“I think a lot of people don't think about the effect smoking has on their pets,” says veterinary oncologist Luebke van Bergen. According to the veterinarian, the harmful substances resulting from cigarette smoke are similar to the toxic substances that come from car exhausts. “It's the same kind of chemicals.”
“Some harmful substances settle on the ground and pets usually sit closer to the ground than humans,” Van Bergen explains. “So they ingest harmful substances by licking them from their fur or from people's clothes. So small dogs in particular, who often walk through the city in peak car exhaust, are exposed to greater health risks.”
But a smoke-filled home environment can also cause a lot of harm. Especially with a Scottish Terrier in this case. “This breed is known to have a high risk of bladder cancer, which is partly genetically determined,” says van Bergen.
Therefore, scientists investigated whether it is possible to prevent the development of cancer. They then examined 120 dogs for three years. Results now show that Scottish Terriers who lived in a smoke-filled environment were up to six times more likely to develop bladder cancer.
In addition to genetic predisposition, an important reason for this lies in bladder function. Van Bergen: “Normally, the animal inhales the substances, and then the substances are filtered in the lungs, enter the bloodstream and are then excreted.”
But just like humans, animals don't urinate all day long. “You wait until your bladder is full and then you have to urinate,” Van Bergen continues. “These harmful substances in urine stay in the bladder for a period of time, so they can affect the cells and irritate them for a longer period. This is why the bladder is known to develop cancer more quickly.”
Put the animal to sleep
In the worst cases, the tumor grows so large that the passage from the bladder to the urethra is blocked. “At a certain point the problem becomes that the dog can no longer urinate. Then there is no other option but to put the animal to sleep.”
Veterinary dentist Marnix Lamberts also sees painful cases in his practice. “From severe gum infections in the mouth to tumors,” says Lamberts. “Pet fur in the treatment room smells like heavy tobacco.”
“Smoking causes problems for people that can be transmitted directly to pets,” the vet says. The consequences are clearly visible in the oral cavities of animals.
Smoke hinders healing
Lamberts especially notices this in cats. “This is because they lick their fur all day long. In a smoking environment, the tar ends up in their fur and they then lick it off.”
Furthermore, the tar compounds found in smoke do not help control gingivitis. And then gingivitis can still be fairly localized.
On the other hand, for a tumor, doctors often do not know exactly where it appears. But the animal's condition sometimes indicates a possible cause. “If a cat smells strongly of smoke, one plus one can easily equal two,” Lamberts says. In addition, cigarette smoke can also lead to asthma and other lung diseases.
Stick behind the door
Therefore, Lamberts refers to owners of animals that smell strongly of smoke. “But of course you shouldn't judge,” he says. “It was then pointed out that smoking does not help reduce problems in the animal’s oral cavity.”
“It happens that people are not sufficiently aware that the harmful effects of cigarette smoke also apply to pets. This can be a good incentive for the owner who really wanted to quit smoking to stop smoking completely,” Lamberts said.
I do not exaggerate
For owners for whom quitting smoking is not an option, good ventilation in the pet's living environment is very important anyway.
“If you smoke in the car and the dog is in the back seat, the smoke naturally stays very local,” continues veterinary oncologist Van Bergen. “But if you just walk the dog outside and smoke a cigarette, I don’t think we should go overboard.”
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