By Tyler Shoberg, Associate Editor
Caution: Look Before Your Retriever Leaps
Blue-green algae bloom could kill your dog
If the water looks like the photo at the top, don't send your dog out.
Retriever training, water and hot summer days go hand-in-hand. But according to wildlife officials in the United States and Canada, when it comes to lakes, ponds and rivers, it's best to look long and hard before your dog leaps.
The reason: blue-green algae, a toxic sludge with the potential to form lethal blooms that, if ingested, can sicken and kill both humans and animals. And the way this summer is shaping up, a perfect storm is brewing for the deadly scum.
"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."
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 — typically cause dramatic liver damage or central nervous system problems. Physical signs, which include sluggishness, appetite loss, vomiting, diarrhea and seizures, can show up between 30 minutes and a couple hours, Mostrom said. Death can occur within an hour to a few days.
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.
And unlike the bite from a rattlesnake, the poisons produced from blue-green algae have no cure.
"There is no treatment for exposed animals, other than supportive treatment," Mostrom said. "And there is no specific antidote."
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.
When the conditions are right — heat, little to no rainfall, stagnant water, and available nutrients from farm or yard fertilizer runoff — blue-green algae can grow in an explosion referred to as a "bloom."
"With wind action, you'll see that the bloom will be concentrated on the leeward side of a body of water," Mostrom said. "Usually, it occurs after a period of stable weather, followed by a system moving through."
If exposure is suspected, get to the nearest emergency veterinary office as soon as possible.
Even then, it might be too late.
"You've got a lot of money, time, and companionship invested in that dog," Mostrom said. "But you can't look at a body of water and say, 'Yeah, that's blue-green algae.' I wouldn't bet my life on color, alone."
Moral of the story: If there is any doubt, keep your retriever out.