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The Hidden Risks of Secondhand Smoke to Your Pets

Dogs, cats, birds, and even fish are all vulnerable to the effects.

It’s common knowledge that cigarette smoke affects not just your own body, but the health of everyone in your vicinity. Secondhand smoke can cause some of the same devastating health effects of cigarettes as those who are actually smoking them.

But what you might not be thinking about is how secondhand smoke affects your pets. Your dog, cat, and even your fish can be affected by secondhand (and thirdhand) cigarette smoke in ways that you likely never expected, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Like it does with humans, secondhand smoke can affect the respiratory symptoms of pets. For example, short-nosed dogs (like pugs or bulldogs) in smoking households are at a higher risk of lung cancer.

On the other hand, long-nosed dog breeds who are exposed to tobacco smoke have a doubled risk of nose cancer. That’s because dogs use their noses like a filter, so long-nosed dogs trap a lot of the toxins in cigarettes within their nose instead of the lungs, increasing their risk of nose cancer.

Secondhand smoke has been proven to increase the risk for other types of cancers in pets as well. Cats who live with heavy smokers are three times more likely to get lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphocytes (cells in the immune system).

But another risk for pets is thirdhand smoke—the tobacco smoke that sticks to carpet, furniture, your skin, and their fur (or feathers). For example, dogs licking the skin of a smoker are ingesting the sticky, stubborn, toxic residue from the cigarette smoke. Since cats frequently bathe their own fur with their tongues, cats in smoking households have two to four times the risk of mouth cancer.

It’s not just dogs and cats at risk: Birds, for example, are highly sensitive to air pollution. In addition to breathing in secondhand smoke, birds also “preen” their feathers (like how cats lick their fur) and ingest thirdhand smoke. Pet birds who live in smoking households have a higher risk of pneumonia, skin or eye problems, lung cancer, or sinus troubles.

Even fish are at risk. Airborne nicotine can contaminate fish tanks, which essentially can poison the fish. This may result in muscle spasms, loss of color, rigid fins, and even death for your pet fish.

Finally, nicotine poisoning can be a direct threat to dogs in particular, who are prone to eating just about anything. Dogs who ingest cigarettes may need immediate medical attention.

Quitting smoking is unquestionably hard, but your pet’s health might be a good motivator. Here are some strategies to help quit smoking.

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