lifestyle behaviors, forestalling any lifelong threats early on. New research suggests that we should transfer this level of concern over to our pets, especially when it comes to smoking, as dogs and cats can come to harm just as easily from cigarette smoke as an infant or child.
Animals can suffer from lung damage and even certain types of cancer in the same way humans do when exposed to the dangers of secondhand smoke, residual chemicals, or even simple petting, said veterinary oncologist Heather Wilson-Robles.
"Animals with asthma or bronchitis may have difficulties controlling their disease," she said. "A lot of vets, even though not much literature published to prove that, would tell you that they have seen similar experiences. The owner quit smoking and the pet's lung problems or disease improved."
Pets may even face a greater risk than children if smokers do not wash their hands after smoking, as the toxins left behind on a person's hand can easily transfer to the pet's coat. While humans wash their hands on a regular basis, animals often go much longer between bathing sessions to adequately rid themselves of the harmful chemicals.
"There's no proven link say oral cancer, nasal to even lung cancer, results on a regular basis. In addition to just inhaling the smoke, they are exposed to chemicals in tars," said Wilson-Robles, who added that in her experience some adults take more precautions for their pet than their spouse. "They're not getting bathed on a regular basis like we are and washing their hands so those type of things can build up on their coats and they can ingest them."
Cats, especially, because they groom themselves, will often ingest some of the chemicals left on their fur and can fall severely ill.
Wilson-Robles advises smokers who want to protect their pet to take the same precautions they would with a child. These include smoking outside, washing your hands afterwards, and perhaps even changing your clothes when you're finished — anything to ensure the contact with surrounding people or creatures is clean.
The more effective solution, of course, as Wilson-Robles notes, is to quit smoking if at all possible. For those who are worried about their pet coming in contact with cigarette smoke, the easiest solution is avoidance.
"We come to the dog park every single day," said Judy Ouelett of her dog Max, who has Addison's disease, a disorder that prevents his adrenal glands from producing enough hormones. Ouelett says that she worries about the effects of cigarette smoke on Max's health.
"I don't let him around smokers," she said, "and I don't have smokers in my home."