The threat of secondhand smoke to the health of non-smokers has been known for years but now researchers say pets can also suffer from the effects of secondhand smoke.
Experts at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say secondhand smoke is a factor in the deaths of thousands of adult non-smokers each year.
Veterinarian Dr. Carolynn MacAllister, from Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service says if smoking is so harmful to human beings, secondhand smoke could have an adverse effect on pets that live in the homes of smokers.
Dr. MacAllister says recent research has indicated that secondhand smoke poses a significant health threat to pets, and has been associated with oral cancer and lymphoma in cats, lung and nasal cancer in dogs, as well as lung cancer in birds.
A study conducted at Tuft College of Veterinary Medicine found a strong connection between secondhand smoke and certain forms of cancer in cats.
The study found the number of cats with mouth cancer was higher for those animals living in smoking environments than those living in a smoke-free home.
MacAllister says cats are so susceptible to secondhand smoke because of their clean habits and when they lick themselves while grooming, they take in the carcinogens that accumulate on their fur which exposes the mucous membrane of their mouth to the cancer-causing carcinogens.
Cats that live with smokers also have a twice the risk of getting malignant lymphoma which occurs in the lymph nodes and is fatal to three out of four cats within 12 months of developing the cancer.
Secondhand smoke is also linked to the increased occurrence of cancer in the nose and sinus area among dogs and to some extent with lung cancer.
Nasal tumors are specifically found in long nosed breeds while shorter or medium nosed dogs have higher rates for lung cancer.
Longer nosed breeds of dogs have a great surface area in their noses that is exposed to the carcinogens.
Unfortunately, dogs affected with nasal cancer normally do not survive more than one year.
Research has also shown that pet birds are also victims of secondhand smoke and the most serious consequences in birds are pneumonia or lung cancer, along with eye, skin, heart and fertility problems.
Pets that live in smoke filled environments also face the risk of poisoning by eating cigarettes and other tobacco products causing nicotine poisoning, which can be fatal.
MacAllister says it is important, both for the health of pets and others living in the household, that the smoker has a designated area in which to smoke that is physically separated from the home.