This entry is long overdue, but the topic is always relevant. Many people have become concerned about radiation since the terrible disaster in Japan last month; I believe the dietary steps we take  to address these concerns are important not only immediately following a crisis, but all of the time. Like it or not, radiation is a part of our lives now, and we do well to address it dietarily on an ongoing basis, not *just* when facing an increased level of exposure.  The same holds true for our dogs; beyond the foundation of good diet and avoiding unnecessary exposure to household and garden chemicals, veterinary drugs and cigarette smoke (to name a few) we can add herbs, foods and supplements to further support the body. In this entry I will discuss a few of these additions, and how one might safely and effectively utilize them for dogs. The nice part is, all of them can be used as part of your total natural care strategy, safely and  supportively, radiation concerns or not.

For starters, the first thing we think of for human use is iodine, and so many are turning to kelp to supplement their diets.

To clarify, let me quote the outstanding herbalist Sean Donahue on the human uses of iodine:

“Radioactive Iodine 131 is a byproduct of nuclear fission and is be released in the event of a meltdown or possibly in the event that the fuel rods have degraded and fission products are carried with the steam vented from one of the reactors. Iodine 131 has been detected in the area around the Fukushima plant.
Fortunately for those of us in North America, the half-life of Iodine 131 is 8 days, and radioactive material will likely take a week to be reach our west coast if indeed it is carried that far. But there is still some threat of radioactive Iodine exposure for west coasters and certainly a more substantial threat for those in and closer to Japan.
Because the thyroid takes up Iodine, and Iodine 131 is highly unstable, there is a large risk of thyroid cancer from exposure to Iodine 131. The best way to minimize the Iodine 131 uptake is to provide the thyroid with large amounts of Iodine 127. Standard procedure in the event of a nuclear disaster is to distribute Potassium Iodide to people in affected areas. And Potassium Iodide will certainly do the job. (But be careful to make sure you aren’t overdoing it!)”

Donahue goes on to say  that  it might just be preferable to use food to up your iodine intake – seaweed, seafood, and fish all offer significant levels of iodine – and I do tend to agree, although fish  contains a lot of contaminant and we don’t want to overdo it. If you do use a supplement, it’s important to know how “clean” it is, and how much iodine is in it. This is exactly the problem I have with canine supplements; many kelp products are contaminated with heavy metals and other ocean-borne toxins, and to make it worse, they don’t state the iodine content on the label.    I would suggest being very careful in which brand we choose, and no one with thyroid disease should just start taking seaweeds or other forms of iodine.

This is going to be another long entry, so for brevity’s sake here is just one article regarding the potential contaminants in kelp. This is not to create fear but to make you aare of the importance of choosing your brand of kelp carefully.A little googling will turn up a lot more by way of reference, if you’re interested.

For dogs, the same holds true. Brand, and stated iodine content, are crucial.

In all my home made diets, I recommend using a kelp for  insurance that iodine levels are in the optimal range. It can be challenging to calculate just how much iodine is in a diet, as the content varies widely according to many factors – so much so, that most nutritional software doesn’t even GIVE us the levels. I supplement prudently, and always with  great care as to what brand and how much. Please note here that I am talking about supplementing a home made diet UP TO the Recommended Allowance range. I do not recommend adding kelp to kibble (assuming your dog is eating in the range of recommendation for his weight and activity level).  Kelp is not my preferred means of supporting the canine system through periods of higher than average radiation exposure. Too many complications arise with it’s use, and we have other means to help the body handle the stress. If you are going to use it,  here are a few I use and recommend:

NOW kelp states the iodine content and comes in a loose powder, so mixing in to food is simple.

I also like Life Extension’s version here:

Packing a full 1000 mcgs of iodine into one capsule,  these are suited to the diets of larger dogs who may need this much weekly.

NOTE: to calculate how much iodine your dog actually needs, take his weight in kilograms to the power of 0.75, and multiply by 29.6. That’s the RECOMMENDED ALLOWANCE per day. And to find the 0.75 number, simply use your computer’s calculator set to  “Scientific”. The function you will use looks like this x^z. But if that’s too much math for now, let me make it easier.

I prefer chlorella and spirulina to kelp, by FAR, as a method of supporting the body under stress. Kelp is important to add to home made diets, to ensure adequate levels of iodine.   Too much can cause your dog problems. Let’s take  a look at the So-called Supergreen foods – Chlorella and spirulina. I heartily support these for all dogs, not just  the ones with radiation exposure – my own get a teaspoon of Earthrise spirulina every other day, and chlorella in rounds, two or three times a year.   And again, as radiation is something we all need to be conscious of, from television and computers and X-rays to name a few sources, I feel adding one of these foods is appropriate for all dogs. My only qualifier is of course, if for any reason your individual doesn’t tolerate them – of course, you won’t go on giving a supplement that creates the dreaded “dire rear”. My suggestion is, start small and build up. You can use a teaspoon a day for a larger dog, a half teaspoon for a medium sized (40 – 50 pound_ individual, and start the little guys on a quarter teaspoon.

Here is some more reading on spirulina and chlorella, for those of you who like to research. The University of Maryland site is a great resource.

Planetary Herbals, Michael Tierra’s brand and Earthrise  are two brands I have used and come to trust over many years.  My preference is for either or both of these algae, instead of the kelp. Like kelp, algae supplements can be contaminated, so use a topnotch product. But the benefits of the “Supergreen foods” are far-reaching, include detoxification, immune support and inhibition of cancer cell formation (Messonnier, Preventing and treating Cancer in Dogs). Highly recommended.

Next, I would recommend increasing fiber, at least for a short time. As discussed in the last entry on carbohydrate, fiber helps to remove multiple toxins and byproducts from the body as well as supporting colonic health. You might consider adding rice bran, ground flax, or a few tablespoons of well cooked lentils to your dogs food bowl. Try a small amount, if you are already using a kibble or home made diet with balanced fiber content; if your dog is on a carb-free raw diet, use a little more. Personally, I would use vegetarian diet for several weeks following exposure, but I know that’s not for everybody. The addition of some glutenfree fiber, a mix of soluble and insoluble, can be an excellent choice too.

Selenium is another addition to consider.  Supplementation is a little tricky because selenium is a required nutrient with a “SUL” (safe upper limit) and we don’t want to overdo it. Like iodine, selenium can be hard to calculate with certianty in the diet, because foods have such a wide range of levels. I’ve used selenium for over a decade in moderate doses, for dogs with both heart disease and cancer- by moderate I mean up to 100 mcg per day above and beyond the Minimum Requirement. That’s a pretty conservative dose, I know a whole lot of holistic vets who go WAY higher. But for short term use, after radiation exposure, I might go 100 mcgs over the RA.

To find your dogs RA for selenium, take that number again – the body weight in kilograms to te power of 0.75, and multiply by 11.8. That’s the optimal range for one day. Conversely, you could amp up the foods that pack the biggest punch of selenium; Brazil nuts, salmon, brown rice. More on selenium here:

With the selenium, or even if you are not using it,  a natural source Vitamin E is a good idea. The full-spectrum varieties are superb, but much more expensive; there are numerous choices available now. I generally add 100IU for a small dog, 200 for a medium and 400 for large or giant, but again, I have known vets to use easily twice that level. My own preference is  for moderation, especially when we are discussing preventive therapies. Whatever you decide on E, make sure your brand is a natural source,. You will know this because it either states it upfront, or the natural type is d-alpha tocopherol and the synthetic, dl-alpha tocopherol. Knowledge is power, make your choices with confidence.

I often say to clients who are facing a number of choices, all of which could work,  that all I can ever do is state what I would be doing if the case at hand were, in fact, one of my own dogs.  Without question, I would increase vegetable matter if I was concerned about radiation. For me, that would mean potassium-rich butternut squash, small amounts of cooked leafy greens like chard and spinach, carrots, green beans and cruciferous veggies like broccoli – provided my dog did not have a thyroid issue. I’d add a little olive oil daily; a little cooked lentil and ground flax seed; some spirulina/chlorella (both are great but if I had to choose one, for this purpose I’d use chlorella).

I’d add shiitake mushrooms, or better yet, a blend of several types such as this one:
Herbally, I recommend stinging nettle, above all, but cleaver’s, milk thistle and burdock can all play a role. More on all of these in an upcoming herbal entry.

But the bottom line is this; how much exposure has your dog actually had? I prefer the protocols I develop to reflect the risk and seriousness of the condition.  That said,  there is no downside to adding fiber, green foods, a round of milk thistle,  a little extra Vitamin E and selenium – not if your dog  tolerates them, I have used all of these with countless cases professionally,as part of an overall holistic care package – with superb results.

Lastly, CoEnzyme Q10 is a potent fat-soluble antioxidant, which means it helps to reduce cellular damage from free radicals in the body. COQ10 supports the cardiovascular system, contributes to gum health and offsets toxicity when a dog is undergoing chemotherapy. It’s safe, powerful and a great addition to any senior’s supplement plan.  In acute situations I use with higher dose C and E,  dose range is wide, from 2.2 to 22 mgs per per kg BodyWeight, daily. When I use the higher end I divide the dosage. and in prevention I  generally suggest around 5 mgs per kg.

As always consult your vet about any supplements you’re thinking about adding – certain medications may contraindicate their use, and  he or she should know what  your dog is taking at all times. If I can clarify anything in this article – such as doses – don’t hesitate to ask.