How does smoking affect your pets?
4th February, 2022
Whether you’re a smoker or a non-smoker, we’re all familiar with the risks that smoking can bring. From cancer and heart disease to diabetes, emphysema and bronchitis, this common habit carries a long trail of potential illnesses and health problems in its wake.
According to Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Smoking Statistics 2021, smoking costs the NHS £2.5 billion every year. It’s the primary cause of preventable illness and premature death in the UK, accounting for approximately 74,600 deaths a year.
Pet owners may be less familiar, however, with the harmful effects that smoking can have on their domestic animals. In fact, as we'll reveal in this article, smoking – and the smoke that lingers around in your home – can bring with it a variety of health risks for our beloved pets, too.
Simply being in a smoky environment, or around smokers, means breathing in huge numbers of harmful chemicals. These chemicals can greatly increase the chances of developing diseases such as bronchitis, pneumonia and even cancer. Asthma sufferers will also find their condition aggravated by proximity to cigarette smoke.
This latter scenario is known as passive smoking, or inhaling 'second-hand' smoke. And it's the major cause of recent laws that, for example, banned smoking in cars with young passengers, as well as on public transport and inside public buildings.
Don't worry, though: there are things you can do. One obvious step is to try to give up or at least reduce your smoking habit, or to smoke outside or away from your pets. We'll run through some of these strategies in a little more detail further down.
Responsible owners will want to do all they can to protect their faithful friends. That’s why having specialist pet insurance in place is so important. It can help towards the cost of vets’ bills, medicines and treatment that your pet may require during its lifetime.
Purely Pets has a range of award-winning lifetime policies with benefits including a 24-Hour Vet Helpline. Get a quick quote and start protecting your pet today.
What are the effects of smoke on pets?
As we've already seen, passive smoking – breathing in smoke from cigarettes, cigars, or pipes being smoked by others near us – is a well-documented danger, especially for children. But what might be the effects of passive smoking on our dogs and cats?
Firstly, it's important to remember that, if you smoke regularly in your home, the smoke produced hangs around for a while. You may not see it, but it may still be present in the air. That's because nearly 80% of tobacco smoke has no smell and is invisible, meaning that you will be unaware of its presence.
However, that doesn’t mean the damaging effects have disappeared. Cigarette smoke can be made up of as many as 5,000 different chemicals, many of them toxic to humans and animals alike. What's more, smoke can hang around on a variety of surfaces and clothes – even on your pet's fur or on their bedding or soft toys.
But how exactly might this passive smoking affect our animals? Living with a smoker means increased health risks for a wide variety of domestic animals, including dogs, cats, and particularly birds.
Many of these health problems will result in the need for medical treatment and/or medicines, so having some pet insurance in place could prove very useful here.
There are a few different ways in which the smoke from cigarettes, pipes and cigars can be harmful to pets in general. These include:
- Cell damage
Damage to cells within the animal's body, caused by the toxins in tobacco smoke. This cellular damage can leave pets more vulnerable to some cancers, including mouth, nose and lung cancer. Treatment may be available for these conditions – but it will be costly, although your pet insurance may be able to help here.
- Respiratory issues
Pets around smoke can also suffer from breathing problems – either new health concerns, or the aggravation of existing breathing difficulties.
Weight gain has also been seen in some neutered dogs who have been exposed to cigarette smoke.
Smoke and dogs
Let's move on to a few common pets, and see how passive smoking affects each of them in turn.
Firstly, studies suggest that dogs who are exposed to second-hand smoke are more susceptible to a variety of conditions. These include eye infections, allergies, and respiratory issues – the latter including lung cancer. This perhaps shouldn't surprise us, when we remember that dogs have a far better sense of smell (and, therefore, a far more sensitive respiratory system) than us humans.
One interesting nuance to this story is that the length of a dog’s nose may help to determine which type(s) of cancer they may be most susceptible to, after inhaling second-hand smoke.
It seems that long-nosed dogs, such as Collies and Labradors, may be more prone to nasal cancer. Why? Well, all that increased surface area across their nasal canals proves a very effective trap for inhaled particles. The toxins and carcinogens in tobacco smoke build up in the dogs' nasal mucus, making tumours more likely.
Short-nosed dogs such as Pugs or Shih Tzus, on the other hand, are more likely to develop lung cancer. This is because the particles are not trapped within that shorter nasal area, instead making their way further down towards the lungs.
In either case, treatment for nasal or lung cancer is likely to prove expensive, although the consequent medical bills could be reduced if you have some form of specialist pet insurance in place.
Smoke and cats
When it comes to cats living in smoke-filled homes, the problems are slightly different – but, arguably, more acute. Cats may be particularly at risk from the minuscule particles that congregate in the air after smoking.
The reason for this comes down to cats' well-known love of grooming. Those regular self-cleaning routines, that we all love to watch, could make our feline friends more susceptible to swallowing some of the microscopic quantities of smoke that settles on their fur. This is a rare case where too much hygiene may not be a good thing!
Incidentally, this smoky residue that persists on furniture, rugs and pet fur long after the air in the room has cleared is commonly called 'third-hand' smoke. That's to distinguish it from the 'second-hand' smoke that lingers in the air. And, as we can see, cats' fondness for regular self-cleansing leaves them more vulnerable than other pets to third-hand smoke. If your feline is particularly fond of grooming themselves, you should be especially vigilant here, and clean carpets and furniture as often as possible.
Just like dogs, cats can also develop lung cancers or respiratory illnesses from prolonged exposure to cigarette smoke so be on the lookout for the telltale signs that something is wrong.
What are the signs of cancer in dogs and cats?
Let’s have a quick recap on how to spot the signs of cancer in cats and dogs.
As we’ve discussed elsewhere on our blog, the symptoms of cancer can also be similar to those of other conditions, so it’s best to get your animal properly diagnosed by a veterinary professional.
Remember if you’re worried about your pet, you can call the Purely Pets’ 24-Hour Vet Helpline if you’re a policyholder and talk directly to a veterinary professional.
Common signs of cancer to look out for in cats include:
- Bad breath and problems eating or chewing food
- Excessive thirst
- Weight loss
- Sickness or loose stools
- Shortness of breath or lack of stamina
- Bleeding or discharge
- New lumps, bumps or lesions
Many of these symptoms will also be seen in dogs. Dog owners should also watch out for any unusual nasal discharge or breathing difficulties in their canines. This is good advice whether you’re a smoker or not, as your dog may have eaten or inhaled something that is causing a blockage, which may also require medical attention.
How do you treat cancer in dogs and cats?
Treatment for cancer in dogs and cats is similar to the treatments used in humans. It will usually involve surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or a combination of all of these.
As you can imagine, the costs of this type of specialist treatment can escalate quite quickly. If a tumour isn’t diagnosed in the early stages, emergency treatment may be required, which can cost even more. That’s why pet insurance is so vital to help you give your cat or dog the care they need, when they need it most.
Other domestic animals
Let’s turn for a moment to some of the other common domestic animals. Other pets likely to be affected by smoking at home include birds, whose respiratory systems are highly sensitive. Indeed, any form of smoke – including cigarettes, but also wood-burning stoves or open fires – can prove fatal to pet birds.
Pneumonia and lung cancer are among the conditions that can develop in birds who are exposed to smoke in the home. Birds are also at greater risk than other creatures of developing certain skin, heart, eye, and even fertility complaints if they spend too much time in smoky environments.
The rule here, as with any other domestic animal, is clear: if you do choose to smoke at home, avoid doing so in the same room as your birds, and wash your hands thoroughly before handling them. Remember that some of that smoke can linger, both on surfaces around the home and in the air, long after its source (the cigarette or domestic fire, for example) is gone.
In fact, advice from the PDSA is not to let pet birds into rooms that contain fires at any time – even when those fires aren’t lit.
Another group of domestic animals that is sensitive to smoke – and this one might seem counterintuitive – is fish. That's because the toxins in cigarette smoke can easily dissolve into the water in their fish tank.
But dogs, cats, birds and fish aren't the only animals likely to be affected. Rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and indeed any other pet will be at risk from passive smoking.
How can you minimise your pet's exposure to smoke?
There are many ways in which living in a house with smokers can adversely affect your pet's health, whatever their species.
However, even as a smoker yourself, you can minimise the risk of smoke affecting your pets by taking some simple steps.
For example, smoking outside the house will drastically reduce the amount of smoke lingering around in the air inside your home. It will also minimise the chances of harmful particles landing up on your pets, or on their bedding or soft toys.
Elsewhere, try not to leave ashtrays or cigarette butts anywhere your pets might risk coming across them. Wash your hands after smoking, and get into the habit of regularly cleaning your carpets, to prevent toxic chemicals from building up.
Also try to avoid leaving ashtrays, with discarded cigarette butts, around the home. These butts may seem to pose no further health risks once they have been smoked. However, they still contain heavy metals and other toxins. These could prove harmful to any pet that unwittingly eats one, mistaking them for some tasty treat! This may lead to gastric upset: an expensive medical procedure may even be required to remove the foreign body, although your pet insurance policy should be able to help with costs here.
Common signs of a tummy problem in dogs and cats are:
- abdominal pain
- weakness and lethargy
- loss of appetite
Other things can be harmful, too: for example, the various products designed to help you stop smoking, such as nicotine patches, gum, inhalers or e-cigarettes. These generally all contain some quantity of nicotine – they work by weaning you gradually off nicotine, after all – so could all prove harmful to animals around the home if ingested.
Can I simply spray or clean the lingering smoke away?
Many people rely on commercial sprays to hide the after-effects of smoking. But, while these will do a superficial job of removing the odours that hang around the home, they won't tackle the crucial underlying issue: those harmful smoke particles, which may still linger in the air and will certainly still be present on furniture, surfaces and pet fur. That means that cats, in particular (as we saw above) will still not be fully protected from the after-effects of smoking.
In fact, if you're looking at how to give your house the most thorough clean possible, you may want to consider getting some professional help. After all, those smoke particles can settle anywhere, including many places – such as light fittings – that you might not normally touch in the course of your regular cleaning routine.
Specialist cleaners will have the tools and equipment needed to remove bad odours and harmful bacteria.
Regularly opening doors and windows and providing good ventilation in your home will also help the smoke disperse and stop the air from becoming stagnant.
What about vaping?
If you're trying to give up nicotine, you may have gone down the vaping route, hoping that you'll be able to gradually wean yourself off the cravings.
Like other devices, electronic cigarettes (or 'e-cigarettes') release a small amount of nicotine into your system – enough to satisfy you while you come off the cigarettes. And indeed, e-cigarettes do seem to have a higher quit rate than other forms of nicotine replacement therapy.
Be sure to keep your household animals well away from any electronic cigarettes, vaping liquids or refills. It is mostly the liquid inside the cartridge that would prove dangerous to animals – even a small amount of this liquid could prove fatal if eaten.
What's more, these liquids – often housed in colourful, small and eminently chewable cases – may look tempting to pets. But if they were to get inside these containers and ingest any liquids – even through a small crack – the very worst could happen.
What are the signs of nicotine poisoning in pets? Be on the lookout for things like:
- increased heart rate
- weakness in the legs
- shaking and seizures
As the Blue Cross explains, the Veterinary Poisons Information Service has seen an uptick in the number of cases of electronic cigarette poisoning in the last few years. So be sure to store all of your e-cigarette devices and liquids well out of your pet’s reach.
We’ve discussed what to do if you think your pet has been poisoned elsewhere on our blog. Of course it’s not just ingesting cigarette ends that can cause your pet to fall ill. Our homes are filled with other potential toxins for dogs including chocolate, human medications, pest control sprays or treatments, cleaning products, antifreeze and even seemingly harmless foods like grapes, sultanas and raisins.
If you think your dog or cat has been poisoned, time is of the essence. Call the Purely Pets’ 24-Hour Vet Helpline or make an emergency appointment with your vet straight away. Pet insurance may help you cover the cost of any emergency treatment your friend might need.
What are the signs of choking?
If your dog or young puppy likes chewing anything and everything in sight, that might also include your cigarette lighter.
Large objects like this are choking hazards for pets. If you see your dog coughing or retching this is a good sign that they’ve eaten something they’re not supposed to.
We have some step-by-step advice elsewhere on our website on what to do if your dog is choking. Here’s a quick recap:
- Cover your dog’s teeth with its lips so you don’t get bitten.
- Hold your dog’s tongue and move it one side - this might be enough to dislodge the foreign object.
- If you can see what’s blocking your dog’s throat, tongs or pliers might help you to pull it out. Be careful not to push the object further down.
Choking is an emergency situation. And at times like this you don’t want to think about the cost of treatment. Pet insurance can help you cover the costs.
5 top tips to help stop smoking
If you want to stop smoking this year – not only for your own health but for your pet’s sake, too – the NHS has these top tips:
- Change your mealtime routine - many people enjoy a cigarette after dinner, but some foods, like cheese, fruit and vegetables, make smoke taste more unpleasant. So by eating these, it may cut your desire for a cigarette. You could also try doing the washing up straight away so your hands are kept busy.
- Cravings can last for 5 minutes, so make a list of things you could do instead of smoking when the feeling comes.
- Get in touch with your local stop smoking service. People who try to quit with their help will be four times more successful.
- Physical activity has been proven to cut cravings, so get moving!
- Make a list of the reasons why you want to quit - this might be for your health, your family, or even your pets. Whatever motivates you.
If you want to quit, call the NHS Smokefree helpline on 0300 123 1044, open seven days a week.
Pet insurance from Purely Pets: helping with your pet's long-term health outlook
If you are a smoker and a pet owner, trying to quit smoking will probably be one of the best things you could do for your pet's health and welfare.
Another excellent step towards providing your pet with all the healthcare they need is to take out some specialist pet insurance.
Did you know that our Gold products were awarded a 5* Defaqto rating in 2021? There’s no upper joining age limit and if you do need to make a claim, the process is quick and easy online.
Contact us today to arrange the right pet insurance for you and your beloved companion.