TOXIC ALGAE: Officials urge pet owners to avoid heavy algae grow - KMSP-TV

TOXIC ALGAE: Officials urge pet owners to avoid heavy algae growth

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After a dog that went swimming in a Sherburne County lake died over the weekend, public safety officials are warning Minnesota pet owners to keep animals away from algae-laden waters.

In a Thursday release, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency shared the story of Brock Tatge, who lives with his family on Prairie Lake. The Tatge family was enjoying a Sunday on the lake when their dog, Copper, suddenly became ill after playing one of his favorite games -- fetching a tennis ball from the lake.

“We noticed that Copper went on shore, began vomiting and panting very hard, and just looked very sick,” Tatge said. “I carried him to my truck and brought him to the vet’s office.”

Copper's condition continued to deteriorate, and he later died at the veterinarian's office. Although the exact cause of Copper's illness has not been confirmed, the family's veterinarian came to the conclusion that the dog had been sickened by ingesting blue-green algae toxins.

SIGNS OF TOXIC ALGAE

The MPCA is recommending that pet owners check water conditions on lakes and slow-flowing streams where blue-green algae blooms can appear.

The blooms have a thick, cloudy appearance that can look like green paint, pea soup, or floating mats of scum. Although not all species of blue-green algae contain potentially deadly toxins, some can kill dogs, livestock and other animals just a few hours after contact.

WHAT TO DO

MPCA staff did find toxic blue-green algae mixed in with the more benign species on Prairie Lake, and they recommend dog owners keep their pets away from water with signs of algae entirely if possible. Preventing them from drinking or licking their coat is key.

If a pet has entered waters with algae, officials recommend hosing down the animal before they have a chance to lick and ingest any algae caught in fur.

Anyone who is concerned that their pet may have been exposed to harmful blue-green algae, they should contact a veterinarian immediately.

If someone is concerned that their pet has been exposed to harmful blue-green algae, they should take the animal to a veterinarian immediately.

SYMPTOMS HUMANS MAY EXPERIENCE

Although the unpleasant odor and appearance of an algal bloom will usually keep people away, swimmers who come in contact with toxic blue-green algae may experience the following symptoms:

- Eye irritation
- Nausea
- Nose irritation
- Skin irritation
- Throat irritation

Although human deaths from blue-green algae exposure are extremely rare, officials say the best option is to stay away from water with algae in it until rain falls, the wind shifts, or cooler temperatures can disrupt the growth.

HEAVY RAINS COULD CREATE LARGE BLOOMS

Although blue-green algae blooms can occur any time during the summer months, they are normally associated with warm weather and low rainfall. Yet, certain conditions can cause dramatic growth -- particularly when large amounts of rain bring high levels of nutrients like phosphorus into bodies of water.

"This year's unusually heavy rainfall has carried tremendous amounts of nutrients into Minnesota lakes," Steve Heiskary, a scientist with MPCA, explained. "If the rain slows down and we move into a period of hot, dry summer weather, we could see an exceptional number of algae blooms across the state in the coming weeks -- even in lakes that do not normally experience them."

PREVENTING BLOOMS A LONG-TERM TASK

Algae are a natural part of the ecosystem, and there is no way to visually identify whether a particular bloom is toxic. The best way to prevent blooms is to focus on the long-term and reduce the amount of nutrients that run off into lakes from fertilizers and organic materials like leaves and yard waste.

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