There is a touchy question I have to work in whenever a client brings in a pet with a chronic cough. Somewhere in between the “how long has it been going on”s and the “what medications have you tried”s I have to find a way to tactfully phrase, “Are there any smokers in the house?”
Most of the time it isn’t really that hard a question to pose. I just ask it, and get either a yes or no. I don’t ask if it is them personally who smokes, so that leaves the door open to blame the roommate, which most people do.
But, when you open the exam room door and you are immediately assaulted with the stench of stale Menthols, and the poor dog is so steeped in secondhand smoke it stays on your hands long after the exam, and when the owner shakes your hand with tobacco stained fingers, it’s pretty obvious what the answer is. I’ve found through trial and error that a direct “Your habit is killing your dog” isn’t met with much enthusiasm, but simply skirting around the issue talking about air fresheners and the risk of other airborne irritants HINTHINT is usually met with a blank stare.
Strangely enough, although the risks of secondhand smoke are well known and documented, most people haven’t yet made the leap to the fact that dogs and cats, who also have lungs and breathe the same air that we do, would also be affected.
I just read an article from the journal Tobacco Control stating “one in three of the smokers said knowing smoking was bad for their pet’s health would make them quit and about one in ten said this would make them ask other smokers they lived with to quit.” They tried really hard to make this sound positive, but I guess I’m a pessimist. 100% of current smokers know smoking is bad for their own health and it hasn’t stopped them. And this study was conducted by survey- a theoretical situation- so I’m guessing of the 1/3 who would even make the attempt, how many would actually do it?
Smoking makes me sad. I’ve watched people I love suffer a great deal for it. It’s so frustrating to see a pet suffering terrible consequences for a choice they didn’t make and have no control over, and feel so helpless. I try to introduce the topic gently, just to clarify to people, yes, smoking can do this. And does do this. Then we look at the dog, wheezing and coughing on the table, and I put my stethoscope to his chest and hear the snap/crackle/pop of chronic bronchitis, knowing that nothing I can do will really help unless the owner makes a change.
Without a change, the story is always the same. The pet comes back, as bad as ever. I’m not sure what they want me to do. The meds help, somewhat. I address the owner who is somewhere in front of me in a cloud of smoke-stench. “This isn’t going to get better unless you get him out of the smoke,” I tell him or her. And they shrug, guilty as charged. Their kids look at me with red rimmed eyes. Good luck with that, lady.
I’m a real upper today, aren’t I? *sigh* Sometimes my job is like beating my head against a wall. While coughing.