New research shows pets are affected adversely by secondhand smoke, according to Dr. Carolynn MacAllister, an Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service veterinarian.
“There have been a number of scientific papers recently that have reported the significant health threat secondhand smoke poses to pets,” MacAllister said. “Secondhand smoke has been associated with oral cancer and lymphoma in cats, lung and nasal cancer in dogs, as well as lung cancer in birds.”
MacAllister cited a recent study at Tufts College of Veterinary Medicine that found the number of cats diagnosed with mouth cancer, or squamous cell carcinoma, was higher for cats that lived in a smoking environment than for cats in a non-smoking environment.
“One reason cats are so susceptible to secondhand smoke is because of their grooming habits,” she explained. “Cats constantly lick themselves while grooming, therefore they pick up the cancer-causing carcinogens that accumulate on their fur. This grooming behavior exposes the mucous membrane of their mouth to the cancer-causing carcinogens.”
Cats who cohabitate in homes with smokers are also twice as likely to get malignant lymphoma, or cancer in the lymph nodes, she said. And this form of cancer is fatal to 75 percent of cats within 12 months of developing it, she added.
Inhaling smoke is not the only danger cigarettes pose to pets, because curious cats can eat tobacco products that can cause nicotine poisoning when ingested.