Pet owners warned of potentially lethal algae in NNY waters

2018-06-07 | Watertown Daily Times (N.Y.)

June 07--With summer comes time spent in the water, but some of the water may be too dangerous to dive into.

Harmful algal blooms, a dense populations of cyanobacteria most commonly known as blue-green algae, is showing up in increasing frequency across the state. In the right conditions, blooms can produce toxins harmful to humans and potentially lethal to their dogs.

With limited educational resources on these hazards, New York Sea Grant decided to start providing educational brochures to the public on prevention and treatment for their dogs.

Katherine E. Bunting-Howarth, associate director of the New York Sea Grant, said the brochure focuses on algal bloom effects on dogs, rather than humans, for a few reasons.

"A lot of the time we have been trying to keep people safe, but when you think about it, if you go to a lake and it doesn't look great, people aren't going to swim in it. But a dog? A dog probably will." Mrs. Bunting-Howarth said. "We decided to create a brochure that doesn't just focus on keeping humans safe and started a campaign to let dog owners know what to do and how to react if a dog ingests it or comes in contact with it."

The blooms are more harmful for dogs in the first place, according to Great Lakes Fisheries and Ecosystem Health expert Jesse M. Lepak. Not only are dogs more susceptible to jumping into a scum-filled lake, the algal bloom is potentially lethal for them.

The liver, skin or nervous system can be affected by the toxins, resulting in green vomit, seizures, disorientation or rashes. These toxins can affect other animals as well, but not as severely as they will affect dogs.

These reactions can be caused by licking their fur after being in the water or from drinking the water. Symptoms can turn lethal in less than 24 hours, and dogs should be taken to the vet immediately if they start to show any of them, according to New York Sea Grant officials.

A veterinarian at Watertown Animal Hospital, Dr. Christopher J. Jank, said he has seen dogs come in after being exposed to the blooms on "very rare occasions." When he has seen these symptoms, Mr. Jank added, it is usually later in the summer, when the weather is hotter and more humid.

Even so, Mr. Lepak said owners should avoid algal-bloom infested waters entirely because harmful and benign algal blooms look virtually identical.

Signs to look out for are "pea soup-looking water" that has a layer of a green scum. If the water you go to looks like this, Mr. Lepak said, report the location to New York Sea Grant to allow toxin testing.

Currently, there are no initiatives to get rid of the plant, but toxin testing can allow the location to be marked to warn other possible visitors.

While New York Sea Grant's brochures have recently been adopted in programs in states such as Pennsylvania and Vermont, Mrs. Bunting-Howarth said their job isn't done yet. New York Sea Grant is continuously working with researchers and communities to better understand algal blooms and how to keep the waters safe for owners and pets alike.

New York Sea Grant is online at