While I choose to write about cats, because I work with them every day at The Cat Doctor & Friends, the information in this article may also apply to dogs, birds and "pocket pets". Cigarette smoking harms animals as well as people, often in unexpected ways.
Almost everyday, I walk into one of my exam rooms and am immediately confronted with a strong smell of cigarettes, even though my cat hospital is a strictly non-smoking facility. I will sit down at my exam table, greet my client and my patient, and take a quick sniff of my patient's fur, which reeks of cigarette smoke.
When a smoker smokes inside the house, modern ventilation systems take the cigarette smoke and re-circulate it throughout the entire house very quickly, even if the smoker is only smoking in one closed room. The smoke physically seems to rise, but many smoke particles descend, landing on the furniture, drapes, floors, and yes, the cat, dog, or bird.
Cats and dogs groom and birds preen themselves, in order to remove any dirt or foreign materials from their hair coats or feathers. In a smoker's house, they end up swallowing many smoke particles, which has been implicated in the development of oral, gastrointestinal and bladder cancers in cats and dogs. This is in addition to the damage that exposure to cigarette smoke causes to animal lungs.
Cats, dogs, and birds can develop respiratory and other diseases due to exposure to cigarette smoke, ranging from sneezing and watery eyes, to chronic ear infections and skin allergies, to coughing due to asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. (COPD). Cats may even vomit as a symptom of asthma and both cats and dogs can develop emphysema if their exposure to cigarette smoke goes on long enough.
While cigarette smoke isn't the only cause of asthma in cats, it is a common cause. Some of the most severe cases of asthma I've seen were cigarette smoke-induced, and sadly, a few cases were fatal, despite my best efforts. I have seen too many cases of lung cancer in pets living with smokers.
If you or a family member must smoke, please smoke outdoors, downwind from the house and well away from open doors or windows. Wearing a plastic or vinyl raincoat will prevent you from bringing smoke particles in on your clothes and washing your hands will also help protect your pet. Better yet, consider enlisting your family doctor's help in quitting smoking for the sake of you and your pets.