What "Thirdhand" Smoke Can Do to Your Pet

Most everyone knows smoking is bad for you, just ask the American Heart Association. Most people also understand that secondhand smoke can be dangerous to children. Sadly, few pet guardians realize how harmful smoking can be for their pets. Secondhand smoke poses real risks for the dogs and cats in our homes. Let’s examine a few of the biggest pet health threats of smoking.

Pet cancer and secondhand smoke
2.5 million adult nonsmokers have died from secondhand smoke since 1964, says the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), secondhand smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals; hundreds are toxic and at least 70 have been proven to cause cancer (learn answers to the five most common questions about cancer in dogs). This has led the CDC to proclaim, “There is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.” In other words, any secondhand smoke is harmful.

While we don’t have as much scientific research on dogs and cats about secondhand smoke, I have seen enough to understand that secondhand smoke causes many cancers in animals. Cancers such as malignant lymphoma in cats have been linked to smoke exposure, reports the American Journal of Epidemiology, perhaps more than doubling the risk of contracting this devastating disease. In fact, after nearly 25 years of clinical practice and growing medical evidence, I’ll proclaim, There is no risk-free level of smoke exposure for dogs and cats. The biggest risk of smoking is, of course, cancer.

Dogs and cats are especially susceptible to cancer-causing components of secondhand smoke for a couple of important reasons:

  • First, most of secondhand smoke’s poisonous compounds are heavier than air. This means the bad stuff you blow out settles below, in direct contact with much smaller pets resting by your side. Every exhaled puff rains down a torrent of toxic chemicals into our pets’ lungs, onto their fur, and onto our floors and furniture.
  • Second, our pets groom their coats and skin and ingest these chemicals when they lick or chew.

Those are two major differences between adult smokers and animals, and they really increase the risk of disease and harm for our unsuspecting pets. Making matters worse, is the fact that our pets’ peril doesn’t end when the smoker snubs out their tobacco and blows their last smoky sigh. It persists when they pounce on the couch, roll on the carpet, and sleep in their beds. The risk of cancer is nearly everywhere, on every surface and even has a new name: thirdhand smoke.

Pets and thirdhand smoke
Thirdhand smoke refers to the dust, residues and particulates created by secondhand smoke that land on surfaces. To demonstrate thirdhand smoke and the additional risk it creates, I ask my tobacco-loving clients to bring in pet bedding, covers or sheets. The foul odor, yellow staining and grungy feeling are confirmation of toxic, thirdhand smoke. Recent research, available at, shows thirdhand smoke may be as harmful as secondhand smoke.

The University of Massachusetts released a study saying that serious oral cancers such as squamous cell carcinomas have been connected to environmental smoke exposure in pets. Meanwhile, Colorado State University conducted another study that showed cancers in the nasal passages, sinuses and mouth of pets are also associated with environmental smoke.

The evidence is clear and overwhelming: secondhand and thirdhand smoke causes cancers in pets. Eliminate the risk by quitting smoking.

Asthma and breathing problems
Pets exposed to secondhand smoke may also develop or experience more severe respiratory or asthma symptoms. The CDC reports that tobacco smoke is one of the most common asthma triggers in humans. The particulates in smoke have been shown to produce many types of breathing problems in children and adults, warns the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Because the airways of dogs and cats are very similar to humans, many veterinarians, including me, are very concerned that secondhand smoke causes or exacerbates breathing problems such as asthma and other allergic breathing conditions in companion animals.

In addition to worsening respiratory allergies, there’s growing worry and anecdotal evidence that smoking inflames allergic dermatitis. I’ve seen many pets experience intense itching after their guardian lights up.

All forms of smoke are skin and tissue irritants; exposing pets with sensitive skin to smoke may lead to more severe allergic symptoms.

If you smoke…
If you smoke and need additional motivation to quit, consider your pet’s health. The proof is clear: Secondhand smoke is deadly to pets. Cancer, breathing problems and allergies are simply the most obvious health threats of smoking for dogs and cats. Thirdhand smoke presents innumerable, additional hidden dangers lurking on the surfaces of our homes and cars. 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. We love our pets; make a decision that can save both your own life and the lives of those around you. Stop smoking. If not, at least don’t smoke indoors, in cars or anywhere near your pets.

  • Click here for the 3 most common cancers in cats.
  • Click here for 10 signs of cancer in dogs.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

How Cigarette Smoke Affects Pets

The following is an excerpt from the Petfinder Blog.

By Jane Harrell, associate producer

It seems like a no-brainer that smoking around your pet is bad. But how dangerous is secondhand smoke to pets? After all, your pet’s not getting that much exposure to cancer-causing chemicals, right?

Wrong. Pets spend a lot more time than you do in your home — increasing their exposure to carcinogenic substances. And those substances are just as dangerous for pets as they are for humans. “Dog and cat lungs are virtually identical to human lungs,” says Dr. Jan Bellows, DVM, a veterinarian at All Pets Dental Clinic in Weston, FL.

Here’s what recent studies have to say about the dangers:

Dogs and secondhand smoke
Studies suggest that muzzle length plays a role in the type of cancer a dog is likely to develop from secondhand smoke. According to a survey of recent research on, dogs with long muzzles are more likely to develop nose and sinus cancers, since their noses and sinuses have more surface area on which carcinogens can accumulate, while dogs with short and medium-length muzzles are more likely to develop lung cancer.

Cats and secondhand smoke
Cats are more prone to develop cancers of the mouth and lymph nodes because of secondhand smoke. When cats groom themselves, they lick up the toxic substances that have accumulated on their fur. “This grooming behavior exposes the mucous membranes of their mouth to the cancer-causing carcinogens,” veterinarian Carolynn MacAllister of Oklahoma State University tells

In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that cats living in homes where someone smokes a pack of cigarettes or more each day are three times more likely to develop malignant lymphoma than cats living with nonsmokers. And a study published in Veterinary Medicine found that cats exposed to smoke from one to 19 cigarettes a day are four times more likely to be diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma — the most common and an aggressive type of oral cancer in cats.

Small animals and secondhand smoke
Birds are extremely sensitive to air pollutants and are at risk for lung cancer and pneumonia when exposed to secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke has also been found to cause heart problems in rabbits.

The nicotine in cigarettes is also highly toxic to pets if ingested, so keeping cigarettes out of the house entirely is always the best bet.

Fortunately, in a 2008 study in the journal Tobacco Control, nearly one third of pet-parent smokers surveyed said information about the dangers of secondhand smoke to their pets would motivate them to try to quit smoking. So be sure to share this info with anyone you know who smokes. Believe me, they don’t want to one day get the call from their vet that we all fear — saying, “It’s malignant.”

What "Thirdhand" Smoke Can Do to Your Pet - pets

For so many of us, pets are members of the family. They share our lives, through good and bad — even in the unfortunate event of a house fire. We've all been taught throughout our lives about fire safety, and we know we should have a well-designed escape plan in place, should a house fire occur. You do have one, right?

But have you included your pets in that plan?

Members of local fire and rescue teams and animal care professionals say that it's entirely possible to not only plan for the humans in the family, but our animals as well — and it's a surprisingly easy concept to implement.

We're in the midst of Fire Prevention Week, Oct. 3-9. Through efforts of the National Fire Protection Association and other groups, many resources are available to keep each member of your family safe in the event of a fire.

I spoke with several members of local fire departments this week, including Capt. Michelle Stanbury of the City of Ypsilanti Fire Department , Chief Craig Hoeft of the City of Saline Fire Department (who is hosting an open house noon to 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 10), Matt Schaecher , a Detroit firefighter, A nn Arbor Fire Marshal Kathleen Chamberlain and Scot Basar , a firefighter with Chelsea Area Fire Authority . Three main areas of fire safety and pets became evident: prevention, rescue and reviving animals.

Of course, the primarily objective in fire safety is to prevent a fire from occurring in the first place. According to the National Fire Protection Association , almost 1,000 fires annually are started by a homeowner's pet.Г‚В

The number one cause? Pets near stovetops. In many cases, a pet's curiosity gets the better of him, and he tries to investigate yummy food, like cookies or cakes sitting on top of the stove — then accidentally bumps a stove knob, igniting a gas burner. It's best to keep all food away from that area and remove the knobs, or use child proof covers. Also, don't keep food, even pet food, on the counters. It's too enticing for resourceful pets to try and reach.

Other things to keep in mind to prevent a fire:

  • Avoid using candles around pets. The flicker of the flame draws their curiosity. Lit candles can be accidentally knocked off tables. Choose flameless candles instead.
  • Be sure that open flames are extinguished before leaving pets unattended anytime — this means fireplaces, candles and stoves.
  • Be sure that your hot water heater has a cover over the pilot light area. Keep everything away from this appliance.
  • Electrical cords are enticing. Bundle any cords neatly and tuck away if possible. Train your pet to not chew on cords and consider coating cords with a bitter agent for pets like Boundary, or Bitter Apple as a deterrent. Also, discourage pets from napping behind appliances, like computers and dryers. (Cats frequently do this.)
  • Do not leave a glass water bowl for your pet outside on a wooden deck. The sun's rays, when filtered through the glass and water can actually magnify, heat up and ignite the wooden deck beneath it. Opt for stainless steel or ceramic bowls.

To keep pets safe in the event of a fire (when you're home):

  • Have an escape route and plan in place to expedite the escape of everyone, including your pets, to a location outside and to an agreed upon meeting place. One integral thing that can ensure a safe exit is having a leash and cat carrier near the exit door. Maintaining control of a pet in a stressful situation like this means everything.
  • During planning, you can teach your pooch that the smoke alarm going off means something significant. The noise from the alarm can be a nonverbal signal to your dog that they need to spring into action, along with everyone else, in a calm, cooperative way to exit the home safely. Implementing a specific training exercise with your dog and working with them can be part of their basic training.
  • After devising a clear exit plan, walk through it together, beginning with the sound of the alarm and proceeding just as you all would if there were a fire. Ideally, Hoeft adds, "Practicing the fire escape plan monthly will help kids and pets grasp the exercise with confidence." Pets are especially capable — they learn best with repetition and catch on quickly.
  • Integrating kids into the plan can be a pinnacle in getting them to understand the gravity of the situation, because they can be integral in ensuring that a pet is accounted for, especially if there are multiple pets. There are some pets who, by habit, sleep with a preferred child it can be that child's mission within the plan to confirm to the adults where the pet is, or, if they are old enough to be considered able to do so, scoop up the cat and get her into a cat carrier or grab the leash near the door and accompany the dog outside.

To ensure your pets get out safely, even if you're not there:

  • Use pet rescue stickers. Available from the Humane Society of Huron Valley, the stickers are used to alert firefighters that there are pets in the home. Schaecher, also a supervisor of cruelty and rescue for the Humane Society of Huron Valley, recommends that pet owners affix the sticker on the front door, or the window closest to the front door. Also, he said changing the sticker annually is a must. When they look faded or old, firefighters do not always assume that they are recent. Stanbury also said that "due to the fact that Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor are both college towns, and folks in the area can be more transient, updating pet rescue stickers is key."
  • Do you crate your dog? It's a good idea to ensure that the crate is near the front door so that they are easily seen. (Don't forget to leave leashes near the door.) With older dogs, vision and hearing problems can make a stressful situation even more scary. Ditto for young puppies: they can become skittish.
  • Does your dog have the run of the house in your absence? Basar said in that case, "Consider a doggy door. If your backyard is fenced, or if your dog has been trained with an electronic fencing system, it's a viable option for your dog to have access to a doggy door so that they can safely get out of the home."
  • Outdoor dog pens are a great way for dogs to enjoy the outdoors, but if they are installed right next to a dwelling, it can be problematic — especially if the house is totally involved in flames. Hoeft recommends that if you do utilize an outdoor run or a pen, to do so away from the home to minimize risk to the dog.
  • Think about where you live: are you in the country, far away from neighbors and traffic? Or are you in an area where passersby might have a better chance of seeing that there is trouble at your home? These things might be a consideration in having a smoke alarm system installed, which in many cases is part of a home security alarm system anyway.
  • Several of the fire/rescue professionals noted that purchasing a Knox Box might be helpful. Although they are usually geared toward commercial buildings, those in a residential setting could benefit from having one. Contact your local fire department for information. The information that you include inside could be crucial in assisting fire/rescue in helping your pets make it out safely.

After the rescue, smoke inhalation is the main issue that pets face in a house fire. Although they are incredibly resilient and have good instincts to avoid the smoke as best as possible, a stressful situation like a fire causes pets to breathe more quickly, and in the case of dogs to pant and bark. This of course means a higher incidence of smoke inhalation.

Fortunately, most fire departments in Washtenaw County have a way to help assist and revive pets who have been overcome by smoke — pet oxygen masks. An oxygen mask is used the same way on humans and pets alike. The only caveat: the shape of a pet's snout is obviously very different than a face of a human. Enter the pet oxygen mask. Designed to fit the face with a proper seal to deliver oxygen, they come in a variety of sizes.

Hoeft noted that the oxygen mask kit that his department has was generously donated. Ditto for the Ann Arbor Fire Department. In the case of the Saline Area Fire Department, Dr. Kathy VanKoevering, of Paws Mobile Veterinary Service, donated a kit purchased from a nonprofit, HELP Animals Inc. Chamberlain, as well as Gretchen Virlee-Wagner, with Ann Arbor Fire Services, stated that "Be assured that we make every effort to save pets during a house fire," and because of a donation of Ann Arbor Fire Department's kit, pets can benefit further. Chelsea Area Fire Authority, whose Open House is October 10, and Scio Township Fire Department also have oxygen kits.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals stresses that putting together an emergency preparedness kit for your pet is essential. Think about having current photos of your pets stored somewhere in case they do run off in the midst of the chaos (most mobile phones have a camera feature these days). Safe Harbor is a Humane Society of Huron Valley program for pet owners experiencing a housing emergency such as eviction, disaster or domestic violence. Animals can stay for a limited period of time while alternative housing is secured. Please call 734-662-5585 to find out more.

Lorrie Shaw is a dog walker and owner of Professional Pet Sitting, and is a regular contributor to's pet section with her blog, More Than Four Walls, where she examines topics ranging from social issues, behavior and, of course, pet health and safety. Reach her via e-mail and follow her on Twitter @psa2

While most people have gotten used to wearing facemasks to combat COVID-19, they can also be a tool for protecting humans against poor air quality. However, no evidence has been seen that masks protect against carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and cyanide, which are some of the most dangerous aspects of smoke inhalation. Not enough research has been done to support any effectiveness on masks to protect animals. The best plan is to keep both you and your animals indoors as much as possible.

Watch the video: Secondhand Rose, Secondhand Smoke (May 2021).