Dr. Clare Knottenbelt is a professor at the College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, where her recent research involves assessing hair nicotine in dogs exposed to secondhand smoke. She answers this week's questions.

clareknottenbelt.jpgDr. Clare Knottenbelt is a professor at the College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, where her recent research involves assessing hair nicotine in dogs exposed to secondhand smoke. She answers this week’s questions.

Question: What role does secondhand smoke play in a pet’s health?

Answer: It has been difficult to prove many associations with secondhand smoke (SHS) in pets because we can’t ask the pet themselves. However, we know it can increase the risk of some cancers.

In addition, the smoke sticks to the pets’ hair, which means when they groom themselves the smoke will be eaten as well as breathed.

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As vets, we can tell when an owner smokes because their pet smells strongly of stale smoke. I met one owner who realized the effect that smoking was having on her cat when she found the cats bed was stained with nicotine.

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Question: What specific problems have arisen from secondhand smoke? How serious can they be?

Answer: We know that SHS exposure increases the risk of nose and lung cancers in dogs and lymphoma (cancer of the white blood cells) in cats. It also may have a role in mouth cancer in cats and changes the cells in the lungs of dogs.

In cats, lymphoma has a poor prognosis, with cats rarely surviving more than six months even with aggressive chemotherapy. Nasal cancer in dogs requires radiation therapy and even then the cancer is likely to recur.

Question: Do pets face the same kinds of problems as humans who are exposed to SHS or are they worse? Is lung cancer or respiratory problems a big issue?

Answer: Dogs and cats do not get the kind of heart disease that humans get; however, cats are prone to asthma and dogs are prone to allergic skin disease.

Lung cancer is relatively uncommon in cats and dogs, but we do know that in dogs the incidences increase when an owner smokes.