The harmful effects of second-hand cigarette smoke are well known, which is why many smokers will refrain or are asked to refrain from smoking around friends, family members and, especially, children. But most people don’t often stop and think about how their tobacco use can affect their beloved animals.

There are, however, some genuine risks to smoking near your pet. Frequent smoking in enclosed areas, like homes, apartments, and cars, increases the toxic load on a pet’s lungs just as it does on humans.

Tawnee Tbomb McAleese, 31, Moncton, loves cats. She currently has five cats (Penelope, Pepe, Jasper, Kali and Melville) and runs the Moncton Cats and Kitties Club on Facebook. The group often raises and donates funds to cat rescue organizations such as Sasha’s Cat Rescue, Riley’s Legacy Cat Rescue, Fortunate Felines Rescue and the Greater Moncton SPCA.

She has seen a difference in her cats’ well-being since becoming a non-smoker.

“I was a smoker for 19 years, 11 of which while I had my cats,” she recalls. “Having animals in the house did not make me stop smoking, though I did try not to smoke too much around them nor in the house right in their faces. I eventually quit smoking; one day I just woke up and had had enough and wanted to stop. I am now 2 ½ years smoke-free. I notice that my cats seem to be breathing a lot better now that the house is completely smoke-free.”

A good thing because cats are especially sensitive to tobacco smoke. According to the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA), “cats can develop asthma, similar to human asthma, and cats living in homes with heavy smokers are more likely to develop chronic bronchitis.” In fact, a 2007 study cited by the CVMA found evidence of nicotine, cotinine and NNAL (a metabolite of the carcinogen nitrosamine methynitrosamino pyridyl butanone) in the urine of cats exposed to environmental tobacco smoke. This shows that these harmful compounds are absorbed and can also target organs distant to the respiratory tract.

Just like in humans, second-hand tobacco smoke produces chronic irritation in the airways of animals. “Airways exposed to smoke over time will undergo dysplasia,” says the CVMA. “This means the lining cells of the airways become abnormal. The airway cells can transform into cancer cells if subjected to long-term heavy exposure to smoke. Lymphoma risk in cats increases with exposure, and lung and nasal cancer are common in dogs.”

Tawnee’s love for her cats will ensure she continues to live tobacco-free.

More and more, researchers are seeing a direct link for many animal health conditions to second and third-hand cigarette smoke. The American Kennel Club reports that scientists have observed a higher level of a gene marking cell damage in dogs who live with smokers. Scientists have also found that dogs who live with smokers have higher rates of atopic dermatitis (eczema) than those who live in smoke-free homes.

Annik Thomas, 28, and her partner Jonathan Richard, 29, Dieppe, can attest to the benefits of having a smoke-free home for their beloved pets. The couple owns a dog, Chelsea, and a cat, Meeko, and has had ferrets in the past as well. Annik is very vocal about animal welfare and rights on social media, and the couple volunteers with the Ferret Lovers Society of Atlantic Canada Rescue, the Canadian Kennel Club and Transporters Without Borders, which transports dogs from shelters to rescues, fosters or forever homes.

Annik’s partner Jonathan was a smoker for about ten years. He stopped smoking once one of his friends was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The pain of seeing his friend go through this was a loud wake-up call to try to get rid of this unhealthy addiction. Annik and Jonathan also saw two of their ferrets die from cancer (one from lymphosarcoma, and one from lymphedema). The couple admits that they wondered if exposure to tobacco smoke could have been one of the contributing factors or if it was just genetics. While Jonathan never smoked around the home much, his pets would have been exposed to third-hand smoke on his clothing.

Annik and Jonathan know how important it is to have a smoke-free home for their pets, like their beautiful dog shown here, Chelsea.

“What’s really cool is that we notice that the pets are much cuddlier with Jonathan since he became a non-smoker,” says Annik. “For example, our cat Meeko often sleeps next to him, which he did not do before. We also adopted our dog, Chelsea, in 2013, after Jonathan stopped smoking. Chelsea’s skin is very sensitive. She has many allergies, and it seems like she has flare ups among smokers, even just picking out the scent on their clothes. We’re proud that our animals now have two smoke-free parents! It’s just better for them not to be exposed to that stuff at all!”

Gabrielle Nowlan, 38, Moncton, is another doting pet owner who treats her pets with the utmost care and respect. She has a dog, Ada, a cat, Bailey, and a bird, Colby. She knows how harmful cigarette smoke can be to them.

“My dog, Ada, is adopted. Her previous owner used to chain smoke and would smoke in the car with her. I could smell the cigarette smoke on her, and I hated that. I would often tell him he should not smoke around the dog. It was not right.”

“I was a smoker myself too, but I never smoked inside of my own home,” she admits. “I was more of a social smoker; it would often be at a bar or around my old colleagues during my breaks at work that I would smoke. It was on and off for me. I would smoke for awhile, then quit, then start again. However, I was always conscious of the fact I should not do it around my pets. Many people might have considered it strange that I go outside to smoke while at home since I live by myself with my pets, but I had studied animal science in university, and I knew tobacco smoke was harmful to animals. My animals are like my children, and I want them to be healthy. I go above and beyond in making sure they receive excellent nutrition, vitamins, and treatments. Especially my little bird Colby. I never smoked inside the house because I was afraid cigarette smoke would harm his tiny sensitive lungs.”

“I quit smoking eventually,” she adds. “I was getting braces on my teeth, and I thought to myself, ’I am going to have these nice straight teeth, but if I keep smoking, they will be all discoloured.’ It was a chance to start with a clean slate. I am now eight years smoke-free. It’s better for me, I am sick less often, and my pets have an all-around more energetic and healthier mom.”

Gabrielle is a proud “mom” to dog Ada.

Tawnee, Annik, Jonathan, and Gabrielle are great examples of pet owners who have embraced a tobacco-free lifestyle and are seeing benefits for their pets. But the idea of not smoking around your pet the same way most people nowadays avoid smoking around their children is far from being a mainstream practice. Getting the word out there through public education and encouraging New Brunswickers to quit smoking is thus essential for protecting and ensuring the health of our animal friends.

Protecting her bird Colby’s tiny lungs is one of the reasons Gabrielle never smoked inside her home when she was a smoker.

And e-cigarette users, be warned! The CVMA cautions that even e-cigarettes can harm your pets. “Though they do not produce smoke, the nicotine in the solution in the cartridge is aerosolized into small particles. Pets should be kept away from the vapours to prevent inhalation. Toxicity is very likely if the pet eats the liquid contents of the vial itself. (…) Flavoured liquid is particularly attractive to dogs. A vial’s content is enough to cause signs (of nicotine poisoning) in large dogs and death in small dogs or cats, so great care should be taken to prevent access to these. If the pet is found to have chewed or swallowed vials or refill packs, this is an emergency, and the pet should be taken to the clinic immediately to start receiving care.”

According to the CVMA, if a pet eats cigarettes or butts, the pet can experience vomiting, depression or anxious behaviour, fast heart and breathing rates, and develop tremors and seizures. Sometimes death occurs. “Keep your pet well away from all smoke and vapour sources — your pets rely on you!”

Let’s hope more and more New Brunswick pet owners choose to heed this advice and embrace tobacco-free living not only for themselves, but for the sake of their beloved animals.

Gabrielle’s dog, Ada, and cat, Bailey are lucky to have a very doting and loving owner who does not smoke.

Story and photos used with permission from Tawnee Tbomb McAleese, Annik Thomas, Jonathan Richard, and Gabrielle Nowlan.

Published in October 2017.

By Nathalie Landry – NBATC Communications Coordinator.