Veterinarian Addresses Radiation Risks To Pets In The United States

Are pets in the United States in danger because of the damage at the nuclear power plants in Japan?

There is currently no radiation risk to pets in California due to the damaged nuclear power plants in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami last week, according to Michael Kent, DVM, a faculty veterinarian at the University of California, Davis, who specializes in radiation cancer therapy.

The university’s William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital has been receiving three to five calls per hour from clients inquiring about potential radiation risks to their pets should the radioactive material from Japan’s nuclear power plants cross the Pacific and reach California.

“At this point, there is no risk to pets in California stemming from radiation released from the tragedy that continues to unfold in Japan,” Kent said yesterday.

Clients are also asking whether they should give potassium iodide tablets to their pets as a preventive.

“While potassium iodide might help protect dogs, cats and other pets, as it would people, from the risks of radiation exposure in the unlikely event that radioactive iodine reaches here in appreciable levels, giving it ahead of time carries risks and would be ill-advised,” Kent said. “Side effects to pets taking potassium iodide, especially if they ingest too much, include severe and even life-threatening allergic reactions, gastrointestinal upset (vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia), decreased normal thyroid function (hypothyroidism) and damage to the heart. At high enough levels, it can cause death.”

Kent’s recommendations mirror a March 15 public advisory from the California Department of Public Health and the California Emergency Management Agency, which warned Californians to not take potassium iodide as a precautionary measure.

“The safety of all Californians is our highest priority, and we are in constant contact with the federal agencies responsible for monitoring radiation levels across the West Coast,” according to the joint statement. “We want to emphasize that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have all stated that there is no risk expected to California or its residents as a result of the situation in Japan.”

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