The Dangers of Blue-Green Algae During Summer Hunts

by Chad Love

It's the Ides of August, which means that a lot of gundog owners are getting excited about the early bird and waterfowl seasons set to kick off in a few short weeks. Dove, September teal, and early resident Canada goose seasons are just around the corner. Unfortunately, those early hot-weather hunting opportunities also bring the opportunity for your dog to come in contact with a toxic blue-green algae bloom. Blue-green algae has been implicated in dozens of dog deaths this summer across the nation, and with this season's drought and heat expected to continue into September, gundog owners need to be especially vigilant while training and hunting around water.

As I blogged earlier this month I've lost many of my usual training ponds to drought this summer, and I'm leery of what water remains. But if you are training or hunting around water, be smart, safe and choose your water carefully. Don't swim your dogs in standing or stagnant water that receives a lot of nutrient load, either through manure or fertilizer run-off. This includes cattle ponds, stock tanks and those neighborhood or housing development ponds that I'm sure many of us live around.

All those lush, green, fertilized lawns come at a heavy environmental price. And here's the thing: you can't tell just by looking at the water if it's dangerous to you and your dog. An algae bloom may be visible and obvious, or it may not, but it takes testing to determine its toxicity. There are, however, a few indicators to look out for from the Vermont Department of Health Website:

Blue-green algae blooms may look like: thick pea soup, green paint or appear a different color such as bluish, brownish or reddish green. When a blue-green algae bloom washes up on shore, it can form a thick mat or a foam on the beach. Blue-green algae is made up of extremely small organisms that are hard to pick up and hold. In contrast, if you pick up algae and it is stringy, made up of long bright grass-green strands that feel either slimy or cottony, it is not blue-green algae, but harmless green algae.

My own personal rule of thumb: If it looks nasty, it probably is, and if I wouldn't take off my shoes and walk around in it, I won't ask my dogs to.

Here's some more information on blue-green algae and its effect on dogs from dvm360.com:

Typically called a bloom, blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) is an algae overgrowth that turns fresh and brackish water bluish green in color. The algae may produce toxins that are harmful to pets (and people). The bloom or growth commonly occurs in hot weather, especially in late summer and early fall. Higher water temperatures, steady winds that concentrate the algae on a shoreline, and fertilizer runoff in ponds and lakes are known risk factors. Blue-green algae overgrowth occurs throughout the United States and worldwide, especially in warm ponds and lakes receiving runoff from fertilized fields.

"...Dogs, especially those that enjoy swimming in lakes and ponds or are used for hunting, are the most commonly affected species. Dogs with access to unmaintained backyard ponds and stagnant areas of water are also at an increased risk.

Animals that drink water contaminated with microcystins frequently show vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, lethargy, and pale mucous membranes within the first several hours after exposure. Death often occurs within 12 to 24 hours of exposure. Animals that drink water contaminated with anatoxins show weakness, lethargy, muscle tremors, rigidity, and seizures within 30 to 60 minutes of exposure. Excessive salivation may occur in some animals. Death from respiratory paralysis quickly follows the onset of signs. Treatment is limited and often unsuccessful due to the rapid onset of signs. Early and aggressive supportive care including intravenous fluids, electrolytes, and medications to control seizure should be used. Atropine may be helpful in those animals that are salivating excessively. Prevention of exposure is critical. Animals should be kept away from ponds and lakes with visible blue-green algae blooms. In small, backyard ponds, algae should be removed and discarded. Ponds and small lakes used as water sources for horses and farm animals should be fenced to prevent exposure, and alternate water sources should be provided.

Anyone had any problems with blue-green algae this summer?