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Secondhand smoke deadly for pets

The health threats of secondhand smoke in non-smoking humans have been well documented. There is now a growing body of research revealing that tobacco smoke is also dangerous to pets.

Dr. Sharon Gwaltney-Brant, medical director of the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center, says, "Nicotine from secondhand smoke can have effects to the nervous systems of cats and dogs. Environmental tobacco smoke has been shown to contain numerous cancer-causing compounds, making it hazardous for animals as well as humans."

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In the January 2009 issue of Journal of Pediatrics, a Harvard Medical School study presented additional health risks associated with "third-hand smoke" which the authors described as the "invisible yet toxic brew of gases and particles clinging to smokers' hair, clothing, cars, and carpeting that lingers long after the second-hand smoke has cleared the room."

The Harvard study revealed that small children are uniquely susceptible to this toxic residue, which also applies to our pets. Pets not only breathe in smoke-filled air but also lie directly on carpets and furniture, smokers' laps, or are held and then absorb the residue through their hair, fur and feathers. Since many household pets self-groom by licking or preening, they ingest the toxic particles.

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Because birds' respiratory systems are hypersensitive to any airborne pollutants, they are more susceptible to developing pneumonia and lung cancer from smoke exposure but can also develop skin, eye, heart and fertility problems, according to Dr. Carolynn MacAllister, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service veterinarian.

The following studies confirm that inhaling tobacco smoke is detrimental to pets:

•A Tufts University study conducted in 2002 linked secondhand smoke to cancer in cats which revealed that cats living with smokers are twice as likely to develop malignant lymphoma (most common form of feline cancer) to those in non-smoking households. "Lymphoma kills 3 out of 4 cats within 12 months." Cats are generally more vulnerable to carcinogens because of their daily grooming habits which exposes their delicate oral tissues to the toxins.

•A University of Minnesota study in 2007 showed that cats living with smokers have nicotine and other toxins in their urine.

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•A 2007 Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine study linked secondhand smoke to oral cancer in cats (squamous cell carcinoma).

•A 1998 Colorado State University Study found a higher incidence of nasal tumors and cancer of the sinus in dogs living with smokers compared to dogs living in smoke-free homes. The nasal/sinus tumors were found specifically in long-nosed breeds. It should be noted that dogs with nasal cancer usually do not survive more than one year. The same study revealed higher lung cancer rates in short to medium length nosed dogs who live with smokers (like boxers and bulldogs) because their shorter nasal passages allow the carcinogenic particles to reach the lungs more easily.

•A study published in the Journal of Epidemiology revealed that dogs living with smokers have a 60 percent greater risk developing lung cancer.

Another serious issue is nicotine poisoning when pets ingest cigarette or cigar butts and nicotine replacement patches or gum. The signs and symptoms of nicotine poisoning in dogs and cats include: tremors, twitching, or seizures, drooling, constricted pupils, hallucinations (auditory and visual), excitement, racing heart (slower rate in small doses), vomiting and diarrhea. If you think your pet ingested nicotine, immediately call your vet or the Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435.

Until smoking pet owners kick the habit, here are some suggestions presented by Dr. Karen Becker from Mercola.com:

•"Smoke only outdoors to prevent a large share of smoke particles from settling into your home or car, reducing your pet's toxic load.

•Use a high-quality air purifier in your home to help remove excess toxins.

•Change your clothes after smoking and wash your clothing right away — or at least air it out outside.

•Wash your hands after smoking and before you touch your pets.

•Ideally, wash your hair after you smoke, especially if you have a pet (or a child) that will be in close proximity to you.

•Keep ashtrays clean-don't leave them for your pets to find.

•Dispose of cigars, cigarettes, nicotine gum, patches, snuff, smokeless tobacco, etc. in receptacles that can't be accessed by pets."

Iris Katz is an educational facilitator and board member for the Humane Society of Carroll County. Send your pet questions to news@westminsteradvocate.com.

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