Dog owners beware of slimy blue-green algae
After reported dog death, MPCA warns pet owners to avoid algae-laden waters
Last weekend, Brock Tatge and his family, who live on Prairie Lake in Sherburne County, were enjoying a beautiful Sunday on the lake when their dog, Copper, suddenly became very ill. Copper had been fetching his tennis ball from the lake, one of his favorite games.
“We noticed that Copper went on shore, began vomiting and panting very hard, and just looked very sick,” Tatge said. “I carried him to my truck and brought him to the vet’s office.” Sadly, Copper’s condition deteriorated and he died at the veterinarian’s office.
While the cause of Copper’s illness has not been confirmed, the veterinarian who examined him believed that he became ill after ingesting toxins from blue-green algae.
Video: Prairie Lake blue-green algae awareness
If in doubt, stay out
If you are a dog owner, be sure to check water conditions when dogs are playing near lakes or slow-flowing streams. Blue-green algae “blooms”, like the one on Prairie Lake, have a thick, cloudy appearance that can look like green paint, pea soup, or floating mats of scum. Some, but not all, species of blue-green algae contain potent toxins that can be deadly to dogs, livestock, and other animals within hours of contact.
If possible, keep your pets away from algae-laden water entirely. If your dog does go into water with heavy algae growth, hose it off right away, before it has a chance to lick itself clean. Animals become ill when they ingest the toxins, so preventing them from drinking affected water or licking toxins from their coat is key to preventing illness.
If you are concerned that your pet has been exposed to harmful blue-green algae, take the animal to a veterinarian immediately.
What causes blue-green algae?
Blue-green algae blooms can occur anytime during the summer, though they are normally associated with warm weather and low rainfall. Algae are a natural part of the ecosystem, but under certain conditions, algae populations can “bloom” with dramatic growth. Most blue-green algae are not toxic, but there is no way to visually identify whether a particular bloom contains toxins that are harmful to people or animals.
Algal blooms develop when lakes contain excessive levels of nutrients such as phosphorus. The best way to prevent them over the long term is to reduce the amount of nutrients that run off into lakes from fertilizers and organic materials like leaves and yard waste. Once a bloom has developed, there is no way to correct it. Blooms often come and go quickly, so the best option is to stay away from the water until rainfall, wind shifts, or cooler temperatures disrupt the algae’s growth.
The best way to prevent algal blooms over the long term is to reduce the amount of nutrients that run off into lakes from fertilizers and organic materials like leaves and yard waste. Once a bloom has developed, there is no way to correct it. Blooms often come and go quickly, so the best option is to stay away from the water until rainfall, wind shifts, or cooler temperatures disrupt the algae’s growth.
Human deaths from exposure to blue-green algae are extremely rare, since the unpleasant odor and appearance of a blue-green algal bloom tend to keep people out of the water. If people do come into contact with toxic blue-green algae, they can experience skin irritation, nausea, and eye, nose, and throat irritation. People should never swim in water if they suspect a blue-green algae bloom.
For more information
Find out more on MPCA's webpage about blue-green algae blooms.