THE BLOG

Radiation Protection for Pets: 13 Tips

03/21/2011 03:21 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Dr. Richard Palmquist Chief of Integrative Health Services at Centinela Animal Hospital, Inglewood California

Holistic and integrative doctors and veterinarians are being inundated by requests for information about the potential radiation exposure resulting from leaks in several reactors damaged by the recent tragic earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Many of us sent out advices to our clients several days ago, but since events keep developing I thought it would be useful to address this topic on a platform that could reach far more people. As it turned out, a good friend who is also a holistic veterinarian named Dr. Barbara Royal was working on the same issue, so we decided to put this together for Huffington Post readers. Radiation is a scary subject. People tend to panic when they hear that radiation may involve their family or pets. The first thing to do in such a situation is to face the actual facts and address them instead of the fear. In this present situation that is difficult because we are receiving such weak information from governmental sources and the media. We need better reporting so we can answer questions like:

  • What level of radiation is released and what type is involved?
  • Where is landfall of the radiation cloud expected?
  • What exposure of sentinel land masses has occurred and what level of radiation was noted?
  • What pathway and weather is expected?
The radiation released is a cloud of vapor and particles. Think of it as a dust cloud. One of the dusts is radioactive Iodine (I-131). This presents a danger to people and pets as it tends to be concentrated in the thyroid gland where it is a powerful inducer of thyroid cancer.

Truthfully no exposure to I-131 is safe and since many humans in the United States are relatively iodine deficient it presents the largest threat in this current event. People should start now to improve their iodine deficient state and the easiest way to do this is to ingest supplements that contain iodine and avoid foods or chemicals like bromide that damage iodine utilization.

Kelp and sea weeds are good sources. Your local holistic doctor or health food store will likely have products on their shelves that can assist you, but don't be surprised if their supplies are low right now. Seek suppliers in areas outside of the immediate pathway. In our case we take kelp tablets and were able to obtain potassium iodide tablets from a friend's family on the east coast. Potassium iodide is the preferred form of iodine for dealing with reactor accidents. It takes large doses for people (adults take 120-150 mg per day). This dose saturates iodine receptors so that the radioactive I-131 "slides" out of the body without being taken into cells. To be effective it should be present immediately before the radiation exposure. It can cause reactions in some people and should not be used without awareness of this as well as its ability to cause toxic reactions if used for too long a period. Timing is everything with potassium iodide. Seek advice of your human health care professional. We all hope that the situation in Japan is addressed and that weather patterns and rains help reduce the particulates headed towards Alaska, Hawaii and the West Coast of the United States, but since it looks like some radiation will make landfall, I hope that the following 13 points help people prepare and serve as balanced education on the subject:

  1. Think of radioactive fallout as a fine, invisible cloud of a tiny amount of dirt -- it isn't as daunting. With winds, gravity and natural dispersal, it may not even reach our shores in any quantity.
  2. The irradiated materials are particulate matter, and can be washed off many surfaces. Simply spray contaminated surfaces with water letting it run into the dirt and mother nature will take care of it. Washing off is a vital part of radiation protection.
  3. Radioactive iodine poses the most obvious risk for humans and animals. There are other radioactive molecules, but iodine can be absorbed through the skin, respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts, especially quickly in those who have an iodine deficiency. Since pets lick their skin and often have drinking or food dishes outside this presents a larger threat to them. Bathing washes off these radioactive particles before they can be absorbed.
  4. Be careful of over-supplement by using straight iodine!! It's easy to develop iodine toxicity and there is controversy over dosing in human medicine.
  5. The best way to maintain correct levels of iodine in the body is to supplement with iodine rich foods, like kelp or dulce. The requirements for an animal are not high, and they do get it in prepared foods (0.7 mg of iodine daily for every pound of dog food they eat). Many pets eating commercial foods actual get higher iodine levels than their human guardians.
  6. Try to keep your pets indoors when possible, or under shelter during the peak fallout time. This also means keeping windows closed. Later when the coast is clear (literally), you could make it up to them by taking them on a few extra walks.
  7. Find out when/if the radioactive cloud will be at its peak and then keep walks brief. So far this has been difficult. By various calculations we estimate the cloud's arrival in California somewhere between 7 and 11 days after the accident.
  8. During a walk, avoid letting the dog eat grass and other substances that haven't been washed or rained on.
  9. Hose your containers, bowls or pet toys -- anything that has been outside -- then bring them inside.
  10. If your garden produces fruits vegetables or herbs, make sure to hose everything down several times to rinse off the particles. The same applies to produce purchased at the store or local farmer's market
  11. If you have a lawn where animals run/roll around/play in (or eat, if it's a rabbit-like creature) don't forget to hose down the grass he/she runs in.
  12. Giving them a little bit of help in the form of kelp flakes to keep them from absorbing the radioactive iodine, is not a bad idea. Animals with thyroid issues should consult a veterinarian. Beware of things that antagonize iodine and reduce use, exposure and consumption of such items during the danger period.
  13. For people there is an easy way to test for iodine deficiency by using tincture of iodine and painting a little square of it on your arm and see how long it takes to disappear (ask your doctor or google the details). Kelp supplementation helps in general for all mammals (including humans).
Information is the key to properly handling dangerous situations. If we can gain access to correct and timely information then we can act sensibly and reduce both fear and disease. Feel free to share sites on this subject you feel are useful and helpful to other readers.