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My Pet World: Radiation treatment not needed

March 29, 2011|By Steve Dale

Question: 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

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

Answer: The answer (at the time of publication) is to do nothing, says Dr. Michael Kent, associate professor of radiation oncology at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. So far, the amount of radiation wafting here from Japan has been termed "negligible" by our government.

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"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 that ultimately impact the thyroid gland, not other organs or illnesses that 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.

Q: I'm a reliable pet owner. I do use a heartworm preventative religiously when there are mosquitoes, but why do I need to test our dogs for the disease? It's not cheap to test three dogs and we're not wealthy. It seems like this is a test we could skip. Our veterinarian has not offered good enough reasoning to convince me. — B.H., Cyberspace

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