For decades now, researchers have known of the health dangers caused by smoking. For years, the public has been aware of the peril caused by second-hand smoke, which has led to the rise of smoke-free zones. More recently, there is growing evidence of the risk that comes from third-hand smoke – including exposure to cancer-causing chemicals and exacerbation of breathing problems, such as asthma, in children and adults alike.

But, there is a new FDA health alert. And, this time, the victim may go unnoticed. Household pets may be suffering catastrophic affects – so profound, in fact, that the FDA issued a warning for smokers:

While the FDA contends that scientists are still studying the harmful effects smoking may have on pets – and the data available pales in comparison to that which is available for humans – there is still enough evidence that pets can suffer increased cancer risk, and breathing or lung issues due to even third-hand smoke.

Third-hand smoke is harmful residue that lingers on carpets, clothing and even the hands after a person has smoked a cigarette. (Second-hand smoke is inhaled smoke particles by a second party from smoke that is burning from a cigarette or expelled into the air by a smoker.)

“Smoking’s not only harmful to people; it’s harmful to pets, too,” said Food and Drug Administration (FDA) veterinarian Carmela Stamper, D.V. M. “If 58 million non-smoking adults and children are exposed to tobacco smoke, imagine how many pets are exposed at the same time.”

According to a cited by the , a single cigarette contains over 600 ingredients, and, when burned, it releases over 7000 chemicals. Ninety-three of these are identified by the FDA as They include ammonia, arsenic, hydrogen cyanide, mercury and nicotine.

Because nicotine in particular adheres to furniture, floors, walls, fabrics and carpet, it presents a hazard in the home. Children and animals are especially vulnerable, as they spend much of their time on the floor, where dust settles. Dogs, cats and birds breathe in these pathogens or ingest them through licking themselves.


Dogs are at risk of developing both nose and lung cancer. A out of Colorado State University found an association between second- and third-hand (environmental) tobacco smoke and nasal cancer in dogs.

The nose acts as a filter, protecting harmful elements from entering into the animal’s lungs. This means that dogs with larger noses are in greater danger of trapping more of the dangerous particulates from cigarette residue and smoke in their snouts than dogs with smaller noses. Thus, breeds like Greyhounds, Borzois, and Doberman Pinschers are twice as likely to get nose cancer than Beagles, Bulldogs and Brittany Spaniels. Dogs with shorter snouts, however, are at a greater risk of developing lung cancer, as their noses do not filter out the dangerous particles as well as their longer-snouted counterparts.


Cats in a smoking home are at greater risk of developing mouth cancer. This is largely due to their grooming practices. Deadly carcinogens get trapped on their fur. As the cat grooms itself, those toxins are both ingested and linger in the mouth, often leading to an aggressive form of mouth cancer that most often is found on the cat’s tongue.


Birds, too, “preen” (groom) themselves, which puts them in danger. They also develop respiratory issues, due to breathing second-hand smoke.


Even fish are not immune to the dangers of smoking. Nicotine dissolves in water, which can poison the fish and cause death.

In addition to cancer risk, pets can also develop breathing problems. wrote in that because the airways of dogs and cats is similar to that of humans, he and other veterinarians are concerned that second-hand smoke “causes or exacerbates breathing problems such as asthma and other allergic breathing conditions in companion animals.”

Another issue is intense allergic dermatitis, which causes extreme itching in pets when exposed to cigarette smoke.

Professor of Small Animal Medicine and Oncology at the University of Glasgow’s Small Animal Hospital, has studied the ongoing effects of cigarette smoking on household pets. demonstrate that pets are directly affected when there is smoking in the house. In addition to the risk of cancer, she also cites ongoing cell damage and greater weight gain after castration as additional risks.

Many people choose to smoke outdoors, which Knottenbelt agrees can reduce a pet’s exposure to harmful contaminants from cigarettes; however, she contends that the best option for the pet’s future health is for the owner to quit smoking altogether.

Ward’ issues a similar conclusion: “Your pets didn’t choose to smoke, don’t make a decision for them that can shorten their lives, produce suffering and destroy quality of life.”


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