Our prayers go out to the victims of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. As the world watches events at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, worries about a nuclear diaster abound, and with it, fears of what radiation exposure might mean to those exposed. Several of my readers, especially on the US West Coast, have indicated concern about what this might mean for pets.
I don’t know much about nuclear energy or radiation, so I look to the experts to get my information, and among them, the consensus seems to be that the only people currently at risk are the workers at the affected plant. Nevertheless, there has been a run on radiation pills in the United States, as reported in this article on AOL News.
Jonathan Links, director of the Center for Public Health Preparedness at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, is quoted in an article on NPR.org as saying that not only do the pills offer limited protection, but the nuclear plant hasn’t released enough radiation to cause health problems in most of Japan, let alone in the U.S. In the AOL News article, Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Greg Jazcko is quoted as saying “You just aren’t going to have any radiological material that, by the time it traveled those large distances, could present any risk to the American public.”
So any fears for humans or pets appear to be based more on media hype than fact, but that does not make them any less real for those who are concerned about their pets.
The most frequent question I received from concerned pet owners was about potassium iodide, a supplement that is said to have protective properties against certain radioactive isotopes, and whether it can be given to pets as a precautionary measure. I asked a number of veterinarians for their input.
Potassium iodide should never be given to cats, it can have serious side effects. Dr. Jean Hofve, a holistic veterinarian, cautions that commercial pet foods already contain high levels of iodine. Adding the potassium iodide supplement on top of that could cause serious health problems.
Obviously, this is a developing story, but as you follow the news, please use common sense and consider the source before you panic. As with all issues affecting your pet’s health, consult with your veterinarian before giving supplements or medications.
March 17 update: UC Davis released this statement today: Pet owners cautioned against giving potassium iodide to animals
March 18 update: The VIN (Veterinary Information Network) News Service also cautions against giving potassium iodide to pets in this article: Fearing overseas radiation, Americans seek potassium iodide for pets
For information on how to help support animal rescue efforts in Japan, please read:
Photo credit CNN.com: Two women walk in a tsunami devastated street in Hishonomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, on March 15, 2011