Radon Effects on Dogs

By Mike Charmaine

Radon is a radioactive inert gas. It is colorless, tasteless and odorless. Radon occurs naturally in the environment. Another source of radon is radioactive decay of radium. Radon is one of the densest inert gases with its most stable isotope being found in the gaseous state under normal conditions. The gas from natural sources can accumulate in confined areas of buildings. It is also present in certain hot spring waters. Radon is considered to be a serious health hazard due to its radioactivity and can significantly contaminate indoor air quality. Pets, especially dogs, can be seriously affected from radon exposure.

Effects on Respiratory System

The main threat from radon is the possibility of inhaling the gas and its radioactive heavy byproducts (lead, polonium and bismuth) that collect in the air, which can potentially cause respiratory disorders in dogs. These decay products stick to the cells that line the passage leading to the lungs.

Carcinogenic Effects

Scientific research concludes that radon and its isotopes have carcinogenic effects on experimental animals, including dogs. Cancer is mainly caused by mutation in a cell's genes and may be a result of random mutation, genetic, chemical or toxin exposure. When radon is inhaled in combination with the decay products, such as cigarette smoke or uranium ore dust, it causes lung carcinomas like nasal carcinomas (i.e. a malignant tumor of epithelial origin), epidermal carcinomas and skin masses in dogs of either gender. Dogs exposed to paints, chemicals and urban areas are considered to have higher incidences of cancer. Typical symptoms of dogs that have radon cancer are loss of appetite or anorexia, fever, difficulty breathing, hacking, abnormal swellings, lameness and coughing.

Treatment and Precautions

Dogs who are suffering from cancer may not even show signs of illness unless the disease gets severe or is in its final stage. The diagnosis for canine cancer is therefore generally made at a very late stage and, as a result, sometimes it cannot be cured. However, if diagnosed (which is based on physical examination, blood test, biopsy, x-ray and/or ultrasound), the treatment includes surgeries, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, or chemotherapy. The veterinarian may refer the pet owner to a board certified oncologist (cancer specialist) for further tests.

As a precautionary measure, testing should be done to check the levels of radon in the house. If the house is found sensitive, steps should be taken to lower the concentrations to acceptable levels.