Yet another issue for those of us in the outdoors during this hellish heat wave and drought is the number of lakes and ponds that are sporting blue green algae, some with full fledged blooms. Blue green algae can be toxic to hunting dogs, so now when Willie and I head out in the cool ( and I use that term loosely) early morning to train, the first thing I have to do is have good look at the water. If there’s any chance that the lake or pond we are using might be beginning to experience a blue green algae bloom, we go off in search of a different place for ol’ yella dog to swim.
We all know it’s lab thing to find the stinkiest, scummiest, nastiest body body of water and bail right in. The crummier the better. That’s especially the case with Willie. He just seems drawn to anything that will result in smelly, slimy, mess. The algae issue is especially troublesome for dogs because it can adhere to their coats, and then they can ingest large amounts when licking their coats to clean themselves.
The toxins produced by blue-green algae — a type of photosynthetic cyanobacteria that isn’t related to normal algae and is found across the globe — can cause severe liver damage or central nervous system problems. Signs that your dog is trouble include, sluggishness, loss of appetite, followed by vomiting, diarrhea and seizures. These symptoms can occur as fast as 30 minutes after exposure or may appear within just a few hours. It’s possible for death to occur as quickly as an hour to a few days after an exposure. Blue-green algae exposure to the skin also has the potential to cause irritation, so dogs should be washed with clean water immediately after suspected contamination. This quick rinsing as a response will also help to remove any of the algae from the coat that could be ingested. This is some nasty stuff for dogs; unlike the bite from a rattlesnake, water moccasin or copperhead, the poisons produced from blue-green algae have no cure.
“Some of the toxins produced by blue-green algae are 20 times more toxic than cyanide or strychnine,” said Michelle Mostrom, veterinary toxicologist at the North Dakota State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Fargo, N.D. “And it doesn’t take much, with a good algae bloom, to get a lethally toxic dose.”
According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which recently issued a press release warning of the blue-green algae threat in its waters, the safest solution is to avoid areas that show telltale signs. Water with an offensive odor or with a green “pea soup” appearance, or that contains green, blue, white, red or brown scums and is either foamy or in mats or blobs, could be indicative of blue-green algae.
Our friends at University of Nebraska prepared this excellent presentation about blue green algae, complete with some very good photos that will help us to identify area where our dogs absolutely should not be swimming, training, drinking.. http://water.unl.edu/web/lakes/algaeflash
It’s not just the dogs we need to worry about. If we humans are exposed we can also suffer from skin irritations, rashes, burning, stinging numbness, and can also experience some the oh so miserable stomach and GI tract irritations and symptoms as our dogs.
Sadly it’s not always easy to be certain of exactly what type of algae is present in a body of water by looks alone. The only truly definitive way is to test the water, and that’s not an option for those of us who use public land bodies of water. My rule of thumb in conditions such as we are faced with this year is when in doubt - don’t. I have way too much time, money, and love invested Willie to risk losing him over a swim in contaminated water.
So when and your beloved canines head out this summer, eyeball that water, give it good looking over, and if you note what appears to be an algae issue, turn tail and run!