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Smoking around your pets may be hurting them more than you realize

Heather Barnett is a freelance writer and foodie whose work has been featured in blogs, websites, magazines, and TV and radio ads. She spends her free time relaxing with her soulmate, Keith; her dog, Mosby "The Fly Slayer;" and Felix th...

Study shows pets at greater risk than humans for secondhand smoke-related health problems

I have a confession to make. I'm a smoker. It's a disgusting habit, I know, and I'm not proud of it, but it's not easy to quit either. A new study on the health risks of secondhand smoke on pets has me thinking of quitting, and it will probably do the same for you. (Spoiler alert: Smoking outside isn't a solution.)

The study, conducted by scientists at the University of Glasgow, shows that pets may be at an even greater risk than humans when exposed to secondhand smoke. According to their research, pets exposed to poisonous secondhand fumes are at higher risk for a multitude of health issues like cancer, cell damage and weight gain.

After examining the testicles of recently neutered dogs, that they found gain more weight after the procedure if they live with smokers, they found a higher instance of a gene that's a marker of cell damage in dogs that live with smokers than in those that don't.

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In an interview with The Telegraph, Clare Knottenbelt, the university's professor of small animal medicine and oncology, said, "We have already shown that dogs can take in significant amounts of smoke when living in a smoking household. Our current study in cats… shows that cats are even more affected."

She goes on to explain that they believe cats may take more of the toxins into their body because they do significantly more self-grooming than dogs. Think about that the next time your sweet, sweet furbaby (dog or cat) shows their undying affection and loyalty by licking your hands or face — which is covered with all the yellow tinged residue smokers are all too familiar with battling.

It's called thirdhand smoke, which according to the Mayo Clinic is a relatively new concept, which would explain why I'd never heard of it. But apparently it's not only a thing, it may be more dangerous than secondhand smoke, especially for pets that usually have a lower weight and may spend more time at their owners' sides. Thirdhand smoke is the residual nicotine together with all those nasty chemicals they warn you about that's left on your skin, hair and clothes and on surfaces where you smoke, which if you smoke inside, includes the furniture and other items in your home (drapes, beds, carpet… even the dust that builds up on your coffee table).

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It builds up over time. It can't be eliminated by simply opening a window. It can be inhaled, ingested or absorbed into skin. And it presents a significant risk to a pet when most of their lives are spent in the very environment that could lead to deadly health issues. Not only do pets spend more time closer to the carpet, they're more apt to lick for self-grooming or chew or inspect with their mouths.

The study did find that smoking outside reduces the risk to your pet, but it doesn't eliminate it altogether. They also found that limiting your use of tobacco products to 10 per day reduces the nicotine levels found in their fur significantly, though the levels are still higher than those of animals living in non-smoking homes.

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The full details of the study are expected to be released in 2016, but the little I know now certainly has me thinking. I always assumed pets could be negatively impacted by secondhand smoke just like humans. That's why I smoke outside. But this whole time I've been bringing in toxic chemicals, exposing my pets without knowing it. I had to euthanize my precious Mosby earlier this year. He was 16. Could he have lived to be 20 if I didn't smoke? What am I doing to my new furbabies? They aren't even a year old yet.

Everyone always wonders why smokers smoke knowing what we know. But it's often easier to quit for someone else's benefit than our own… even a pet. Maybe this is just the kick in the ass I need to quit for good this time.

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