Third-hand Cigarette Smoke and Cat Health

Third-hand cigarette smoke and cat health. Original photo: Mikael Tigerström on Flickr

Third-hand cigarette smoke may have an impact on a cat’s health. It should be flagged up, at least.

Third-hand cigarette smoke is a controversial subject. Some people say it is just the anti-smoking brigade putting out propaganda. No doubt, the people who argue this are smokers. I think, however, that third-hand cigarette smoke is at least worth discussing in respect of the domestic cat. Why?

Firstly, what is third-hand cigarette smoke? It is the minuscule, toxic substances that are deposited upon the surfaces in the home or car through smoking cigarettes. These deposits build up. They are there after the smoker has stopped smoking. It is argued that it is toxic because it contains chemicals such as lead, arsenic and cyanide.

Cigarettes do contain a huge number of toxic substances. I recall reading somewhere that there are about 4000 toxic substances in cigarettes. Cigarette smoke contains forty-three known carcinogenic compounds and four hundred other toxins.

The problem is that we don’t see them or feel the effects until very many years later. We don’t comprehend the risks and hazards. However, we do know that secondhand cigarette smoke kills people.

Although, it has to be stated that, at present, there appears to be no direct connection between third-hand cigarette smoke and the health of people and animals exposed to it.

However, I believe this potential cat health problem is worth flagging up for this simple reason: the domestic cat is particularly vulnerable to chemicals in the household because they lie around surfaces and rest on them and they are fastidious self-groomers. We know that. They lick their coats with real purpose.

I do not think it is outrageous to assume that if third-hand cigarette smoke exists, and if it does carry health problems, then the domestic cat is particularly vulnerable to this particular health problem.

The chemicals in cigarette smoke can just as easily be deposited on the domestic cat’s coat or on the surfaces upon which the domestic cat rests. It doesn’t really make that much difference. Ultimately, these toxic substances are likely to find their way upon the cat’s coat and then inside the cat.

I don’t think that very many people have even heard of third-hand cigarette smoke. Even less consider the effects that it might have on their cat companion.

My personal opinion is that although it is very hard to focus on these hidden hazards in the home, we should do it and recognise them. As mentioned, the domestic cat is particularly vulnerable and other such hazards are fire retardants in furniture and chemical preservatives and suchlike in carpets. Cats use these surfaces to rest. These surfaces will also be areas upon which third-hand cigarette smoke might be deposited.

It is my opinion that we do not, as yet, recognise domestic cat home hazards sufficiently. Cats become ill people but very often we do not know the reason why they have become ill.

A lot of these illnesses occur in the later stages of the cat’s life and it is wholly reasonable to surmise that some of these illnesses could be a consequence of the hidden hazards within the home, one of which might well be third-hand cigarette smoke.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

View Comments

  • I have never smoked but common sense would tell me not to around cats just in case it affected them in some way.
    I worry about chemicals and we always buy the eco friendly cleaners and never use them if the cats are in that room, yet it says on the container harmless to animals once dry. As we only use products not tested on animals, how do they know that?
    As Dee so rightly says it's all a mystery.
    This whole modern world and the mean or selfish way many people behave now is a mystery to me at times :(

    • This is what concerns me. No one except people like me is concerned about the hidden effects on cats of chemicals in manufactured products and in this case toxins in smoke. We certainly don't understand what is going on. Perhaps nothing is happening. In which case all well and good but we need to know.

      • Yes we need to know. Also it worries me that vets who are the ones supposed to care for animals, push those chemical flea treatments on clients, some even recommend using them monthly. How can that not eventually harm those cats? There are so many potential dangers now I don't think progress is doing the animal world much good at all.

  • Not sure.
    It seem like quite a stretch really.
    There are so many toxins that can be deposited on surfaces for cats to come in contact with; but, there are no studies as to how long these toxins remain as a threat.
    When I clorox or Lysol my counters, how long should I prevent my cats from walking all over them?
    When a guest defacates in the main bathroom toilet, how long should a cat wait before drinking out of it?
    It's all a mystery.

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