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Is Secondhand Smoke Killing Your Cat?

By Natalia Macrynikola

Is Secondhand Smoke Killing Your Cat?

You probably wouldn’t encourage a toddler to smoke, but if you subject your pet to secondhand smoke, you might as well be offering kitty a cigarette. “The correlation is similar to what is seen in children: Smaller lungs have less reserve and are more likely to be affected,” says Laura Sullivan, DVM, of Cascade Hospital for Animals, in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Recent studies confirm Dr. Sullivan’s assertion, warning that secondhand smoke may lead to deadly diseases in your cat. So if personal health risks haven’t compelled you and your houseguests to quit smoking yet, there is a new incentive: the well-being of your cat.

Consider the Dangers
The health risks associated with inhaling secondhand smoke have proved to be just as worrisome for cats as they are for people. But unlike you, your cat doesn’t have the choice to escape the environment to get fresher air, says Shera Dickie, DVM, of St. Julian’s Cat Care, in Dearborn, Mich. What’s more, pollutants from the smoky air collect on your pet’s coat. Since cats are meticulous groomers, they can easily ingest these harmful substances as they lick their fur.

According to a Swedish study cited by Dr. Dickie, “six out of seven cats that lived in a smoking home had pathological changes in their lungs.” These changes foretold the emergence of cancer for the majority of the cats. Here are a few other diseases your cat runs the risk of developing if regularly exposed to secondhand smoke:

  • Malignant lymphoma This aggressive type of cancer occurs in the lymph nodes and can be fatal. In fact, “Three out of four cats with this disease are dead within a year of diagnosis,” says Dr. Dickie. Cats living with smokers are twice as likely to get this disease, and the risk elevates with increased exposure.

  • Squamous cell carcinoma This type of cancer plagues a cat’s mouth. A study conducted at Tufts College of Veterinary Medicine found there is a higher incidence of this illness among cats living with smokers for more than five years.

  • Nicotine poisoning Feline explorers drawn to unknown objects, like a forgotten cigarette butt, are especially threatened by nicotine poisoning. The affliction occurs when a cat ingests tobacco. Cigarette butts contain much harmful nicotine -- about 25 percent of the nicotine of a whole cigarette -- so even a small cigarette butt can lead to the death of a cat.

  • Asthma Cats exposed to secondhand smoke are not only more susceptible to asthma, but they also “tend to heal slower from respiratory diseases, such as viral infections and pneumonia,” notes Dr. Sullivan. Increased coughing and breathing difficulty is a possible sign that your kitty suffers around secondhand smoke.

What Can You Do Now?
Proactive, responsible owners have many options to protect their cat from secondhand smoke. But how do you do that if you can’t quit smoking so easily? Here are four tips to guide even the most addicted smoker:

  • Designate smoke-free areas Consider smoking outside, or smoke only in rooms that pets are not allowed in. The less the exposure, the greater the chances your cat will stay healthy.

  • Use air filters Air filters may help clean the environment, removing harmful chemicals in the air that could block your kitty’s respiratory passage.

  • Clean your pet and your house Regular baths, or at the very least wipe-downs with a damp cloth, can help remove smoke residue from cat fur, says Dr. Dickie. Vacuum and keep all cigarette butts, tobacco products and even nicotine patches out of sight to prevent accidental illness, poisoning or even death.

  • Look for symptoms Excessive drooling or difficulty eating are symptoms of oral cancer, while labored breathing is a sign of lung cancer. Observe your cat frequently, since catching diseases early on always helps with treatment. If something is out of the ordinary, contact your veterinarian immediately.

The best solution of all? Quitting if you’re a smoker -- and encouraging cigarette-carrying visitors to do the same. In the words of Dr. Dickie: “Why expose your beloved furry friend to a potentially preventable disease?”

Natalia Macrynikola is a Group Editor at Studio One Networks, which publishes The Daily Cat.

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Posted on December 20, 2011

Kathleen Polizzi says: Really,arrest people for smoking arrest smoking pet owners.That is ridiculous. Especially in this economy. How would you pay for this. You would first have to pass a law. Good luck on that.

Posted on December 5, 2011

Maria says: Interesting. I smoke, I've had one cat live to 18 and have one now who's 17 and still runs around like crazy and an 8 year old who is quite healthy so like everything else with smoking, not everything is true that we're told.

Posted on October 7, 2010

Beverly says: My older sister smokes incessantly when she gets home from work. She has two cats (and two small dogs). The cats stay in their "rooms" away from the smoke. My sister is in denial about the damage her smoking is doing to the poor animals. I am going to copy this article and give it to her. It probably won't do any good. People who subject defenseless animals to smoke should be arrested.

Posted on September 3, 2009

chrislove says: i couldn't live with myself if my cats died cuz of smoking

Posted on June 18, 2009

Amanda says: I love this informative article! I wish more people realized and understood how dangerous and unhealthy it is to smoke near their four-legged animal friends. Animals are people too! We love and care about them and respect them! It's wrong and heinous to smoke near them! They don't have a voice and having to breathe smoke hurts them terribly! I wrote a special poignant book about this very issue and I created a blog to discuss this very issue.

Posted on June 13, 2009

Jen says: How about just not smoke in your home? Thats what hubby and I do. Mostly because washing the walls doesn't apeal to me. Just smoke outside, then your kitties are safe.

Posted on May 9, 2009

alexis says: i am so scared for my cat now cause my mom and dad smokes and my other family members come over my house and i am really scared for my cat what should i do cause i know my mom and dad i not going to stop!!!!!!

Posted on April 20, 2009

Ginger M says: informative concise useful with facts that support the danger this is doing to our cats

Posted on April 22, 2009

Janet says: IMy first cat aged 5 came to me after living for those 5 years with her previous owners who were smokers. My sweet girl developed oral cancer when she was 9 and had to be put to sleep four months after she was diagnosed with oral fibrosarcoma. It makes such perfect sense that the carcinogens in the air would be absorbed into their systems given their grooming habits. It will always gnaw at me if she hadn't lived with smokers she could've or might've had a longer life with me. I suppose I'll never know for sure but its yet another strong argument for not smoking.

Posted on May 4, 2009

viviana says: i think cats are beautiful

Posted on May 5, 2009

lucy says: i would love to buy it and take care of it p.s i love cats.

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