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Smoking and your Pets

The health effects of smoking have been in the news again recently, with attention focused on children in cars. But do you know that smoking has a big impact on your pets too? There have been an increasing number of scientific papers lately that have reported the significant health threat second-hand smoke poses to pets. There has also been a big increase in nicotine poisoning over the last year due to e-cigarette popularity. Even nicotine containing gums and patches can be toxic to dogs and cats.

Second-hand smoke has been associated with mouth cancer and lymphoma in cats, lung and nasal cancer in dogs, as well as lung cancer in birds. One reason cats are so susceptible to second-hand smoke is because of their grooming habits. Cats constantly lick their coats thoroughly daily, swallowing the cancer-causing toxins that accumulate on their fur. Studies suggest that cats that live with smokers are twice as likely to develop malignant lymphoma and are at a higher risk of mouth tumours. Intestinal tumours are one of the most commonly reported tumours in cats, and lymphoma accounts for a high percentage of these cases. Limiting a cat’s exposure to the toxins in second-hand smoke may reduce their chances of developing this disease. Lung cancer and nasal cancer are seen in higher numbers in dogs that breathe second hand smoke. Dogs with short noses have double the risk of lung cancer and long-nosed dogs such as collies have two and half times greater risk of nasal cancer from second-hand smoke.

Nicotine poisoning has been an infrequent problem for a long time, as cases occur when dogs eat patches or packs of chewing gum containing these products. However, there has been a 300% increase in cases seen over the last year, largely blamed on the popularity of e-cigarettes. Although e-cigarettes reduce the toxin levels in second hand smoke, they can contain lethal quantities of nicotine. The liquid nicotine in these products is often flavoured, and the smell and taste can encourage a dog or cat to have a nibble. Animals can be poisoned by licking the products, biting into a pack or by absorbing the liquid though their skin. It is vital to keep these products out of the reach of pets! The concentrated form of nicotine in these vials (typically 6-24mg/ml) means very little needs to be eaten to cause serious symptoms. Some of the liquids bought online contain a very concentrated 100mg per ml! A single 24mg cartridge can cause symptoms when eaten by a 25kg dog, and may prove lethal to a 3kg dog or cat. Some dogs will eat these cartridges by the pack or drink from a larger refill bottle, exposing themselves to very dangerous levels of nicotine. In addition to the actual nicotine, the casing and battery can cause additional problems if the whole e-cigarette is swallowed too.

Symptoms of nicotine poisoning happen quickly – generally within 15 to 60 minutes after the products are swallowed (this happens more slowly when the toxin is absorbed through the skin). Symptoms for dogs and cats include vomiting and diarrhoea, progressing to agitation, tremors and wobbliness, increased heart rate and respiration rate with eventual weakness, seizures, coma, cardiac and respiratory arrest.

The health risks associated with passive smoking are well known for people, but not everyone is aware of the danger nicotine poses to animals.

  • Try to smoke outside the home to limit your pet’s exposure to second hand smoke.
  • Store all nicotine products (gum, patches, cigarettes, e-cigarettes) safely out of the reach of animals. Gums often contain Xylitol, which is also extremely toxic to dogs and cats.
  • If you do spill any refill liquid, clean it up immediately, so that animals can’t lick it or absorb it through their footpads and skin.
  • Because nicotine poisoning can happen so rapidly following ingestion, prompt veterinary care can mean the difference between life and death for a pet. If you ever suspect your pet may have ingested a nicotine containing product, please contact us immediately.

Lee-Ann Higgins MRCVS