Understanding the health risks of second-hand cigarette smoke is important to maintaining the health of ourselves and our children. Laws help protect nonsmokers by prohibiting smoking in public facilities, aboard public transportation, even in parks and entertainment venues.
Media focus also is responsible for helping the public become aware of the potential deadly consequences of smoking or breathing in second-hand smoke.
But what happens to other family members, like the family dog, cat or bird, when they are exposed to a smoker inside the home? Many don’t even think about the effects on pets that breathe in or ingest cigarette smoke or tobacco products.
If they did, Dr. Lorraine Castrovilly, DVM, at Garrison Animal Hospital, is confident that most pet owners would take the necessary precautions to protect the health and safety of their pets. “At the very least, they might at least stop and think about what they are doing,” she said.
Studies have been conducted on the harmful effects, Castrovilly said, and articles keep appearing in veterinary journals. “Usually we see second-hand smoke as it relates to someone in the car, like a spouse or children,” Castrovilly said. “We don’t think of it so much with pets. But there is a lot of research now that shows that second-hand smoke is really harmful.”
In the practice she shares with her husband, Dr. Patrick Jones, Castrovilly does her best to educate her clients. She is an advocate for public health, regularly lecturing on the risks of cigarettes and other tobacco products on pet health.
Castrovilly has been working as a veterinarian for 22 years. “It is what I always wanted to do,” she said. She is very active in educating the public through demonstrations in cohesion with the Florida Department of Health, focusing on topics like providing a smoke-free environment for pets.
v vThere are two ways that pets can be harmed by smokers in the home, she said. The first is through inhaling secondhand smoke. The second – less common yet equally as toxic – is ingesting cigarettes or tobacco products into the body.
Consider the following from breathenh.org;
Dogs that inhale secondhand smoke are three times more likely to develop lung or nasal cancer than those living in smoke-free homes
Allergic reactions to secondhand smoke are common in dogs that live with a smoker. Symptoms, which include scratching, biting or chewing of the skin, might be mistaken for skin or flea irritants or food allergies.
Cats can be susceptible, due to their constant licking while grooming, exposing the mucus membrane of the mouth to cancer-causing carcinogens. When exposed to chronic smoking, cats have an increased incidence of lymphoma.
Birds also are susceptible and may show symptoms of eye trouble and respiratory issues like coughing or wheezing. Since nicotine can stay on the hand of a smoker, birds that perch on the hand may develop contact dermatitis.
Ingesting cigarettes butts, chewing tobacco, or even nicotine gum or patches can be deadly, she said. The nicotine is absorbed into the intestine where it can cause death.
Consider that the amount of nicotine in just one cigarette can be toxic. Consuming only two cigarette butts can be deadly. Castrovilly is concerned since many tobacco products contain flavorings that attract dogs and puppies. Molasses, honey, fruit or even mint flavorings are attractive to dogs.
Therefore, they particularly at risk, she said. “Nicotine ingestion is really serious because nicotine is very toxic. With dogs there is a very marginal amount of nicotine they would have to ingest to have a toxic reaction.”
Puppies have indiscriminate eating habits, Castrovilly explained. They may chew or eat a couple of cigarettes found lying around or chew nicotine gum or patches. “They could make them have really severe toxic reactions.”
“If you weren’t aware of it, you wouldn’t even think about it,” she went on.
The problem is in the high concentration of nicotine. Nicotine first stimulates the nervous system, Castrovilly explained, which can be a good thing because it usually causes the animal to vomit. However, it then acts like a central nervous system depressant. “It is depressant on every level of the nervous system,” she said. “And it has a very narrow margin of safety.”
Should a pet owner discover their pet has consumed a tobacco product, Castrovilly said to seek emergency medical attention immediately. The sooner the product is removed from the pet’s system, the less damage it will cause.
As the community fights to bring objective information about the dangers of smoking to the public, it is Castrovilly’s hope that discussing the dangers to pets will at least get pet owners thinking.
“We love our pets,” she said. “They are like our children.”
Ideally she would love the information to have a strong enough impact to encourage smokers to quit. At the very least, she hopes bringing awareness to the hazards will get them thinking about modifying their smoking behavior.
Dogs and cats have no voice, she said. They rely on their owners to make healthy decisions to keep them safe. Prevention, therefore, is the best step toward that goal.
“People are very receptive when they understand the risk,” she said.
Garrison Animal Hospital is located at 8006 Spring Hill Drive. Contact Castrovilly at (352) 340-5928.