While there has been extensive, long-term research on the effects of cigarette smoke and nicotine on humans, there hasn't been much documenting the effects on our feline friends. However, recent research has revealed some startling information about second-hand smoke and our cats.
Based on a 7-year study at Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine, cats in smoking households seem to be at a much higher risk of developing lymphoma, a type of cancer, than cats that live in smoke-free environments. This study also determined that cats who live in homes with one smoker have twice the risk of developing lymphoma and cats who live in households with two ore more smokers have four times the risk. Also, cats who are exposed to a smoking environment for over 5 years and those who live in households with over 100 cigarettes smoked per day are also at a significantly higher risk. The exact cause of this increase risk of lymphoma is not known at this time.
New studies suggest that cats are also at increased risk of feline oral squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) when exposed to environments with tobacco smoke. This may result from smoke and nicotine residue landing on the cat's fur. The fastidious nature of cats and their grooming habits cause oral exposure to the carcinogens.
In addition to an increased risk of developing cancer, cats that live in smoking environments are also predisposed to lung disease and eye irritation. Although second-hand smoke alone has not been shown to cause the lung disease or eye irritation, the primary culprit is thought to be chronic exposure to smoke in poorly ventilated areas. If you think about it, smokers don't spend their entire day inside. Most people do spend some time outside. But most cats do not, and thus are forced to breathe and rebreathe the same stagnant, contaminated air. Therefore, environmental tobacco smoke cannot be entirely filtered out through ventilation systems or special fans. It can take many hours for the smoke of a single cigarette to clear.
There are also other dangers to your cat from the nicotine itself. If you leave ashtrays around with cigarette butts, your cat may accidentally ingest one, or part of one if it decides the butt is a toy to bat around. Your cat may also try to eat nicotine replacement gum or patches.
Obviously the best option for everyone would be to simply quit. However ideal that may be, it's not always easy. If you cannot quit smoking, even for your cat, here are some tips to minimize her exposure to the dangers and to improve her health:
- Designate smoke free areas: Consider smoking outside, or smoke only in rooms where pets are not allowed. The less the exposure, the greater the changes your cat will stay healthy. The smoke-free area should include your car. If you are transporting your cat anywhere, don't smoke while she is in the car.
- Use air filters: Air filters may help remove harmful chemicals in the air, reducing how much your cat is breathing into her lungs.
- Clean your pet and your house: Regular baths, or at the very least wipe-downs with a damp cloth, can help remove smoke residue from cat fur. Vacuum and keep all cigarette butts, tobacco products and even nicotine patches out of sight and reach to prevent accidental illness, poisoning or even death.
- Look for symptoms: Excessive drooling or difficulty eating are symptoms of oral cancer, while labored breathing is a sign of lung cancer. Observe your cat frequently, as catching as early as possible always helps with treatment. If something is out of the ordinary, contact your veterinarian immediately.