Experts warn Utah dog owners about toxic algae blooms amid fatal cases in other states

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Nationally, toxic algae blooms have been responsible for at least six dog deaths in four other states. Although none have occurred in Utah so far this year, experts said dog owners still need to be aware of how to protect their pets from harmful cyanobacteria.

Deann Shepherd with the Humane Society of Utah explained that toxic algae are microscopic cyanobacteria that can produce poisonous toxins that are dangerous to people, but even more dangerous to dogs.

“Among animals, dogs are most at risk because of their preference for swimming, ingesting water, and licking their fur,” said Shepherd.

Dr. Kate Fickas with the Utah Department of Environment Quality (DEQ) said algae poisoning impacts dogs faster and more severely because they have smaller livers than humans. Symptoms can appear within minutes or hours.

“With liver toxins, you’re going to see gastrointestinal distress, lethargy, and quick symptoms of them just not feeling well,” she said. “With neuro symptoms, you might see convulsions, seizures, respiratory issues, and/or foaming at the mouth. It’s often too late to treat and you might see your dog pass within a number of hours.”

The Environmental Working Group said they’ve recorded fatal dog cyanobacteria poisoning cases in North Carolina, Texas, Vermont, and Minnesota so far this year.

Shepherd said there’s no cure for algae poisoning and exposure almost always leads to death in dogs.

“Drinking from a body of water where blue-green algae lurks or licking it off fur can kill a dog within 15 minutes of exposure,” she said.

According to Dr. Fickas, our state is on track for the number of algae bloom advisories this year. Last year, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality reported 24 algae bloom advisories. As of Monday, there’s been 11 advisories this year, but scientists believe the state may reach or even surpass last year’s numbers by the end of September.

So how do you spot an algae bloom? Experts said it’s best to know that it can come in a variety of appearances. 

“It could look like pea sour or appear in a bright cyan green color. Sometimes, you may not even see surface scum. Another type might look like grass clippings, like someone spilled their lawn mower bag straight into the body of water. Other signs can be spilled paint and sometimes we see it in clumps,” said Dr. Fickas.

However, scientists said you can’t always tell whether a body of water contains toxins just by looking at it. Sometimes, lab test results are the only way to know for sure.

Dr. Fickas recommends always keeping your dogs leashed when approaching a body of water, until you can do a surface-level scan of the water.

“With dogs, you can’t tell them to stay away from the water. If a dog wants to get in the water, he or she is going to jump in. Dogs are also prone to chomping on these algae blooms. They might look tasty or licking their fur,” she said. “If you spot an algae bloom, give us a call at the Division of Water Quality and we’ll send someone out there right away to so we can protect pets and their owners.”

Other recommendations are:
– Don’t let your dogs wade, drink the water or eat/walk in beach debris
– If your dog goes in water suspected to have toxins, remove him or her immediately
– Don’t let them lick their fur or paws after getting out of contaminated water
– Rinse and wash them thoroughly with clean water and use a towel or rag to remove debris

Utah DEQ is currently investigating suspected cases of dog poisoning caused by algae bloom. But so far, none have been confirmed.

Before you head out to your favorite lake or reservoir, check the Utah DEQ’s Harmful Algae Bloom page to see if your destination is under a health advisory for Cyanobacteria.

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