Do your cats smoke? If you or anyone in your household smokes around them, they do. Is it a good idea to expose your cats to tobacco smoke? Not according to research.
Dangers of Secondhand Smoke to Cats
While cats can survive some amazing things, long-term exposure to secondhand smoke can cause some serious health issues. Cats are actually more susceptible than dogs to diseases caused by exposure to smoke. Burning tobacco smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals, at least 40 of which are carcinogens. The more smokers in the house, the longer the cats live with them, or the more they smoke, the higher the risk of disease. Possibilities for your cat include:
- Lymphoma, a type of cancer that affects the lymph nodes. The body's lymphatic system carries fluids throughout the body and helps remove debris from bodily tissues. It also plays an important role in your cat's immune system. Lymphoma causes 90% of blood cancers and about a third of all tumors in cats. Studies done at Tufts University and Massachusetts University showed that cats who live with smokers have twice the risk of getting it as cats who don't live with smokers. If there are two or more smokers in the household, that risk doubles again. Cats who get malignant lymphoma have only a 25% chance of living more than a year after diagnosis.
- Feline oral squamous cell carcinoma, a malignant type of cancer in a cat's mouth that is particularly fast-growing and lethal. Cats living with a smoker have two to four times the risk of getting this type of cancer than cats living with nonsmokers. The airborne carcinogens from tobacco smoke land on a cat's fur and are ingested during grooming. Most cats (over 90%) who get this type of cancer die within a year of diagnosis.
- Lung disease. A cat's lungs are very similar to a human's. Wheezing, coughing, and hyperventilation are all symptoms of lung disease in cats. Cats prone to asthma, allergies, or bronchitis anyway will be much worse if they live with a smoker: their risk of developing lung disease is nine times that of cats living with non-smokers! Cats with shorter snouts, such as Persians or Himalayans, will run a greater risk of lung cancer from exposure to smoke, whereas those with longer noses may be more prone to developing nasal cancers.
- Eye irritation. If you've spent much time in a smoky bar, you can relate to this. Acetaldehyde is one of the chemicals in tobacco smoke that causes irritation of the eyes, mucous membranes of the nasal passages, and the throat. They become inflamed and red. Longer term exposure can even contribute to the development of cataracts or damage the retina by restricting blood flow to the eyes.
- Lethargy and depression. Cats living with smokers tend to play and exercise less, likely because it's difficult for them to breathe. Just as in people, inactivity can lead to depression. And another of the chemicals in tobacco smoke, toluene, depresses the central nervous system.
- Death from ingestion of nicotine. Anyone who's ever raised a kitten knows that they will chew on anything you leave within their reach, especially if it has your scent on it. This goes not only for things like cigarette or cigar butts and pipes, but ash trays, or even nicotine gum or patches. It only takes a small dose of nicotine to kill a cat, the equivalent of which can be found in just one cigarette. Most people think of this risk related to dogs much more so than with cats, but cats can see anything as a toy.
Protecting Your Cats From Secondhand Smoke
Obviously, quitting smoking is the best way to protect your cats from the dangers of secondhand smoke. If you won't do it for yourself, quit for your cats. But not everyone is prepared to give up smoking. If you do smoke around your cats, there are certain precautions you can take. These could be as simple as smoking outside your house, or keeping the area of your house where your cats live smoke-free. You could also provide a smoke-free room to which your cats have access if they want to get away from the smoke.
But your cat will still be exposed to some toxins just from rubbing against you. Those same toxins that settle on kitty's fur also settle onto your clothes, skin and hair. And you know how nicotine will stain your fingers yellow, so your hands are full of smoking-related toxins. Washing your hands after smoking will help lower this risk, especially if you're feeding your cat right after smoking.
Brushing and grooming your cats daily will help remove some of the toxins from their coats so they won't ingest quite as much. This can help lower the risk of the oral squamous cell carcinoma.
Remember to keep all tobacco products, nicotine patches, nicotine gum, or e-cigarette cartridges out of your cats' reach. This includes those already used as well as the unused ones. Discard them in a sealed trash can that your cats can't tip over. Don't leave cigarette butts in an ash tray where your cats can get to them.
Air purifiers will help some, but many of the toxins released in cigarette smoke are in gas form. Air cleaners are designed to remove tiny particles from the air. So while even the best HEPA filter on the market would take care of any toxins in particulate form, it will not remove gasses. And smoke from a single cigarette may take a few hours to completely clear from the air in a room. We offer several types of good air purifiers carried by affiliated retailers in our Cat Allergy Relief section that would also work for helping remove smoke particulates from the air.
We also just recently added a line of products for smokers who want a healthier alternative, both for themselves and their cats. The Cigalectric products are electronic cigarettes that provide the same satisfaction as a burning cigarette, but are considered safer than tobacco products. You may have heard about electronic cigarettes or even seen them being used in non-smoking environments like restaurants or workplaces. They've been around for about five years now and are becoming quite popular as more areas are deemed non-smoking. While e-cigarettes do still contain nicotine, they eliminate the tar, carbon monoxide, and odor produced by cigarettes. The Cigalectric brand uses a new atomizer in every cartridge, which improves flavor and performance. Several options are available in our Personal Care section.
Some antioxidant supplements can help boost your cat's immune system if you smoke around the house. These combat the free radicals produced by the toxins in tobacco smoke. Vitamins C and E are powerful antioxidants. Always check with your veterinarian before starting your cat on any new supplements, and make sure to use supplements specifically for cats. You'll find these in our Feline Vitamins & Supplements section.
If you smoke, consider the effect on your cats. Is it really a risk to which you want to expose them? Take a few precautions and keep them healthy...if nothing else, it'll at least lower your vet bills!