By now, most of us know that cigarettes can cause harmful effects that may even lead to death through both first and second hand smoke,. For example, according to Dr. Karen Becker, an estimated 50,000 Americans lose their lives to secondhand smoke annually. However, many are unaware that cigarettes pose another danger through “third hand smoke.” A 2009 study from Harvard Medical School found additional health risks associated with what they termed “third-hand smoke,” or the toxins that cling to smokers’ hair, clothing, cars, carpeting, and furniture long after the smoke has cleared the room. Both second and third hand smoke are detrimental to the health of humans; however our dogs’ lounging and grooming habits may increase both the intensity and duration of their exposure to the toxins in cigarette smoke, causing diseases and, in extreme cases, death.
Since dogs and humans share common physiology, we additionally share many of the same health effects of cigarette smoke. According to Dr. Karen Becker, exposure to the toxins from cigarette smoke can cause a variety of health problems in dogs, including respiratory problems, allergies, and even nasal and lung cancer. Additionally, many dogs face the risk of nicotine poisoning. Through ingesting cigarette butts or nicotine replacements (such as gum and patches) and drinking water contaminated with cigarette butts, dogs can be exposed to toxic levels of nicotine (0.5-1.0 mg of nicotine per pound of body weight).
Many dog owners who use non-traditional forms of smoking, such as e-cigs and vape pens, believe that their dogs are in the clear, seeing as there is no actual smoke being emitted. However, they may be even more prone to contracting nicotine poisoning. Refill cartridges can contain anywhere from 2-10 times the amount of nicotine found in one cigarette, and the scents and flavors of the liquid in these cartridges is especially attractive to dogs, increasing their risk of ingestion. The signs and symptoms of nicotine poisoning may include tremors, seizures, drooling, constricted pupils, hallucinations, vomiting, and diarrhea and if not caught in time could potentially lead to death. Ingesting one e-cig or vape pen refill cartridge could lead to fatal nicotine poisoning in just 15-30 minutes. If you know or suspect your dog has ingested any amount of nicotine, seek immediate veterinary help.
Nicotine is one of the most addictive drugs in the world, so it’s understandable that quitting smoking or vaping is a long, complicated process. However, there are ways to minimize this habit’s risks to your dogs while working your way towards quitting. For those who smoke using traditional cigarettes, the best way to keep your dogs healthy is to smoke outside. Smoking only outdoors will prevent a large amount of second and third hand smoke from settling into your home or car, minimizing your dogs’ contact with harmful toxins. Other ways to reduce your dogs’ contact with second and third hand smoke include using an air purifier in your home, cleaning any furniture and carpets that may be contaminated, bathing your pet, and changing your clothes and washing your hands after smoking.
Similar to keeping your dogs protected from second and third hand smoke, there are ways to prevent them from nicotine poisoning as well. For those who use traditional cigarettes, keeping ashtrays clean and disposing of cigarettes far away from the accessibility of dogs are the best ways to keep them from ingesting or coming into contact with cigarette butts. Likewise, those who use other forms of nicotine, such as patches, gum, or vape pen refill cartridges should both store and dispose of these items in receptacles that cannot be accessed by dogs in order to avoid possible fatal nicotine poisoning.
After learning about the health consequences of smoking, most people who smoke want to quit, which can seem like a daunting task to do alone. However, there are a variety of resources available for those who are trying to quit smoking. For example, Project Quit at MUSC has made it their mission to investigate ways to advance medical science that can help smokers quit. Participating in research for Project Quit is a free, compensable way to begin your journey to quit smoking. Additionally, not only is it a resource to help you quit smoking, but it could also potentially benefit your community. Taking part in research increases knowledge of tobacco/nicotine behaviors, which could lead to helping countless other smokers quit as well.
Smoking is not only detrimental to your health, but your dogs’ as well. Therefore, certain precautions must be made to ensure their safety. Following the steps above and regularly taking your dogs to the vet will both increase the likelihood of your dogs staying happy and healthy. Also, keep an eye on what your dog is sniffing and eating, as nicotine poisoning is a very real risk with possibly fatal consequences. Finally, if you are looking to quit smoking, participating in research at organizations such as MUSC’s Project Quit is a great way to begin this journey. Not only will it help you kick your habit, but the knowledge you provide researchers will benefit the greater community as well, including your dogs.