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Secondhand smoke affects pets, too

Question: Our toy poodle has a slight cough. She has had this for a couple of years. The veterinarian says she does not have any heart or lung ailments that he can find and suggests that it may be an allergy.

I was wondering if dogs can get a smoker's cough from their owners' smoking in the house. My husband is a three-pack-a-day smoker. He loves that dog and might cut back if his smoking was hurting her. _ Z.L., St. Petersburg

Answer: Secondhand smoke from cigarettes has finally gotten its day in court. Flight attendants have won a victory against tobacco companies in their suit concerning the health effects of secondhand smoke in airliners.

I think secondhand smoke has the same detrimental effects on the health of pets owned by smokers. Secondhand smoke can be the cause of chronic allergy and inflammation of our pets' lungs. This leads to damage of the airway passages in the lungs and of the alveoli, responsible for transferring oxygen and carbon dioxide to and from the body.

When these lung structures become damaged, coughing and difficulty in breathing occur. Over the long term, these changes become permanent.

Though medication may help with the symptoms associated with lung disease, this problem is preventable if the cause is secondhand smoke. In those cases in which I think secondhand smoke is a problem and I have been able to get the owner to smoke outside, I have seen real improvement in the pet's breathing.

With so many other substances known to cause allergies in our pets, adding smoke to the air just makes things worse. My advice to all pet owners who smoke is to keep all smoking outside the home or, better yet, quit altogether! The entire household will be healthier and breathe easier. _ Patrick H. Hafner, DVM, Animal Hospital of Dunedin

Help for dull coats

Question: I have heard that putting vegetable oil in a dog's food will make its coat shiny. Is there any truth to this, and, if so, how much oil would be appropriate for a 47-pound shepherd mix? _ D.O., Dunedin

Answer: Vegetable oils are rich in omega-6 fatty acids. Fatty acids are very important nutrients, necessary for healthy skin and hair. Essential fatty acids are those that must be present in the diet because they cannot be synthesized by the body.

A deficiency of essential fatty acids can impair wound healing, cause a dry, lusterless coat and scaly skin and predispose the skin to infection. Feeding a high-quality dog food should ensure proper levels of essential fatty acids.

If your dog's coat is dull and not itchy, you can try adding 1 teaspoon of corn or soy oil per 8 ounces of dry dog food (do not exceed this amount, however, without first checking with your veterinarian).

If your dog is scratching and biting at himself, you definitely should have the problem checked by your veterinarian, since a dull coat may be a symptom of other underlying skin disease. He or she may advise using a dietary supplement rich in omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in conjunction with other therapies. _ Grahame Bell, DVM, Skycrest Animal Hospital, Clearwater

Karen Ann Wilson is a certified veterinary technician. Please send questions to Ask a Vet, Pinellas Animal Foundation, P.O. Box 47771, St. Petersburg, FL 33743-7771. Because of the volume of mail received, questions can be answered only in this column.