Beware Blue-Green Algae Blooms
Angie Untisz, DVM
Summer is here with Central Oregon’s long sunny days, and we are outdoors with our dogs as much as possible. If your dogs are anything like mine, when they get hot, they seek any water where they can cool off! Beware, some of these waters can contain hidden dangers.
Waters of shallow lakes and ponds are warmed in summer by the long days and intense sunlight. If the nutrient content is high enough, algae will bloom. We’ve all seen still water with scum/algae. Some of these algae may produce toxins that can be fatal to your dog.
What is blue-green algae?
Blue-green algae consist of a group of algae which may produce neurotoxins and hepatotoxins. The neurotoxins attack the nervous system, including the brain, and can be rapidly fatal. The only sign you may see is sudden death. Other symptoms include increased salivation, muscle tremors/seizures, and decreased heart rate. These symptoms can occur shortly after swimming in or drinking affected water.
The hepatotoxins attack the liver and often take a little longer to present symptoms which include vomiting/diarrhea, weakness, jaundice and collapse. Acute hepatocellular necrosis (liver cell death) can occur and can cause death despite aggressive supportive intervention.
Where and when does blue-green algae occur?
Algae bloom in still waters such as ponds and lakes. Still water with a high nutrient content is most at risk. All areas of the country can be affected. Here in Central Oregon, irrigation ponds, high mountain lakes, and even large reservoirs have been affected.
If traveling to a public area with lakes, you can Google “blue-green algae alerts” or check with the USDA Forest Service or BLM office in your area for alerts.
How can one tell if the algae are toxic or safe?
There are many types of algae, many of which are not toxic. However, the only way to be 100% sure is to have the water tested. In lieu of testing, you can use a few guidelines as follows:
Filamentous type algae are usually safe. Water around these algae is usually clear. If you run a stick through the algae it will drape or hang off the stick. (The algae in the pond next to my dog Butch is filamentous.)
Blue-green algae usually clump and may not even adhere to the stick. Often, instead of looking like a plant in water, it looks more like “pea soup” or like a pigment mixed with the water making it appear murky. It may be bluish green but can also be rusty, reddish or brown. You may notice dead fish or birds nearby. Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has a good site with pictures of toxic and nontoxic algae.
There can be different kinds of algae in the same pond. If you identify filamentous algae, be sure to look around for the more toxic types as well.
What can I do if my dog gets exposed?
If possible, don’t let your dog lick its coat, and rinse the contaminated water off as soon as possible. Then, even if your dog seems ok, seek immediate veterinary attention. By the time your dog exhibits signs, it may be too late. The neurotoxic effects can occur quickly but the liver effects may take longer to see. Your vet can run blood work to check for liver damage and can start immediate treatment with IV fluids, activated charcoal and liver protectants.
Keep in mind, the best treatment is prevention! As many websites advise…when it comes to algae in ponds and lakes…when in doubt, keep out!
- We are pleased to welcome back Catie Brown for the summer. Over the years Catie has worked at Cinder Rock as a veterinary assistant gaining the experience she knew she would need to become a veterinarian. She will be a third-year veterinary student at OSU this fall and is well on her way!
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- We’d like to introduce our new veterinary assistant who joined our staff in February. Sierra is from Portland, OR and moved to Central Oregon to be near her family. She is presently a student at COCC taking courses in the pre-veterinary program. Her goal is to transfer to OSU to become a veterinarian.
- More than 1.5 years after having her right ankle reconstructed, Dr. Karen is thrilled to be back competing in 3-day eventing with her homebred horse, “Turdle.” She hopes to have many fun horse adventures in the months and years ahead! She thanks everyone for the love and support she has received!!