About a decade ago, I went to a veterinary clinic to visit a friend’s cat, who was recovering from an accidental poisoning. The cat was making a good recovery, but the same couldn’t be said for the kitty in the cage next to him. This cat had recently had a litter, but apparently retained one of the placentas, because she’d developed a raging case of pyometra (a uterine infection), which resulted in an emergency spay and a litter of bottle-fed kittens.
As soon as I got near her cage, the reek of cigarette smoke from the poor cat’s fur just about knocked me over. I imagined this cat giving birth in this filthy, tobacco-reeking home, and I thought she was lucky that her newborns had lived.
I’m the last person to be self-righteous about cigarette smoking. I used to smoke in my house, too, and I also exposed my kitties to all that garbage. I actually did quit smoking for their sake, and even though I haven’t managed to stay quit, it’s been a good 15-plus years since I’ve smoked indoors.
Anyone with a functional brain cell knows that smoking is bad for us, but have you thought about how it can harm your cat, too? Here are some things to consider.
Cats have much smaller lungs than ours, and they are much more sensitive to toxins in their environment. Cigarette smoke increases our feline friends’ risk of developing lung cancer, perhaps even more than it increases ours.
Believe it or not, one common cause of feline asthma is exposure to cigarette smoke. Asthma can lead to emphysema (COPD), and if you’ve ever met anyone who has either of these conditions, you know how horrible it can be to suffocate slowly.
Cats lick themselves to stay clean. Particulate matter in cigarette smoke rains down onto furniture, bedding, and carpets, and also into feline fur. This can lead to oral, gastrointestinal, and bladder cancers.
Cats’ immune systems are much more sensitive than ours. When cats are exposed to cigarette smoke, it can lead to sneezing, watery eyes, skin allergies, and even chronic ear infections.
If you have a cat who likes to eat things he shouldn’t, and he happens to eat a cigarette butt, tobacco, nicotine gum, chewing tobacco, or even a carelessly placed nicotine patch, the results can be fatal. Nicotine poisoning has symptoms that include trembling, rapid breathing, drooling, and possibly even seizures. High doses can lead to lethargy and paralysis of the muscles that control breathing.
So, what do you do if you’re not ready to quit smoking but you want to minimize the risk to your cats? First of all, only smoke outdoors. Even limiting smoking to one room in your house isn’t going to solve the problem, because most modern ventilation systems recirculate the same air through every room in a home. When you come back inside after your cigarette, wash your hands before petting your cat.
If you are ready to quit, make sure to dispose of nicotine gum and nicotine patches in a way that your cat can’t reach them. Keep your e-cigarettes out of your cat’s reach, too.
Have you ever seen the consequences of cigarette smoke exposure in cats? Have you quit smoking because of your cats? Share your smoky stories in the comments.
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About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.