How Dangerous Is Radon For Your Pets?

Radon is a radioactive gas that can cause cancer. It’s dangerous because it’s invisible and tasteless and can infiltrate a home relatively quickly. It is a leading cause of lung cancer, next to smoking. According to the EPA, lung cancer causes roughly 21,000 deaths a year. Drunk driving causes 17,000. Radon is quite common throughout the US. It comes from a natural radioactive breakdown of uranium in rock, water, and soil, which then gets into the air. It comes from the earth and the water and seeps in through cracks in the foundation, walls, or joints. As a result, basements and crawl spaces are the most common areas of the home affected by radon. Not only will you want to protect yourself from radon, but what about your pets? 70% of US households have a pet. Our furry friends are more than companions in life — they are family. This article will explore radon and its effects on yourself and your pets. There is something you can do about this noxious gas. 

What is radon poisoning?

Radon poisoning is the term for when exposure to high levels of radon does damage to the body. Radon is not visible to the human senses, and its effects on the body have no symptoms to watch out for. When you breathe in radon, the gas gets into the lining of the lungs and releases radiation over a long time. Radon poisoning alters the cells and builds cancer over time, specifically lung cancer. Early warning signs of lung cancer can be coughing blood, chest pains, and difficulty breathing. These are all reasons to contact a doctor immediately.

How common is radon? 

Radon is found throughout the United States. It’s estimated that 1 in 15 homes is estimated to have an elevated radon level. Most of the northern USA has high radon levels, while only a few states (Louisiana and Florida) are not a concern. That said, radon maps can be misleading. Areas with low radon may have hot spots, putting single homes in “assumed safe” areas at high radon exposure. It’s recommended that all homes be radon tested at least once a lifetime, but ideally every two years.

Does radon affect your pets?

Radon affects pets just like it does humans. Most of our pets spend the majority of their time indoors. If your pet especially likes to spend time in the basement for your pet’s safety, you absolutely should test for radon. Even beyond that, pets are small. Their lungs are tiny, and it takes less radiation over time to do more damage. They also tend to explore the world through scents. While they also can’t smell radon, they constantly sniff around the home floors, which could be putting radon directly into their lungs. Canada even has a notable public awareness campaign about this subject, entitled “the Bark-Side of Radon.” 

Why is radon dangerous for pets?

Pets are small, and so are their lungs, meaning their lungs can be damaged much quicker than human lungs. Like humans, they don’t show symptoms of radiation poisoning until they’re already sick. This can include fever, coughing, a lack of appetite, abnormal swelling, breathing troubles, vomiting, and more. If radon is trapped indoors with your pet, it becomes a hazardous substance for your furry friend. It’s especially problematic if your pet prefers the basement, where radon is most likely to convene. It’s estimated that radon is responsible for 20,000 deaths a year. Radon can be dealt with, and a checkup at the vet can ensure your pet’s health is top-notch. 

Why are pets more sensitive to radon exposure?

The decaying radon particles get trapped in your home, where your pet spends most, if not all, of its time. If your home has high radon levels, every time you leave, you lessen your exposure. But how often does your pet leave? If you have outside dogs, then your worries will be minimal, but if you have a bedroom in the basement and a pet likes to spend time down there, this is where radon strikes worst. Cats love to hang out in cool cellars or hunt around in crawl spaces if they can get there. Radon seeps up from the ground, so these home areas are affected first. If you have a fish tank at home, this can be an area that attracts airborne pollutants and collects and concentrates them. You won’t notice symptoms until the problem is severe. If you own multiple pets and all show signs of an illness, that may point to a radon issue within your home.

The symptoms of radon in pets

Symptoms of radon poisoning can be difficult to detect. You might not see any signs for years. General symptoms include fever, coughing, lack of appetite, difficulty breathing, excessive vomiting, and abnormal swelling. Below, we’ll get into more details depending on your animal companion and what you can do about it.

Symptoms of radon in dogs

Consult your vet or specialized oncologist to have your dog tested for radon poisoning or cancer. Dogs affected by Radon may experience malignant tumors, epidermal carcinomas, and skin masses. A dog with cancer caused by radon will (in general) have the following symptoms: Coughing, hacking, abnormal swelling, fever, breathing troubles, lameness, and a loss of appetite.

What to do if these symptoms appear

The scary fact about radon is that these symptoms may appear when it is too late. However, if you do catch it early, you can try various treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy.

Symptoms of radon in cats

Cats can show several behavioral problems when affected by radon. Lung cancer in cats can be misdiagnosed as asthma. These cats tend to cough without producing any phlegm. Their symptoms can appear in the form of lost weight, coughing blood, lameness, lethargy, and loss of appetite.

What to do if these symptoms appear 

Much like with dogs, you will need to see a vet immediately if any of these symptoms appear. Treatments can involve oral medication, surgical removal (or reduction) of tumors, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and pain management. Cancer treatments are improving as research is done, and cats have more options than ever.

Symptoms of radon in other pets

It’s not just cats and dogs that can get sick from radon. Others include small rodents, such as hamsters, guinea pigs, and mice. Rabbits and birds are also susceptible. Much like the others, if you notice anything out of the ordinary, such as lethargy, vomiting, loss of appetite, and difficulties breathing, you need to get your pets checked out.

What to do if these symptoms appear 

With any symptoms out of normal behavior, it’s essential to take your pets to the vet. Treatments may vary depending on the animal, but your vet will know the best course of action to take and will lay out your options for you and your pet.

General safety and precaution measures

You can take general safety precautions to protect yourself from radon poisoning. Radon awareness worldwide is increasing, and new buildings have more protections in place.

Proper ventilation 

Natural ventilation occurs in all homes to some degree. Open doors, windows, and vents on the lower floors regularly increase ventilation with the outside air. This will help the radon dissipate, but this solution is only helpful while the doors and windows are open. Once they are closed again, the radon will return to its original levels.

Heat Recovery Ventilators increase ventilation by introducing outdoor air while it provides heat or cooling. This is another helpful way to lower radon within the home, as that outdoor air helps it dissipate. These are most effective if used to heat basements where radon congregates.

Radon mitigation system 

The best radon mitigation systems, such as soil suction, prevent radon from entering your home. This draws the radon from the soil below your home and sends it into the air through an escape pipe, where it can be safely diluted. There are a wide variety of these methods, based on what type of home you own. Basements will use different tactics than raised homes with crawl spaces, but the general concept is the same. Suck the radon away from your home and disperse it safely into the air above the house.

Repair cracks and fill gaps

Since radon enters the home through cracks and gaps within the foundation or walls, sealing those gaps is a great way to reduce the gas. This is the most effective and cost-efficient of the general safety precautions. While this seems ideal, sealing alone may not cover all areas radon enters the home, which is why this advice should be included in a variety of measures.

Radon inspection

What is radon testing?

There are two ways to test radon: actively and passively. Since radon rises from the ground, these tests are taken from the home’s lowest level. A passive test takes activated charcoal, which absorbs the radioactive gas, and sends it for testing. There are kits you can buy, but their placement can significantly change the test results, so a professional is a wise idea.

Active tests involve a powered meter, which monitors the radon levels and how they change over time. If you integrated a radon mitigation system into your home, this most likely came packaged with the system.

What is a safe radon level?

This is a bit of a trick question. A safe radon level is no radon, but there are acceptable standards that minimize harm. The natural amount of radon outside is 0.4pCi/L (picocuries per liter of air). If the radon level is over 4pCi/L, it’s recommended to take immediate action to clear the radon levels. A measurement between 2 and 4 is something to monitor and still recommended that action be taken. Below 2 is considered acceptable or a reasonably safe radon level.

Why do you need a radon inspection?

Home tests for radon are unreliable. That’s the bottom line. Your home test kit is only as reliable as the quality of the test and where you place it. A professional may use smoke or vapor to determine air flow within your basement, so they can test where the air congregates the most. By locating the best place within the home and using tests that require certification and training, your radon inspector will have a much more accurate idea of where radon hides and how much and will come up with mitigation services that will help. While this is something you can do yourself, if you did find radon, you may need to conduct an inspection regardless to know how severe the issue is and how to fix it.

Estimation of costs 

A home test kit can cost anywhere from $15 – $40 and can be purchased from local hardware stores. A radon inspection, on average, is between $100 – $200.

Radon myths

Here are some common myths surrounding radon and why they’re considered myth over fact.

Myth 1. Radon isn’t always dangerous

This myth comes about because not all scientists agree on radon’s effects. One main test conducted in 1995 has fueled this myth and has been greatly criticized over the last 20 years. Radon is the second biggest risk of lung cancer, right behind smoking. Not only has this been regularly discovered as the mitigating factor in lung cancer among people, but also in their pets. A pet doesn’t leave the house and doesn’t smoke. Test after test indicates radon is the main factor in these cases.

Myth 2. Radon testing is difficult

As mentioned, there are tests you can do at home. They are straightforward to conduct, and while their accuracy may not be great, they will indicate whether you have radon in your home and to what degree. More extended radon tests can be conducted, where detectors measure levels over time, but this isn’t difficult to perform.

Myth 3. Only certain states or certain types of homes need to worry about radon

Radon can arise in hot spots anywhere in the world. A specific state may have low radon levels as a whole, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t areas where their radon is high. Because it’s invisible, it’s essential to be thorough no matter where you live. Radon does not discriminate based on the type of home either. Whatever kind of home you have, if it is built above radon, it will be affected by radon.

Your and your family’s safety is important, including your furry friends (or fur babies) who keep you company. Radon is silent and undetectable by our senses, so it pays to be safe. Home kits aren’t always reliable. You get what you pay for, and while they can indicate radon, they may not paint an accurate picture. It makes sense to hire a professional and ensure there’s no radon in your home. That way, you can breathe easily.