FDA warns of secondhand and ‘thirdhand’ smoke dangers to pets

Older dog and cat
The FDA is warning smokers that the habit can endanger pet health.

The FDA has long been urging consumers to quit smoking, but now it’s speaking out on an additional risk associated with the habit: pet health. The agency recently updated a section of its website called “Animal Health Literacy” with data on the risks of secondhand and “thirdhand” smoke to dogs and cats.

Thirdhand smoke refers to residues that end up in a smoker’s environment, such as on furniture, clothes, carpets and pets’ fur and skin. Nicotine is particularly sticky, the FDA warns, and when it interacts with other chemicals in the air, such as nitrous acid from gas-burning stoves, it forms cancer-causing compounds.

“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,” the FDA alert says. “Pets can also ingest tobacco smoke compounds by licking their owner’s hair, skin, and clothes.” And thirdhand smoke is almost impossible to remove from clothing and other surfaces, the FDA adds.

Dogs that inhale tobacco smoke are at risk of developing the same lung problems seen in people who smoke, the FDA warns. Nose cancer is a major risk in dogs, because toxic chemicals from cigarettes get trapped in the linings of their noses. Long-nosed breeds such as Greyhounds and Doberman Pinschers face double the risk of nose cancer from smoke exposure, according to the FDA. Short and medium-nose breeds like pugs and beagles face a high risk of lung cancer.

For cats, the danger comes from self-grooming. Studies show that cats living with smokers face a two to three times higher risk of oral squamous cell carcinoma than do cats who live with nonsmokers, according to the FDA. Only 10% of cats diagnosed with the disease live beyond a year of diagnosis.

Even birds, fish and guinea pigs face health risks from secondhand and thirdhand smoke, the FDA warns.

The FDA’s push to protect pets from cigarette smoke comes just a couple of months after the agency announced a new 10-year strategic plan that prioritizes improving the health and welfare of animals. The plan includes supporting research into animal diseases and improving access to safe and effective treatments.

- here’s the FDA’s webpage on the risks of cigarette smoke for pets

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