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The Dangers of Secondhand Smoke to Dogs

On the streets of New York City, where my dogs and I make our home, secondhand smoke is absolutely everywhere. It's made a comeback, and...

Julia Szabo  |  Jul 21st 2011


On the streets of New York City, where my dogs and I make our home, secondhand smoke is absolutely everywhere. It’s made a comeback, and it’s practically unavoidable. It’s often the first thing that hits us as we step out for our first, early-morning walk, as pedestrians on their way to the subway get their nicotine fix. It’s there at mid-day, to make the scorching sun even more uncomfortable.

Happily, smokers have been banned from our beloved Central Park– but the trek to the park is still a smoke-filled one.

There’s been little air movementall summer, what with the high temperatures and humidity turningthe city into a sauna. So by nightfall, with the sidewalks still radiating heat, choking on secondhand smoke isespecially sickening. And if I’m feeling it, I have no doubt my dogs’ exquisitely sensitive noses are put out by it too.

Quite against our will, my dogs and I have become passive smokers. I don’t know where all theseNew Yorkersget so much money to burn on costlycancer sticks cigarettes. But what really gets me – besides the large numbers of people discarding still-burning butts on the sidewalk, without bothering to extinguish them with their shoe – is theincreasing numbers ofsmokers I see out walking their dogs.

I find this phenomenon astonishing. City dogs so look forward to quality time in the fresh air – and their air space is being polluted the entire time, by the very peoplewhose duty it isto protect and care for them!

Secondhand smoke is a definite health threat to nonsmokers; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it kills thousands of adult nonsmokers every year.According to anew studyreported in the July Archives of Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery, secondhand smoke is associated with hearing loss inteenagers. Exposed adolescents were 1.83 times more likely to experience low-frequency hearing lossthan those who had no exposure.

If it’s that hazardous to humans,secondhand smokemust bedoubly so for dogs, who are smaller and have much shorter life spans. Science backs this theory up. Smoke gets in dogs’ ears, eyes, noses – even their fur.

There have been a number of scientific papers recently that have reported the significant health threat secondhand smoke poses to pets, said veterinarian Dr. Carolynn MacAllister of Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service. Secondhand smoke has been associated with oral cancer and lymphoma in cats, lung and nasal cancer in dogs, as well as lung cancer in birds.

Cats are particularly susceptible to secondhand smoke because of their grooming habits, according to a study conducted at Tufts College of Veterinary Medicine. As cats lick themselves, they lick up the carcinogens that accumulate on their fur, exposing the mouth’s mucous membrane to cancer-causing particles. Many dogs display the felinebehavior of self-grooming – so, if they share air space with a smoker,they risk developingmouth cancer (squamous cell carcinoma) too.

Secondhand smoke is associated with the increased occurrence of cancer in the nose and sinus area among dogs. Research also indicates a slight association with lung cancer.

A study conducted at Colorado State University shows that there is a higher incidence of nasal tumors in dogs living in a home with secondhand smoke compared to dogs living in a smoke free environment,McAllister said. The increased incidence was specifically found among the long-nosed breed of dogs. Shorter- or medium-nosed dogs showed higher rates for lung cancer.

Longer-nosed dog breedshave a greater surface area in their noses that is exposed to the carcinogens, McAllister explainsThis also provides a bigger space in which carcinogensmay accumulate. Carcinogens tend to build up on the mucous membranes of long-nosed dogs so not as much reaches the lungs.

Sadly, dogs with nasal cancer normally don’t survive more thana year.

The reason short- and medium-nosed dogs have a higher occurrence of lung cancer is because their shorter nasal passages arent as effective at accumulating the inhaled secondhand smoke carcinogens,McAllister said. This results in more carcinogens reaching the lungs.

Great. So my German Shepherd and my Border Collie are at greater risk for nasal tumors – and my pit bulls, with their short noses, are prime candidates for lung cancer.

If you want to maximize your longevity and that of your beloved dog, please quit smoking today. And do your best to avoid walking your dog in areas where there’s lots of cigarette smoke. In New York City, that’s pretty much everywhere,but you can minimize exposure by steering Spot clear of restaurants andbars, where smokers tend to congregate to get their fix.

So, Dogsters – what are your thoughts on secondhand smoke? Please share in the comments.