Toxic Algae in Lakes Kills Dogs

by Mary Haight on October 8, 2009

Toxic Blue Green Algae

Toxic Blue Green Algae

Your Springer Spaniel’s brain is screaming, “jump in the lake, jump in the lake, oh boy oh boy, I get to jump in the lake…lemmee go, lemme go now!” But before you unleash your dog, take a look at what toxic algae in lakes, ponds, and waterways looks like.  It can kill your dog.  It’s called blue green algae and is a result of nutrient (phosphorus,etc) run off from farms creating an imbalance in the water’s chemistry.  It sometimes looks almost black and green, and in other places even red blooms appear according to a report from the news editor at K9 Magazine (who also gets the photo credit) I’ve had the unwelcome experience of having this scourge present in the ten acre pond behind my house.  I will never forget the unbelieveable stench, compounded by dead fish. Not even the geese would pay a visit that year. And the guy repairing the roof wanted to run away screaming.

Reports surfaced in September that the waterways of the Upper Midwest have been covered with this toxic mess. Dog deaths have occured in Oregon, Minnesota, and Wisconsin where people also reported sore throats, rashes, eye irritations according to Robert Imrie‘s AP report. Minnesota has had algae in a normally very clean lake in the NE which caused respiratory problems, and Washington State has banned recreational activity at some lakes. 

People have been literally sickened by the smell. Our animals often serve as canaries in the coal mine for a host of environmental ills. “Aquatic biologists say it’s a problem that falls somewhere between a human health concern and a nuisance, but will eventually lead to more human poisoning”, according to Imrie’s sources. Experts I contacted several years ago, in search of ways to rid the pond of this blight, voiced the same opinion.

The UK is reporting a possible count of eight dogs dead in one wooded area in Nottinghamshire, and are waiting for the toxicology report. A horse died on a beach in France this July after it fell in some algae sludge, and, as Imrie’s report reminds, China had to clean up a slimy mess last year so the Olympic sailing event could take place.

Symptoms can show up immediately in the most virulent cases as bloody vomit.  Death has occurred in a little as 15 minutes, according to the K9 Magazine report. If treated quickly, your dog may be saved, but if water has been ingested, liver/kidney failure can result later. Pack a towel in your hiking kit and wash the algae off your dog immediately. Take your dog to the vet.

Don’t let your dog drink from stagnant pools, even if they appear clear.  The really scary thing about this algae is that it can also live on the bottom of a pond and not be visible on the surface. If any vets out there have more to add, please do!

And one more thing…

Our friend John Woestendiek over at Ohmidog! has an outstanding video of the story of a therapy dog that you should’t miss.

Overland Park, KS
Overland Park, KS

Thanks for the information. Just to clarify, the source of the nutrients that feed the algae come from a variety of sources that include stormwater runoff. The application of too much fertilizer on lawns is a major source of the excess nutrients flowing into surface waters. You can help by: - Testing your soil before fertilizing - Do not apply fertilizer before it rains - If you own a pond, don't mow right to the edge, leave a buffer of plants - Picking up AFTER your dog (waste contains nutrients too) - Spread the message!

S. Trimboli
S. Trimboli

I appreciate this article about toxic algae. My six year old lab died suddenly Aug 24th, and we later found out the pond where she swam almost daily had toxic algae spores. She swam one morning, had convulsions in the evening, then died suddenly. Although the pond tested positive for these spores, nothing has been done in the neighborhood where the pond is. This obviously is a nationwide issue, and something should be done. I'm devasted to have lost my first "baby" and running partner. -S.Trimboli-Eagle, ID

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