A 2-year-old dog named Cove tragically died just 45 minutes after coming into contact with toxic algae.
Cove’s guardian Jan describes the horror of watching her dog suffer in his last moments.
“...Cove started staggering as he walked back from the lake, and by the time I'd caught up with them, he was already paralyzed.”
Jan hopes that sharing Cove’s story can help make people more aware of the dangers of toxic algae.
Cove did not go in the water, but was sniffing a dead fish around the lake. This is where he came into contact with the toxic algae.
“We are so careful with our dogs, we think about them in everything we do; we know all of the poisonous foods and plants, and were very aware of blue-green algae, but one lick of the fish was enough,” says Jan.
This blog aims to shed light on this invisible threat and share tips on how to protect your companion animals from toxic algae blooms.
Toxic Algae Blooms: A Hidden Threat
Toxic algae blooms, also known as harmful algal blooms (HABs), are becoming a serious environmental problem across the globe. These blooms are made up of algae that produce toxins harmful to both humans and animals. While the effects on human health are well documented, less attention is given to the devastating impact it can have on our beloved companion animals.
Even worse, stray dogs and cats have no protection from toxic algae blooms. Without a loving guardian, shelter, and regular source of food and water, animals are often forced to drink the toxic water with no other sources of water in sight.
What are Toxic Algae Blooms?
Toxic algae blooms are like big growth spurts of microscopic water plants called algae. These can happen naturally in both freshwater environments, like lakes and rivers, and in the ocean. But when there are too many things like fertilizers, waste water, and rainwater runoff, it can make these algae grow too much and become dangerous. These overgrown algae can turn the water different colors like green, red, or brown. Not all algal blooms are toxic, but those that are can cause serious health problems in humans and animals that come into contact with them.
Why are Toxic Algae Blooms Increasing?
There are several reasons why HABs are becoming more common, most of which can be traced back to human activities.
Nutrient Pollution: Algae, like all living things, need nutrients to grow. When excessive nutrients from sources like fertilizers, wastewater, and stormwater runoff enter water bodies, they can trigger explosive algal growth. This nutrient pollution, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus, is a major driver of HABs.
Climate Change: Increasing global temperatures, changes in rainfall patterns, and more frequent extreme weather events create conditions conducive to algal blooms. Warmer water temperatures, for instance, can increase the algae growth and extend the blooming season.
Water Flow Alterations: Human alterations to water bodies, such as damming rivers and changing water flows, can create stagnant or slow-flowing conditions that favor algal bloom development.
Impacts on Companion Animals
While toxic algal blooms pose risks to all animals, companion animals are particularly vulnerable. Dogs, with their adventurous spirits, can easily consume toxic algae from contaminated water bodies during walks and outdoor time. Cats may also be at risk if they drink from contaminated sources.
Exposure to toxic algae can lead to a wide range of symptoms in companion animals, including vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, seizures, and even death.
In many instances, symptoms can appear within minutes to hours after exposure. It's important to note that these toxins may still be in the water even if the bloom is not visible, making prevention a critical aspect of companion animal safety.
Prevention: The Best Defense
Now, to answer the question: how can we protect our companion animals from this invisible and often unpredictable danger? Here are some tips:
Stay Informed: Knowledge is power. Be aware of the areas in your neighborhood where toxic algae blooms are likely to be found. Regularly check with local health or environmental authorities for updates on water quality.
Avoid Algae-Prone Areas: If you spot an area with discolored water or a strong smell, it's best to keep your companion animal away. Even if the water looks clear, avoid areas known to have blooms.
On-Leash Explorations: Keep your companion animal on a leash during walks near water bodies, especially in bloom-prone areas. This ensures you have control and can prevent them from entering or drinking the water.
Clean Water Supply: Always provide clean, fresh water for your companion animals. This reduces the chance they'll be tempted to drink from other sources.
Post-Swim Routines: If your companion animal loves to swim, rinse them off thoroughly after every swim, even in waters that appear safe. They can ingest toxins while grooming themselves.
Taking Action after Exposure
If you suspect that your companion animal has been exposed to toxic algae, seek veterinary care immediately. Remember, these toxins can act fast, so every moment counts. If possible, try to take a sample of the water your companion animal was exposed to, as it may help in diagnosing and treating the exposure.
Collaboration for a Safer Future
While it's important to do our part, fighting toxic algae blooms is a team effort. Push for better treatment of wastewater and less use of fertilizers in your area. Support laws that aim to cut down pollution and keep our waters safe. Everyone has a part in making sure our companion animals and future generations have safe places to play.
Toxic algae blooms might be hard to see, but we can beat them. By staying alert, learning more, and taking steps ahead of time, we can keep our companion animals safe from this hidden danger and make sure they keep having fun outdoors.