Melissa Martin and Denise Mintz took their dogs Abby, Izzy and Harpo to play and cool off in a pond last week in what was supposed to be a fun doggy play date. However, 15 minutes after leaving the pond, Abby, a West Highland White Terrier, began suffering from a seizure and was rushed to a veterinary hospital. After arriving at the hospital, Izzy, another West Highland White Terrier, and Harpo, a doodle, also began having seizures. By the next night, all three dogs had passed away.
“At 12:08 AM, our dogs crossed the rainbow bridge together. They contracted blue green algae poisoning and there was nothing they could do. We are gutted. I wish I could do today over. I would give anything to have one more day with them,” Martin wrote in an August 9 public Facebook post.
A GoFundMe account was also created on August 10 by Martin’s friends to raise awareness of the threat posed by blue-green algae.
There were no signs warning visitors of toxic algae near the pond, Martin told multiple media sources. She now hopes to use the donations from the GoFundMe account to make sure other pet owners are not caught off-guard.
“In an effort to raise awareness about blue-green algae that claimed the lives of 3 sweet pups we want to get signs in front of all contaminated water so that this horrific incident doesn't happen to any other pet,” the GoFundMe page reads.
According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, are microscopic algae that typically grow in fresh bodies of water. Using the sun as an energy source, the bacteria rapidly multiply in what is called a “bloom,” which is harmful to humans, a variety of animals and even aquatic plants due to the toxins it releases.
“Toxins produced by cyanobacteria can affect the kidneys, gastrointestinal tract, liver, and nervous system of people, pets, livestock and other animals. Children and dogs are the most vulnerable to the effects of cyanobacterial toxins. Dogs are especially susceptible to cyanotoxins that attack the nervous system,” the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services writes on its website.
The US Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) also notes on its website that it is not always possible to know if there is an algal bloom in a body of water, although sometimes it will leave foam, scum or algal mats on the water’s surface. In addition, toxins produced by cyanobacteria can be present in waters even when an algal bloom is not visible. The CDC recommends avoiding bodies of water that smell bad, look discolored, have scum on the surface or that contain dead fish or other animals.
If your pet comes into contact with toxic algae, the CDC recommends rinsing them with tap water as soon as possible and consulting a veterinarian. Although no human deaths caused by cyanobacteria have been reported in the US, many dogs have died after swimming in infected waters.
“Between 2007–2011, thirteen states reported 67 cases of cyanobacteria toxin-related illness in dogs to CDC. Over half (58%) of these cases resulted in death,” the CDC writes on its website.