Received questions about radiation and pets for my Tribune Media Services newspaper column. Here are a few of those, and the answer I researched.
Q: I'm worried about nuclear fallout from Japan, not for our two children but our two dogs and two cats. In fact, at this moment I'm buying potassium iodide for my family online. Should I also give this to our pets? -- B.D., Seattle, WA
Q: We keep our cats indoors but are still concerned about radiation from Japan. And since our cats are smaller than we are, we're very worried they could be impacted by smaller amounts of radiation. What should we do? -- S.H., San Diego, CA
A: The answer is to do nothing, says Dr. Michael Kent, associate professor of radiation oncology at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. So far, the amount of radiation wafting here from Japan has been termed "negligible" by our government.
"I understand that people care about their pets and want to be proactive, but you might do more harm than good," says Kent.
He explains that potassium iodide should be only be taken once dangerous levels of radioactivity are detected; it's not a preventative. It may also be effective if taken after radiation exposure. However, with no impending need, the pills might be taken for far longer than necessary (if, indeed, they're ever required), increasing the risk of adverse reactions.
Like most doctors, when it comes to medication, Kent talks about risks vs. benefits. At the moment, there's no benefit for pets to take potassium iodide, and there is a risk, albeit unlikely, of a poor reaction. "There may be gastrointestinal upset, may cause a cat to not eat (which could cause a potentially fatal liver disease) and may cause hypothyroid in dogs, or even potentially death, especially if the wrong dosage is given," says Kent. "And in cats, we're not positive about the dosage."
What's more, potassium iodide only helps pets (or people) to deal with radioactive particles which ultimately impact the thyroid gland, not other organs or illnesses which may result from excessive exposure to radiation.
If you're determined to purchase potassium iodide, buyer beware (since many legitimate outlets are sold out), particularly if you purchase the product online.
©Tribune Media Services, Steve Dale