A reader wrote in to ask if his smoking is harming his pets. The short answer is yes. Here’s the evidence and some recommendations (including to quit for you and for them!).
Q: I’m a smoker. Is it really bad for me to smoke around my pets? It’s not like they’re inhaling.
A: But they are inhaling. Exposure to secondhand smoke — your exhalations — as well as thirdhand smoke from lingering particles has a direct effect on pets. Among other things, they are at increased risk for certain cancers, as well as cell damage and weight gain, according to studies by the University of Glasgow and the University of California, Riverside.
Pets are “passive smokers” in that they are not only exposed to the smoke from cigarettes and pipes, but also because they are much closer to carpets, upholstered furniture and other surfaces where carcinogenic particles cling. They are more likely to lie on or even lick those areas. As cats groom themselves, they increase the amount of smoke and carcinogenic particles that go into their body.
The University of Glasgow studies looked at how much nicotine dogs and cats had in their hair, which shows how much tobacco smoke is entering the pet’s body. Veterinary oncologist Clare Knottenbelt, who led the studies, says in an email: “I was really surprised how much tobacco smoke some pets were taking in. When we looked at cats, we found high levels of smoke exposure even in cats that spent a lot of time outdoors.”
If you can’t give up smoking altogether — the best protection for yourself and your pets — you should stop smoking in any areas pets frequent, including family cars and outdoors. Human studies have shown that smoking by an open window or door doesn’t help, as it is more likely to mean that smoke blows into the room.
“If you are smoking outside, you should change clothes when you come back in to avoid exposing your pet to harmful carcinogenic particles,” Dr. Knottenbelt says.
There’s more in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.