“Smoking to be banned in pet owners’ homes.” Although this 2010 story in the British newspaper The Telegraph turned out to be an April Fool’s Day prank, lighting up around animals is no joke. Secondhand smoke can be as dangerous to a dog's or cat's health as to a human's, according to new research at the University of Glasgow.

The study found family cats and dogs exposed to secondhand smoke can suffer from cancer, cell damage and weight gain.

Pets don't just breathe the smoke-filled air. They may also be exposed to carcinogenic particles that linger in carpets and rugs (after all, they spend a lot of time on the floor). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals. Hundreds of these are toxic and at least 70 can cause cancer.

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Felines are especially at risk, the researchers found. One possible reason: Cats spend a lot of time grooming themselves, so they probably they're ingesting more chemicals in smoke than other animals. In a University of Glasgow press release, researcher Victoria Smith said, “Our work so far has shown that cats take in significant amounts of smoke and even having outdoor access makes very little difference.”

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Clearing the smoke

Dog owners and cat owners who smoke can do several things to try to reduce the amount of secondhand smoke they expose their pets to, according to the study.

Take it outside. In dogs whose owners smoked outside, the effect of a gene associated with cell damage and cancer was lessened.

Cut back. Smoking less (fewer than 10 tobacco products per day) reduced the levels of nicotine found in the fur of cats.

Kick the habit. Of course, the most effective way to protect pets — and people — from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke is to stop smoking, according to the Glasgow researchers and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

One way to start: Go to smokefree.gov, where you'll find all kinds of information and helpful tools, from a text messaging service that will send you reminders (SmokefreeTXT) to the quitStart app, which allows you to monitor your progress, manage cravings and more.

Once your home is smoke-free, the CDC advises asking others to not smoke in your house, around your family or pets and in your car (even with the windows rolled down).

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