Be Smoke-free for Yourself and Your Pets

January 17, 2017 in Aerowood Animal Hospital

Did you know that smoking is the leading preventable cause of death, disease, and disability in the United States? Smoking is not only harmful to people; it’s harmful to pets, too. Both secondhand smoke and thirdhand smoke hurt pets. Secondhand smoke is exhaled tobacco smoke and the smoke from the lit product itself. Thirdhand smoke is smoke residues that get on skin, clothes, furniture, carpets, and other things in the smoker’s environment, including their pets’ fur or feathers.


Like children, dogs and cats spend most of their time on or near the floor, where the tobacco smoke compounds concentrate in house dust, carpets, and rugs. Dogs and cats can absorb these compounds through their skin and inhale them in contaminated house dust or as ultra-fine particles and gases that were released back into the air. Pets can also ingest tobacco smoke compounds by licking their owner’s hair, skin, and clothes. You can think of a pet owner who smokes as another “surface” that thirdhand smoke can stick to. Even if pet owners go outside to smoke, when they come back into the house, the thirdhand smoke comes with them.


Dogs can develop changes in their airways and lungs that are similar to those found in people who smoke. One recent study shows that for dogs that already have breathing or lung issues, inhaling tobacco smoke can worsen their symptoms and chronic coughing.1


Cats are careful groomers, which keeps them looking beautiful. But, grooming can be a bad thing for cats living in a smoking household. Cats breathe in secondhand smoke directly, just like dogs. When cats groom themselves, though, they also ingest thirdhand smoke particles that fall onto their fur.2


Birds are very sensitive to air pollution, especially tobacco smoke. They can develop changes to their respiratory system similar to those seen in children exposed to tobacco smoke. Birds that live in a smoking household breathe in secondhand smoke. And, like cats, birds like to groom or “preen” themselves. When they do so, they ingest thirdhand smoke particles that have coated their feathers. Birds are also exposed to thirdhand smoke by perching on their owners’ clothes or hands and absorbing the harmful particles through their feet or by preening their owners’ hair and ingesting the particles.


Believe it or not, smoking harms pet fish. How’s that possible? Nicotine is toxic to fish. Both secondhand smoke and thirdhand smoke contain a lot of nicotine. Because nicotine dissolves easily in water, it can eventually end up in a fish tank’s water and poison the fish inside it. Fish exposed to toxic levels of nicotine can develop muscle spasms, rigid fins, and loss of color. They may also die. In a simple experiment, scientists put one smoked cigarette butt into water containing 2-week-old fathead minnows. Half the fish died within 96 hours–from one smoked cigarette butt.3


There are so many great reasons to quit smoking! You may already have known that quitting benefits you and the people around you, and now you know your pets benefit, too! Check back for a future article on the signs of nicotine poisoning in your pet.



  1. Yamaya Y, Sugiya H, and Watari T. Tobacco exposure increased airway limitation in dogs with chronic cough. Veterinary Record, 2014; 174:18.
  2. Bertone ER, Snyder LA, and Moore AS. Environmental tobacco smoke and risk of malignant lymphoma in pet cats. Am J Epidemiology, 2002; 156: 268-273.
  3. Slaughter E, Gersberg RM, Watanabe K, et al. Toxicity of cigarette butts, and their chemical components, to marine and freshwater fish. Tobacco Control, 2011; 20(1): i25-i29.
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