Pets and secondhand smoke

Mar 172003
Authors: Linda Lechler

She sits by the window of her third story apartment hovered in a small corner of the room smoking a cigarette and thinking about Jack Daniels.

No, Sarah Billings is not a closet smoker or alcoholic but a pet owner who cares deeply for Jack, her 5-year-old hound-dog mix. She has known Jack for his whole life and is concerned about how her secondhand smoke may affect him.

“Dogs age almost seven times faster than us,” Billings said, a junior majoring in psychology. “Secondhand smoke can cause problems fast. I take Jack (to the vet) frequently and he appears to be fine,” Billings said. “But they don’t do any specific tests to see early signs (of secondhand smoke).”

Billings said she has smoked cigarettes around Jack for half of a year and worries about his sporadic wheezing, coughing and hyperventilating around cigarette smoke.

“I am close with my dog,” Billings said. “I would never forgive myself if I caused his early demise.”

Billings, along with other pet owners, is slowly becoming aware of the effects of secondhand smoke on pets. Two studies were done at CSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital headed by John Reif, professor of epidemiology, and the department chairman for environmental and radiological health sciences, and associates that helped to bring awareness of secondhand smoke to the public.

In 1992, Reif conducted a study entitled, “Passive Smoking and Canine Lung Cancer Risk.” Reif also headed the second study of similar interests, in 1998, titled “Cancer of the Nasal Cavity and Paranasal Sinuses and Exposure to Environmental Tobacco Smoke in Pet Dogs.”

“These studies are really the first to make us aware of secondhand smoke on animals,” Reif said. “They are the first of their kind.”

There were several factors taken into consideration during the studies, such as number of smokers in the home, number of packs of cigarettes smoked in the home per day by the heaviest smoker, the time the dog spent inside the home, and the age, sex, body size and skull shape of the dog.

“All these factors involved are important,” Reif said. “All exposures are contributing factors.”

According to the study, a dog that has exposure to a smoker in the home is 1.6 times more likely to develop lung cancer than a dog that is not exposed to a smoker.

The study found that skull shape had an effect on the estimated risk of lung cancer in dogs. Dogs with long noses (like German shepherds) have a higher risk for nasal cancer and dogs with short noses (like pugs) have a higher risk for lung cancer, Reif said. This is because, in theory, a dog with a long nose has an extra filtering system in its nose, so it is more likely to develop nasal cancers, Reif said.

“Both studies are important because they show exposure to secondhand smoke has an increased risk for cancer of respiratory system in dogs,” Reif said.

He said some of the warning signs of lung cancer in dogs include chronic coughing, weight loss and abnormal fatigue. Warning signs of nasal cancer include swelling over the nose or sinus area, sneezing and bloody nasal discharge, Reif said.

The only real prevention for these cancers is to not smoke around your pets, Reif said.

“Obviously people are encouraged not to smoke,” he said. “People who choose to smoke should do so away from pets, outdoors.”

Although the public is slowly becoming aware of the effects of secondhand smoke through studies like these, the concept is still unknown to many. Out of 20 random practicing veterinarians called in the Fort Collins and Loveland yellow pages, not one of them knew a lot about any studies done about the effects of secondhand smoke and pets. Also, none of these veterinarians are currently talking to their clients about secondhand smoke’s potential negative effects.

This lack of awareness may not be so prevalent at the CSU campus this coming spring, however. The new approach to the subject of secondhand smoke affecting pets was an inspiration for a new campaign in the tobacco cessation program headed by Jerusha Hall with the assistance of Andrea Boone at the CSU Hartshorn Health Center.

“The whole campaign started because as a smoker I was looking for a different approach to tobacco education,” Hall said, a senior animal science major.

She said the approach to tobacco cessation has been seen in the same light for too long and finding a new twist might help to reach more people. Hall said she takes better care of her dogs then she does herself in some ways and knows she is not alone in this behavior.

“To me it was an approach that I hadn’t seen before and maybe it is something that would connect for some other smokers,” Hall said. ” The process of cessation is so difficult and maybe just looking at things differently may help.”

The major goal of the pets and health campaign, which starts later this spring, is for people on campus to gain some awareness on the tobacco issue, Hall said.

This project will include a poster campaign with resource numbers, Web sites and a tentatively scheduled dog day on campus which will include health checks for dogs, Frisbee and bandana giveaways, getting your dog’s photo taken with Mr. Butts (a speaker on secondhand smoke and your pet) and a raffle for t-shirts.

This event is tentatively planned for April 23, with the posters coming out a week or two before the event.

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