Toxic algae and your pet

Gloria J. Towle, Special to The County
5 years ago

We would like to thank everyone who stopped by our booth last weekend at the Trash & Treasure Show at The Forum. It is always wonderful to visit with folks who have adopted their pet from us and hear the happy ending stories that they love to share.

Toxic algae has been a problem in several states in recent months. Although there have been no confirmed cases in Maine, it doesn’t hurt to educate yourself on the importance of being aware.

According to an article last month by the BDN’s Aislinn Sarnacki, blue-green algae is a type of photosynthesizing bacteria called cyanobacteria; it does exists in all Maine lakes but is harmless in low concentrations. While these algal blooms are more common in southern states, they also occur in Maine, especially as bodies of water warm in mid-to late-summer.

It is certainly alarming to hear of recent cases in the Southern states where this toxin caused the death of several dogs that were swimming in a pond.

Sarnacki’s story quoted Ai Takeuchi, a veterinarian at Lucerne Veterinary Hospital in Dedham. “I don’t know of any cases in Maine. I did ask some of the other veterinarians, and they said sometimes they’ve suspected cases along the coast, but there are no confirmed cases we’re aware of.”

Takeuchu said illness associated with algae exposure can come on very quickly. Dogs can begin having symptoms 10 to 30 minutes after drinking the water. Symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhea, lack of coordination, seizures and excessive drooling. Within an hour, your pet can lose consciousness, then, as it progresses, some of the their vomit or diarrhea will turn bloody.

There is no antidote, she said, but if caught early, a dog might be saved through decontamination procedures and blood or plasma transfusions. “But who can get to a veterinary hospital within 30 minutes?” she said. “That’s what’s scary about it. It’s up to the owner to get the dog to vomit and rinse the dog off and get it to a vet facility. Most of the time it’s fatal.”

Sarnacki also interviewed Scott Williams, executive director of the Lake Stewards of Maine, an organization that monitors Maine’s lakes with more than 1,300 volunteers. “This is a problem that should be taken very seriously, but at the same time, people shouldn’t be pushing the panic button,” Williams said. “There’s typically a very direct relationship between how clear the water is and the concentration of algae.”

Williams added that relative to the rest of the nation, Maine is “in pretty good shape,” and that the state historically has had some of the clearest and cleanest lakes in the U.S. Williams advised that blue-green algae is fairly easy to spot. De nse growths of it turn water cloudy green, blue-green or brownish-green. Someone standing chest-high in a lake on a clear, sunny day should be able to see their feet. If they can’t, an algal bloom may be present. The nose may be an indicator too — algae blooms might smell bad.

So if you and your pup are heading to the lake for a refreshing dip, just be aware of the water’s condition. Since algae may gather at the shoreline, pet owners need to be aware.

Visit the Central Aroostook Humane Society or check out our Facebook Page! Please be responsible: Spay and neuter your pets.

Gloria Towle is the secretary and a member of the board of directors of the Central Aroostook Humane Society.