March 10, 2016 – Vets are calling on pet owners to stop smoking, as recent findings from a study by the University of Glasgow Veterinary School have revealed a direct link between dogs and cats living in a smoking environment and a higher risk of them developing health problems.

The ingestion of tobacco can also be extremely harmful for pets, leading to stomach problems, cardiac abnormalities, and even nicotine poisoning which can cause seizures, erratic behaviour and even death.

“Our findings show that exposure to smoke in the home is having a direct impact on pets. It risks ongoing cell damage, increasing weight gain after castration[in dogs] and has previously been shown to increase the risk of certain cancers, ” said Small Animal Medicine and Oncology Professor Clare Knottenbelt.

“We have already shown that dogs can take in significant amounts of smoke when living in a smoking household.”

When the researchers examined the testicles of male dogs after they were castrated they found a gene, which acts as a marker of cell damage, was higher in dogs living in smoking homes than those in non-smoking homes. The gene has been shown to be altered in some dog cancers in other studies. The effect on this gene was reduced when owners chose to smoke outside the home to reduce their pet’s exposure.

Rooney the dog, 11, from London, who developed a ‘smokers’ cough’ is now almost completely cured – less than 12 months after his owner kicked the habit. Vets at the PDSA’s Bow Pet Hospital warned his owner Kathleen Dove last summer that her smoking was potentially contributing to a persistent cough her beloved Jack Russell terrier cross was suffering from.

The 68-year-old, who had smoked up to 20 cigarettes a day from the age of 15, immediately quit and said it made a huge difference to Rooney’s (named after footballer Wayne Rooney) health.

“I took their advice on board and decided to quit straight away. I haven’t looked back since and I’m so glad I did it because the difference in Rooney is amazing. His cough is almost non-existent now and he seems much better.”

“I would urge anyone who smokes and has a pet to consider quitting for their sake. At the very least it’s important to go outside to smoke to limit the amount of fumes they have to breathe in,” Kathleen said.

Professor Knottenbelt said cats were even more affected by smoking. “This may be due to the extensive self-grooming that cats do, as this would increase the amount of smoke taken in to the body,” she said.

University vet Victoria Smith, who is investigating the links between passive smoking and lymphoma (a type of cancer) in cats, said: “Our work so far has shown that cats take in significant amounts of smoke and even having outdoor access makes very little difference.”

The study also found that when owners reduced the total number of tobacco products smoked in the home to less than 10 per day, the nicotine levels in cats’ hair dropped significantly.

“While you can reduce the amount of smoke your pet is exposed to by smoking outdoors and by reducing the number of tobacco products smoked by the members of the household, stopping smoking completely is the best option for your pet’s future health and well-being,” Professor Knottenbelt added.

“If you are smoking around your pet, you are harming its health,” online pet healthcare retailer MedicAnimal Chief Veterinary Officer Andrew Bucher said.

“As a vet, I have seen far too many preventable cases of diseases like bronchitis and cancer in smokers’ pets. I advise all pet owners to never smoke in parts of the house that your animal has access to and, preferably, not to smoke in the house at all. Even if owners smoke in the garden, they must always be sure to wash their hands before they handle their pet to avoid harmful particles being transferred. Tobacco products must never be left within reach of pets.

“Take your pet to the vet if they develop a persistent, hacking cough, and if you suspect your pet has ingested tobacco, make sure you take them to an emergency vet as soon as possible.

“The only way to fully minimise the risk of smoking for pets is to quit smoking altogether. Not only will owners save money on buying cigarettes, they will also likely save money on vet bills too, as their pet becomes healthier and happier. Pets can’t speak up for themselves when they are uncomfortable or unwell, so owners should try and make their living environment as safe and healthy as possible.”

Photo: Rooney the dog

Polly Stewart
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