REGION—With reports of dogs dying after ingesting toxic “blue-green algae” having stirred a frenzy, pet owners are advised to be vigilant when visiting areas of still or slow-moving water with their animals.
According to information from the Penn State Extension (PSE), what is referred to as “blue-green algae” is actually a bacteria known as cyanobacteria which can be toxic to animals and humans.
Information from the New York Department of Health (NY-DOH) notes that cyanobacteria is naturally present in all streams and lakes, but becomes especially abundant in warm, shallow undisturbed surface water which receives a lot of sunlight.
It takes a very large quantity of cyanobacteria to build up in an area to be toxic. This is difficult to do in the northeast because it will only bloom during the hottest parts of summer, states NY-DOH.
The PSE notes instances where cyanobacteria are injurious and fatal are rare.
While not always blue-green in color, cyanobacteria does produce a strong odor and unsightly surface scum which help identify areas where it is especially dense.
If presented with an algae bloom that smells especially foul, one should avoid swimming or allowing a pet to swim in the water to be safe.
Rising off your dog after swimming in any body of water is also advised, to prevent it from ingesting other potentially harmful elements which may be present.
The dog may ingest these elements when it licks itself.
The American Kennel Club recommends keeping one's dog leashed around bodies of water, not letting it drink from ponds or other stillwater.
Signs and symptoms
According to NY-DOH, large amounts of toxic cyanobacteria can cause liver damage if ingested.
Surface exposure to the blooms via swimming can irritate skin, eyes, nose and throat, and can inflame the respiratory tract.
The American Kennel Club notes symptoms can occur in dogs within 15 minutes to several days and can include diarrhea or vomiting, drooling, weakness, disorientation or confusion, unconsciousness, seizures and breathing difficulties.
Dogs presenting as such should be taken to a vet immediately.
If you encounter cyanobacteria
Colleen Campion of the Wayne Conservation District explained that local and state officials are working to establish a system of water identification and treatment to keep dangerous levels of cyanobacteria to a minimum in Wayne County.
She noted it is difficult and expensive to address cyanobacteria because it requires toxicology reports to confirm its presence and level of toxicity.
Should residents come across foul-smelling water they suspect contains cyanobacteria, they are asked to notify one of the following:
• Department of Environmental Protection--
Rachel Carson, State Office Building, 400 Market Street
Harrisburg, PA 17101.
• Department of Health---Health and Welfare Building 8th Floor West, 625 Forster Street Harrisburg, PA 17120.
• Office of the Governor--508 Main Capitol Building, Harrisburg, PA 17120.