SPCA is urging people not to smoke or vape near their pets, as research shows second-hand smoke and nicotine from e-cigarettes can have serious health effects on animals, just like humans.
New Zealand’s largest animal welfare charity is warning pet owners to consider the potential long-term damage they could be causing their furry friends by smoking or vaping near them.
SPCA Scientific Officer Alison Vaughan says while there’s plenty of awareness around the harm tobacco smoke causes humans, people might not be aware that animals exposed to these substances can suffer similar health risks as well, including cancers and respiratory infections.
“Most owners would never intentionally hurt their animals, but it’s important to realise the harm you could be causing by smoking or vaping around your pets,” Dr Vaughan says. “Exposure to second-hand smoke has been linked with cancer in dogs and cats, as well as skin, eye and respiratory diseases in birds, rabbits and guinea pigs. It can also affect fish, as the pollutants from smoke are dissolved easily into their water.”
Research also shows that third-hand smoke, the residual nicotine and other chemicals left on clothes and surfaces in our homes and cars from tobacco smoke, poses particular risk to animals. Because our pets spend a lot of time on or near the floor, they are exposed to higher concentrations of these residues which can be inhaled or ingested during grooming.
The increase in the popularity of vaping has also introduced new risks that pet owners may not be aware of. The liquid nicotine used in vaping devices is absorbed faster, and the nicotine concentration might be higher than traditional cigarettes. Many of these products use flavoured nicotine which can make them more appealing, particularly to dogs. Ingestion of even small amounts of nicotine can result in nicotine poisoning.
“If you do vape, make sure you keep the device and liquid nicotine in a safe place, out of reach of your pet. Keep both your home and car smoke free to reduce the risk of cancers and serious health problems for your family and pets,” Dr Vaughan says.
In 2020, a bill banning smoking in cars with children passed its final reading with support from all parties. SPCA warns that smoking in cars with pets poses similar risks to their health and wellbeing, and urges pet owners to keep their cars smoke free.
“Smoke can accumulate in vehicles, even with the windows down. The law recognises the health risks second-hand smoke in cars can cause children and research shows animals can suffer the same effects. When inside a vehicle, animals don’t have the option to move away from second-hand smoke, so it is important to keep our cars smoke free” Dr Vaughan says.
Effects of second-hand smoke on cats:
Cats are known for their careful grooming, but when cats lick themselves they can ingest dangerous carcinogens from smoke that are absorbed by their fur. Cats in households with second-hand smoke exposure are almost 2.5 times more likely to develop malignant lymphoma as cats with no exposure. The risk increases to 3.2 times more likely in cats exposed for five or more years.
Effects of second-hand smoke on dogs:
Dogs exposed to second-hand smoke are more likely to suffer from a range of diseases, including nasal cancer, lung cancer, asthma and bronchitis, than non-exposed dogs. The shape of a dog’s head plays a role in the types of cancer most likely to develop. Long-muzzled dogs, such as collies, are 250 per cent more likely to develop nasal cancer, since their nasal passages have more surface area on which the toxins can accumulate. Breeds with short muzzles are more likely to develop lung cancer and other respiratory diseases.