If you are an animal lover, you know how painful it is when they pass away. Even after they’ve lived a long, full life.
It’s nothing short of heart wrenching when you sit with them in the vet’s office and watch as your dog or cat is put down with an injection following an illness or injury.
It’s the humane thing to do and you never regret your decision. But it’s the most difficult day of your entire relationship with that animal.
In fact, there’s only one thing more sorrowful. And that’s when your pet dies well before his or her time. You can sometimes prepare yourself emotionally for an elderly pet’s death. But when they pass prematurely, there’s no getting ready for it.
Ingested Poison Kills Quickly
Unfortunately, that has been the experience of some dog lovers recently. There has been a rash of deaths occurring after dogs swim or play in waters infested with toxic algae.
So far, it’s been happening mainly in Southern states. Including North Carolina, Georgia and Texas.
These dogs are being poisoned by blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria. Microscopic algae naturally occur in bodies of water, but these toxic algae blooms are an overgrowth of the algae.
It’s most likely to occur in stagnant waters in the summer. The bacteria accumulates on the water’s edge and is ingested by dogs who either drink it or lick it off their fur.
North Carolina Couple Loses 3 Dogs
In North Carolina, a couple recently took their three dogs to a neighborhood pond in Wilmington. Not long after they left, one of the canines had a seizure.
As the woman raced to the veterinarian with their Westie Highland white terrier, the other two dogs began having seizures.
One of them was a doodle mix therapy dog, while the other was another Westie. All three died within a matter of hours.
The woman wrote a Facebook post about it. “They contracted blue-green algae poisoning and there was nothing they could do,” she wrote. “I would give anything to have one more day with them.”
Canines Die in Texas, Georgia Too
Four dogs in Texas died after swimming in water containing the toxic algae. And a Georgia police dog is said to have suffered the same fate after cooling off in a pond.
Cyanotoxins produced by blue-green algae have been “killing and injuring people and animals for as long as anyone can remember.” That’s according to the American Veterinary Medical Association
In fact, one of the first reported cases of algae killing a dog occurred in 1920. So says David Dorman, a professor of toxicology at North Carolina State University.
Blue-green algae poisoning can cause skin and eye irritation, liver damage, kidney damage and neurological damage.
Vomiting and Seizures Are Common
There is more than one type of blue-green algae toxin. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Poison Control Center.
Some cause neurologic signs, while others affect the liver. The neurologic toxics act very quickly and can kill a dog within minutes.
The liver toxins can take a couple of hours to take effect. The toxin destroys the architecture of the liver and the animal dies from shock.
Tina Wismer is medical director of the Center. She said, “These animals can have drooling, vomiting, tremors and seizures before dying.”
More Warning Signs Needed
One of the problems for pet owners is that it’s not always obvious that water is infected with these toxic algae blooms. Unless signs are posted.
The North Carolina couple said the water in which their dogs played was crystal clear. Other than what appeared to be some debris from foliage.
Public health departments test water in areas known for outbreaks. But some are missed.
The couple has started a GoFundMe fundraiser to bring awareness and collect funds towards more warning signs.
Beware of the Water
So, what can dog owners do to make sure their pets don’t become victims of this horrible poison?
First, look for warning signs posted by health departments. Next, look at the water very carefully for this algae.
It’s usually bright blue or green and can sometimes look like swirling paint or scum. It might also smell like a rotting plant. But it’s not always on the water’s surface. Sometimes it gets attached to sediment or plants near the bottom.
“It is typically found in ponds and lakes, but can also be present in oceans, freshwater, damp soil, backyard fountains and even on rocks,” Wismer said.
If you believe your dogs have been exposed to this toxin, rinse them off thoroughly and then take them to a vet immediately. “But,” Wismer said, “very few animals survive after being exposed.”
Toxins ‘Are Getting Worse’
The Environmental Protection Agency said the recent increase in toxic algae blooms could be related to warmer temperatures and severe weather.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend limiting the use of fertilizers. Which can run off into bodies of water.
Larry Brand is a marine biology and ecology professor at the University of Miami. He says, “On a global scale (these toxins) are getting worse. So you get more incidences of dogs dying.”
As a general rule, the bacteria grow more in urban areas due to rainwater washing down storm drains and directly into water. But it can happen just about anywhere, especially in warmer climates.
A word to the wise – better safe than sorry. Our pets are too precious to take chances.