SPCA urges pet owners to put down the ciggies, vapes to prevent poor health in furry friends

Pet owners are being urged to put down the vape, with research showing second-hand smoke and nicotine from both cigarettes and e-cigarettes can pose a raft of health risks to furry friends. 

In recognition of World No-Tobacco Day on Monday, May 31, the SPCA is encouraging pet owners to consider the long-term damage they could be inflicting on their animals by smoking or vaping. 

Although the majority of people are aware of the risks associated with tobacco smoke, the SPCA's scientific officer Alison Vaughan says many don't realise the same poor health outcomes also extend to our furry companions.

"Most owners would never intentionally hurt their animals, but it's important to realise the harm you could be causing by smoking or vaping around your pets," Dr Vaughan said. 

"Exposure to second-hand smoke has been linked to cancer in dogs and cats, as well as skin, eye and respiratory diseases in birds, rabbits and guinea pigs. It can also affect fish, as the pollutants from smoke are dissolved easily into their water." 

Research also shows that third-hand smoke can be particularly harmful to pets. Third-hand smoke refers to the residual nicotine and chemicals that cling to clothing and surfaces after smoking. 

As pets spend a lot of time on or near the floor, Dr Vaughan says they are exposed to higher concentrations of these residues, which can be inhaled or ingested through grooming or licking. 

Vaping, an increasingly popular alternative to cigarettes, also comes with its own set of risks that pet owners may not be aware of. The liquid nicotine in vaping devices is absorbed faster than the nicotine in traditional cigarettes, and is believed to be more highly concentrated.

Many of these products also use flavoured nicotine, which can make them more appealing - particularly to dogs. Ingesting even small amounts of nicotine can lead to nicotine poisoning in animals, Dr Vaughan continued, which can be fatal.

"If you do vape, make sure you keep the device and liquid nicotine in a safe place, out of reach of your pet. Keep both your home and car smoke-free to reduce the risk of cancers and serious health problems for your family and pets," she said. 

Dog looks disapprovingly at ashtray of cigarettes.
Dog looks disapprovingly at ashtray of cigarettes. Photo credit: Getty Images

Last year, the Smoke-free Environments (Prohibiting Smoking in Motor Vehicles Carrying Children) Amendment Bill passed its final reading, making it illegal for New Zealanders to smoke in vehicles carrying anyone under the age of 18. The SPCA is now encouraging people to adopt the same habits when pets are the passengers. 

"Smoke can accumulate in vehicles, even with the windows down. The law recognises the health risks second-hand smoke in cars can cause children, and research shows animals can suffer the same effects," Dr Vaughan said.

"When inside a vehicle, animals don't have the option to move away from second-hand smoke, so it is important to keep our cars smoke-free."

According to the SPCA, cats living in households where they are exposed to second-hand smoke are almost 2.5 times more likely to develop malignant lymphoma. That risk increases to 3.2 times more likely in felines who are exposed for a period of five or more years. Cats can ingest the dangerous carcinogens when they lick their fur while grooming. 

Dogs exposed to second-hand smoke are more likely to suffer from a range of diseases, including nasal cancer, lung cancer, asthma and bronchitis, than dogs in a smoke-free environment. In regards to the type of cancer a dog might develop, the shape of its head can play a role. Long-muzzled dogs, such as collies, are 250 percent more likely to develop nasal cancer, since their nasal passages have more surface area for the toxins to accumulate. Breeds with short muzzles are more likely to develop lung cancer and other respiratory diseases.