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.
"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
A: Here's some background from Dr. Sheldon Rubin of Chicago, past president of the American Heartworm Society, to help you understand what's at issue.
"Heartworm preventatives are extremely effective and extremely safe, but still no medication is 100% effective," Rubin notes. "And many pet owners aren't 100%, either; you can forget to give the preventative, or maybe you assume your spouse did and he or she did not. If it is a pill, what if the dog doesn't swallow it, and you never notice? These things happen all the time. Heartworm preventives are most effective based on consistent dosages as directed."
So, what if treatments are missed?
"Well, at that point, then the preventative may not succeed at preventing the development of infective larvae, and soon your pet has heartworm," Rubin says. In addition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has asked veterinarians to conduct annual blood tests for heartworm.
Rubin says he understands that testing for heartworm costs money, but the price of an annual heartworm test and the monthly (or twice annual) preventative is far lower than the cost of treating a pet with heartworm. And in cats, there is no treatment.
Learn more at http://www.heartwormsociety.org.
Q: My kitten is really sick, and I'm hoping she doesn't have feline infectious peritonitis (FIP). Where can I learn more about FIP? — N.H., Minneapolis
A: Sadly, if your cat has FIP, the prognosis is not good. However, dogged feline researchers are working hard on the problem, and over the past year a lot has been learned. Dozens of medications have been tried to treat FIP, from cancer drugs to chicken soup, but nothing has worked. Polyprenyl Immunostimulant (PI), a drug used to treat cats with feline herpes (upper respiratory infection), is now being tested to treat FIP. So far, it has helped about 20% of cats with one specific type of FIP, according to Dr. Al Legendre, of the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine-Knoxville.
Legendre and Dr. Niels Pederson, director of the Center for Companion Animal Health at the University of California School of Veterinary Medicine-Davis — both icons in veterinary research, will speak about recent findings related to FIP at "WINNing the FIP Fight," a seminar and dinner, hosted by the Winn Feline Foundation (nonprofit supporter of cat health research), June 23 at the Hyatt Regency Reston, in Reston, Va. The $45 cost benefits the Winn Feline Foundation's Bria Fund, which supports FIP research.
Learn more at http://www.winnfelinehealth.org, or call (856) 447-9787. Also, there's good information on FIP at Pederson's site, http://www.sockfip.net; and researcher Dr. Diane Addie's site, http://www.catvirus.org.
Q: Are the Scottish Deerhound and Irish Wolfhound really two different breeds? — N.P., Cyberspace
A: That's a good question because the dogs do resemble one another but they are two distinct breeds. In February, a Scottish Deerhound won the Westminster Dog Show. Deerhounds were originally bred as hunting dogs. Today, Scottish Deerhounds do require a good daily sprint, but are couch potatoes. Despite their size (up to about 100 pounds), they're good apartment or condo choices.
The Irish Wolfhound is nearly as tall (about 30- to 32-inches) as the Scottish Deerhound, but fuller, and weighs a tad more (up to 125 pounds). Though once bred to hunt wolves, Wolfhounds only require a daily sprint but are overall more sedate indoors than your average terrier. Due to their chase instinct, stray cats who wander into the yard could be in trouble. Sadly, Irish Wolfhounds typically live only six to nine years, Deerhounds may live a year or so longer.