Do You Need to Worry about Radiation Effects on Your Pets?

Many Californians and residents of other Western States are growing increasingly anxious about the potential radiation cloud that may travel here from Japan. In addition to the concerns about human health, many are concerned about the welfare of their pets and are asking their

Radiation Effects and Pets


veterinarians for prescriptions of potassium iodide tablets to protect their dogs and cats.

Potassium iodide is useful in protecting the thyroid gland from radiation exposure as some of the material leaked from nuclear reactors is radioactive iodine. The thyroid gland will selectively use the iodine provided by medication instead of the radioactive iodine when it is making thyroid hormone.

Veterinarians are reluctant to provide potassium iodine for pets for many reasons. The risk of thyroid cancer from the low levels of radiation that may reach the West is minimal, and is usually a concern in adolescent children as their thyroid glands are actively growing. Potassium iodine can cause illness in dogs and cats as the dosage required for radiation protection is unknown. Side effects include vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, coughing and damage to the heart. Cats are especially sensitive to drugs and the side effects in this species may be more severe.  Finally, the potassium iodine does not protect against other types of cancer caused by radiation exposure including leukemias and bone cancers.

The best thing that we can do for our pets is the same thing that we would do for ourselves if the levels of radioactivity increase to unsafe levels. Keep pets indoors away from doors and windows. Turn off heaters and air conditioners that may draw in air from the outside. Eat and drink food and water that did not originate in areas affected by radiation.

Our thoughts are with the people of Japan and their families during this frightening time.

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Dr Jill Christofferson

Jill Christofferson, DVM is an experienced veterinary general practitioner. Her professional interests include ophthalmology, dentistry, and reproduction.

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