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Secondhand Smoke and Pets

I inherited a very keen sense of smell from my mom.   Nothing gets by our noses, and my nose was on full alert as I walked into an annual well visit with a nice retirement age couple who brought in their 1 year, 4 month old dog.  I picked up the smell of cigarettes in the room immediately, emanating from both owners, and the dog. 

As I examined the little guy, I noted that his lungs sounded rather coarse for a dog this age.  I asked the owners if he ever coughed, and they told me that he coughed every time he got excited or exerted himself for an extended period of time.  When they asked me what would cause this in such a young dog, I told them that their little dog likely had chronic inflammatory bronchitis, commonly caused by inhalation allergies such as pollens, respiratory irritants such as air pollution or secondhand smoke, or combinations of all of the above.

At the mention of secondhand smoke, they both looked at one another, but said nothing.  I did not want to offend these nice people, so I just left it out there and discussed management at this time.   I told the owners that since their dog was young, the inflammatory changes were likely reversible at this point.  As such, I advised ion and other air filtration systems for their home, frequent vacuuming, dusting, and refraining from letting people smoke in their home…Yes, I know, I was playing dumb. 

I wanted to get the point across that smoking in the home was probably a major contributing factor to their dog’s chronic airway disease at such a young age, without coming off like I was insulting or lecturing them.   These owners may have a habit that is not only bad for them, but bad for their dog as well, but they are still nice people who do love their dog and deserve to be treated with respect, not lectured by a their veterinarian.  

Although in not saying anything, I am not properly performing my duties as a health care professional, so I hope my hinting at smoking as a contributing cause will have an effect and they will quit smoking; but of course we all know that is not likely to happen.  I wish that I could at least hope that the couple will choose to smoke outside the home, but my experience tells me that even that is unlikely to happen. 

The next best thing to laying on guilt or taking on a lecturing tone with clients is to blog about the fact that second hand smoke causes the same damage to animals as it does to people.  From inflammatory airway disease, asthma, pulmonary fibrosis and lung cancer, to even congestive heart failure, our pet’s health can be seriously compromised and lives cut short because of the constant inhalation of second hand smoke. 

By blogging about the dangers of second hand smoke with pets, my hope is that I may reach those that are in a better position to lay on guilt and lecture pet owners like this, such as their human children, other relatives, and close friends.   Guilt away…a furry little life may lay in the balance.    

Dr. Roger Welton is the President of Maybeck Animal Hospital and CEO/Chief Editor of the veterinary information and blog online community, Web-DVM.

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