By Dr. Becker
A Jack Russell Terrier in East Hampton, New York, decided to have a drink from a pond while he was enjoying an outing with his family. Tragically, later in the day he began having convulsions and died.
Tests showed the dog was filled with cyanobacteria, deadly bacteria also called blue-green bacteria and blue-green algae. The water in the pond the dog drank from tested positive for blue-green algae, which according to news reports appeared with some frequency in the Hamptons this past summer.
Always Avoid Greenish-Colored Ponds and Lakes
Blue-green algae can be toxic to both animals and people. It can cause damage to the liver and nervous system, inflame the respiratory tract, and irritate the skin, eyes, nose and throat.
The algae was first discovered earlier in the summer in a pond and lake in Southampton. Both locations are filled with fish and fowl. Scientists point to fertilizers, septic tanks, and storm runoff as the cause of the algae.
Experts in the area warn residents of the need to understand the risk this bacteria poses. According to Christopher Gobler, a marine and atmospheric science professor at SUNY Stony Brook:
“The basic message should be, if you see a pond or lake and it has that greenish color you should keep your kids and pets away, because there is that risk.”
Prof. Gobler is researching the algae and has discovered it tends to bloom in locations where there is heat and low water flow combined with high levels of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus.
One potential solution that will be tried in Southampton in spring 2014 is introduction of a natural mineral from Australia called phoslock. Phoslock is known to absorb large amounts of phosphorus. Environmentalists hope introduction of the mineral will provide a safe defense against blue-green algae.
Cyanobacteria Toxicity in Animals
Cyanobacteria are microscopic organisms found in freshwater lakes, streams, ponds and brackish (salty) water ecosystems. The algae form blooms that give the water a blue-green or “pea soup” appearance. It looks almost as if someone spilled blue or green paint on the surface of the water. These floating blooms can form thick, dense mats that collect near the shore, which is where animals and people come into contact with them.
Blue-green algae is prevalent in the mid-to-late summer months and is most often found in nutrient-rich water. This type of blue-green algae is different from the species that is considered a superfood, in that the superfood variety is obviously toxin free and grown in a controlled environment where it’s destined for the human food market.
Not all blue-green algae is toxic, but since there’s no way to know whether a plant is poisonous without testing, experts advise that all blooms floating on natural bodies of water should be considered potentially toxic. Even minor exposure – like a dog drinking a few mouthfuls of contaminated water – can be lethal.
Blue-green algae is toxic not only to dogs and cats, but also to horses, cows, and birds. Dogs that swim regularly in lakes and ponds are at higher risk of exposure. Hunting dogs are also at higher risk due to increased exposure outdoors.
Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, blood in the stool or a black tarry stool, pale mucous membranes, jaundice, seizures, disorientation, coma, shock, excessive drooling or tearing, muscle tremors, muscle rigidity, bluish discoloration of skin and mucous membranes, difficulty breathing, and ultimately, death.
Symptoms depend on the toxin involved. Toxins that attack the liver cause blood work changes including elevated liver enzymes, low blood sugar, low protein, and occasionally abnormal clotting activity. These toxins can result in liver damage or failure and immediate aggressive treatment is necessary to save the animal.
Exposure to another type of toxins found in blue-green algae, anatoxins, results in nervous system symptoms and can bring death in minutes to hours due to respiratory paralysis.
It’s important to understand no antidote currently exists for the toxins produced by blue-green algae. Immediate veterinary care is imperative. If you suspect your dog was exposed to blue-green algae, contact Pet Poison Helpline immediately for guidance.