Secondhand and Thirdhand Smoke and Cats

By: Talin Seta Shahinian

It’s a widely accepted medical fact that cigarette smoke has health risks for the smoker and that secondhand smoke affects people’s health in the vicinity of a smoker. However, it’s not widely acknowledged that being in the presence of cigarette smoke poses serious health risks for cats. It makes perfect sense, though, and your cat’s lungs are smaller than human lungs. Protecting your cat from secondhand smoke is as important as protecting a small child from cigarette smoke, and cats even face health risks that a baby doesn’t.

The Unique Risks of Secondhand and Thirdhand Smoke to Cats

You might think that your cats are affected by breathing in smoke the same way and to the same degree as a person would be, but you’d be wrong. Cat lungs are virtually identical to human lungs, but your cats most likely spend even more time at home than you do. It’s not just harmful cigarette smoke in the air either. They’re exposed to thirdhand smoke, from the residue left behind on furniture, carpets, and bedding, where they may hang out when you’re gone. This puts them at higher risk for asthma, and other diseases, including several forms of cancer.

As for that residue, it also poses different risks to cats than it does to humans. If you smoke or have been to the home of someone who does, you’ve probably noticed the walls are discolored. Tobacco smoke leaves behind a sticky, yellow residue. This substance is loaded with carcinogens. What you can’t see is that this same residue lands on your cat and adheres to their fur. Cats clean themselves by licking their fur, so all that carcinogenic material ends up on your cat’s tongue, travels throughout their mouths, and is also swallowed down with their saliva.

This ingestion can lead to them developing squamous cell carcinoma in their mouths, which is an aggressive form of oral cancer. All of your cat’s mucus membranes absorb secondhand smoke, so their delicate little noses are another pathway for those carcinogens. If a cat has lived in a cigarette smoker’s environment for over five years, its cancer risk increases. Cats regularly exposed to secondhand and thirdhand smoke are at three times greater risk of developing cancer of their lymph nodes, called malignant lymphoma, than cats residing in smoke-free homes. This form of cancer has a tragically low survival rate.

How to Protect Cats from Secondhand and Thirdhand Smoke

The most effective way to protect your cats from developing any of these secondhand and thirdhand smoke-related diseases is to quit smoking and keep your cats away from any environments with smokers present. You might think if you smoke outdoors, it’ll lower the health risks for your cats, but the problem is that your cat will still be exposed to nicotine and carcinogens that are on your body, in your hair, and clinging to your clothing. Vaping isn’t an adequate solution either, as e-cigarettes still produce chemicals containing carcinogens and nicotine.

Understandably, quitting smoking is difficult, but in addition to improving your health, the added incentive of protecting your cat’s well-being can help you make the change. After all, you want to be able to enjoy a long life together with your feline friend. The last thing you’d ever want is a call from your vet saying your cat has a malignant tumor and that the outlook isn’t good.

Cats give their human families a wealth of unconditional love and companionship. In return, they need their fur parents to keep them safe and healthy. So, while cats can’t tell you out loud, they’re counting on you! Make them and yourself proud by quitting smoking today.

If you live in NW Wisconsin, Purple Cat Mobile Vet Clinic is here to help you keep your cat healthy and happy. We’re a high-quality, high-volume, low-cost spay/neuter clinic. We see cats exclusively. Find information for scheduling on our website. You can also look on our Facebook page for more helpful information on all things feline!


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