By Healthy Communities, Capital Area
We think of our pets as our “fur babies,” and just like human babies, they’re sensitive and need our protection from harm. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the impact on your pet’s health if you or someone in your household smokes.
Both secondhand and third-hand smoke hurt pets. Secondhand smoke is what’s exhaled by the smoker and what comes from the end of the lit product. Third-hand smoke is the residue that clings to carpeting, clothing, walls, and other surfaces wherever smoking occurs.
When just one cigarette is burned, it releases thousands of very dangerous chemicals, including arsenic, carbon monoxide, lead, and of course, nicotine, which is the poisonous substance that tends to stick to surfaces. If you or someone in your household smokes, it’s likely that your cherished pets are being adversely affected.
Take man’s best friend, for instance. Of the five senses, humans rely the most on sight, but for dogs, it is smell. Depending on the breed, their sense of smell can be 10,000 to 100,000 times more powerful than that of humans. But their powerful sense and the need to sniff are liabilities when it comes to living with smokers. In studies, dogs with longer snouts, such as collies, greyhounds, and other popular breeds, had a higher risk of developing cancer from the accumulation of toxins in their nasal cavities and sinuses. Dogs with shorter snouts were more than twice as likely to develop lung cancer, because the toxins went straight into their lungs.
We love it when our dogs jump up on us and lick our faces, but they may be picking up third-hand smoke when they do so with smokers. Third-hand smoke lingers on smokers’ bodies, as well as on the floors and furniture where dogs hang out most of the time. Dogs absorb third-hand smoke through their skin and ingest it when they lick surfaces.
Like dogs, cats living with smokers are susceptible to the negative effects of second-hand and third-hand smoke. Because cats are almost constantly grooming themselves, they are particularly vulnerable to ingesting third-hand smoke. Studies show that cats exposed to smoke have a two- to four-times increased risk of an aggressive type of mouth cancer that’s often found under the base of the cat’s tongue, where the third-hand smoke residue tends to collect. Also, cats living with smokers are twice as likely to develop lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system.
Cats and dogs aren’t the only pets affected by second-hand and third-hand smoke.
* Birds are very sensitive to air pollution, especially tobacco smoke. They also ingest third-hand smoke when preening themselves. * In studies, guinea pigs exposed to secondhand smoke developed microscopic changes in their lungs similar to those seen in smokers. * Fish are at risk, too. Nicotine can cause illness and even death, because it dissolves easily in water and can end up poisoning the tank water.
Caring about our pets is just one more great reason to quit using tobacco products. Take the pledge to have a smoke-free home and receive some great swag in the mail! Learn more at breatheeasymaine.org/smoke-free-homes-pledge.
If you or someone you love smokes (or vapes) and wants to quit, there’s a lot of support available:
* Healthy Communities of the Capital Area: hccame.org/initiatives/tobacco-prevention
* Maine Prevention Services: Maine QuitLink: mainequitlink.com  * CDC: Quit Smoking: www.cdc.gov/tobacco/quit_smoking/index.htm?s_cid=osh-stu-home-nav-002
Many smokers have successfully quit and are glad they did. What’s more, Fido and Snowball are happy about it, too.
* Breathe Easy Maine’s mission is to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke through the promotion of strong voluntary policies that lead to reduced tobacco use and increased tobacco-free living throughout Maine. It is administered by the MaineHealth Center for Tobacco Independence, funded by the Tobacco and Substance Use Prevention and Control Program, Maine CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services.