Many dogs enjoy nothing more than playing in the water. Unfortunately, this seemingly harmless, fun activity has proven fatal for some dogs. The culprit is toxic blue-green algae.
Extreme algae blooms have appeared in lakes in the Pacific Northwest, the entire coast of the Mississippi River and Lake Hopatcong, the largest lake in New Jersey. Blue-green algae or cyanobacteria are microscopic bacteria found in freshwater lakes, streams, ponds and other areas where brackish water can be found. The bacteria found in blue-green algae produce toxins which are harmful to both humans and animals. These toxins thrive and grow in fresh water when temperatures are warm. The algae grow into blooms which produce a blue-green color. These blooms float and get carried to the shore by wind making them easily accessible to humans and animals.
Concentrations of these blooms vary throughout the year however, hot weather causes them to grow in greater numbers. Though most algae blooms are not toxic, the only safe way to determine whether toxins exist is through testing. Therefore, all blooms should be viewed as potentially toxic and avoided entirely. Fatal poisoning can result from exposure to a very small amount of water contaminated by toxic algae.
Dogs are particularly at risk to these dangerous organisms because they swallow water poisoned with them. However, poisoning can also occur from simply swimming in infected water. After getting wet, dogs lick their fur which could result in ingesting poisonous toxins. When ingested, blue-green algae may cause neurologic or liver damage. Signs of blue-green algae toxicity include: seizures, panting, excessive drooling, respiratory failure, diarrhea, disorientation, vomiting, liver failure, and ultimately death. If your pet experiences any of these symptoms, call your veterinarian immediately.
National awareness of the dangers of blue-green algae increased earlier this month when Melissa Martin lost her three dogs, Abby, Harpo and Izzy after going swimming in a pond in Wilmington, North Carolina. Abby and Izzy, both West Highland white terriers played on the water’s edge while Harpo, a Doodle mix, splashed around in the water for about five minutes. The next day, all three died. The cause was blue-green algae. Though experts describe water affected by blue-green algae as having a noticeable appearance or odor, according to Ms. Martin the water was crystal clear.
Soon after returning home from the outing, Abby had a seizure and was rushed to the emergency veterinary hospital. After discovering Abby had visited a pond, the veterinarian advised Ms. Martin to get her other two dogs to the hospital immediately. Sadly, Izzy succumbed to the poisonous toxins in the parking lot of the hospital. Harpo began seizing as soon as he arrived inside the hospital. All three dogs died from exposure to the poisonous blue-green algae. Melissa Martin, understandably devastated, said, “I’m a very responsible pet owner. My dogs were everything to me. I would never have put them in a position to be harmed. This water looked perfectly fine.”
All 50 states have documented cases of blue-green algae. Infestation in lakes and ponds across the United States present a serious threat. Though pets infected with the bacteria can be difficult to save, early veterinary intervention is vital. By evacuating the digestive tract to prevent absorption of toxins, veterinarians may be able to prevent a fatality.
The only certain way to protect your pet from being poisoned from potentially fatal algae blooms is to prevent exposure. Do not take your pets to lakes, ponds or rivers to play. It is not worth taking a chance by possibly exposing your pet to potentially poisonous water that could prove harmful even potentially fatal to your pet.