VET’S DIARY: No smoke without fire

UNFORTUNATELY, by this time of the year most people’s New Year’s resolutions will have gone out the window and those bad habits will have crept back in, writes DOMINIC PLUMLEY.

For anyone who aims high every year to give up the dreaded weed but never quite seems to maintain the motivation, here is another reason to think again.

In 2008, a survey of 3,000 adult pet owners found that 21 per cent were smokers.

For years we have known about the risks of passive smoking in humans but research into the effects in pets is a long way behind. Man’s best friend spends a huge proportion of his time at his owner’s side so you can imagine the amount of chemicals from cigarettes inhaled or ingested through grooming fur.

Just anecdotally, it is always immediately apparent which pets come from smoking homes, for even if the owners have slapped on a bit of perfume to hide the tell tale smells on themselves, the pong from their pets is an instant give-away.

Data has now been published to support the link between environmental tobacco smoke and the following diseases:

Asthma in cats; Chronic bronchitis in dogs; chronic rhinitis (inflammation and discharge from the nose) in dogs; nasal tumours in dogs; lymphoma in cats; oral tumours in cats; laryngitis (swelling of the throat) in guinea pigs.

Of all these problems, the one that we most commonly see is chronic bronchitis in dogs.

It is an all too familiar presentation; the long-term coughing dog that comes in stinking of smoke often even with a nicotine-stained coat and an owner with similar symptoms.

Usually the owners know only too well that their own hacking cough is a direct result of their habit but putting two and two together to account for their pets’ symptoms seems to be more difficult. To be fair, we do see this disease in animals from non-smoking households, but much more rarely.

Of course, as vets, we try not to jump to conclusions and always look to rule out other causes for the coughing, for example; infectious kennel cough, heart disease and other pulmonary conditions. This may involve chest X-rays, bronchoscopy or even trial treatment. The pathological changes caused by bronchitis (inflammation of the bronchus and bronchioles of the lungs) can be seen on a good X-ray but the cause of this inflammation can be infection, irritation (by smoke) or a combination of both.

In some cases, chronic bronchitis is manageable with medication but not really treatable due to the long-term build up of damage in the lungs.

One thing is for certain, decreasing the exposure to smoke is definitely a vital part of the therapy whether this means the owner quitting completely, re-homing the pet to a non-smoking household or perhaps more practically, only smoking outside of the house. I’m sure this will not only benefit the pets involved but also the smoker and the rest of their family.

Last year, a veterinary columnist reported that Defra were proposing to ban smokers from keeping pets but this actually turned out to be just an April Fools Day joke.

However, as the direct links to clinical disease in pets subjected to passive smoking become as clearly established as they are in human health, who is to say that such a ban isn’t on the cards in years to come.