By Ketura Persellin, Environmental Working Group
Last week, Melissa Martin and Denise Mintz took their dogs – Abby, Harpo and Lizzy – for a swim in a pond near their home in Wilmington, N.C. Within hours, the dogs grew sick and died, apparent victims of poisoning from toxic algae blooms.
“We are gutted,” Martin wrote in a widely shared Facebook post. “What started out as a fun night for them has ended in the biggest loss of our lives.”
Martin and Mintz aren’t the only pet owners stricken by sudden loss. This year alone, EWG’s ongoing monitoring of reports of toxic algae outbreaks has found at least six animal deaths attributed to the outbreaks. Our map tracking algae blooms nationwide records a total of 32 reports of animal deaths since 2010.
- At Lady Bird Lake, in Austin, Tex., five dogs have died so far this month. City officials have closed a lakefront dog park, saying 40 percent of the water was covered with algae.
- In Vermont, state officials confirmed the recent deaths of two dogs caused by cyanobacteria poisoning.
- In Minnesota, officials are investigating a dog’s death.
- Since 2010, pet deaths have also been reported in Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Oregon, and Utah. And researchers suggest animal deaths resulting from toxic algae blooms are significantly underreported.
Toxic algae are actually microscopic cyanobacteria that can produce microcystins, poisonous toxins that are dangerous for people as well as animals. Among animals, dogs are most at risk because of their preference for swimming, ingesting water and licking their fur. Symptoms appear almost immediately and may include shortness of breath, muscle tremors, diarrhea and convulsions, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual.
No federal government agency keeps public records of algae outbreaks or related human or animal deaths, but our analysis shows that reports of outbreaks have increased sharply since 2010. Not all blooms are toxic, but it’s impossible for even a trained expert to identify those that are dangerous just by looking at them.
What can you do?
If you’re near a body of water that is or may be contaminated, keep your pet on a leash and far from the water. If it comes into contact with the water, rinse it immediately and call your veterinarian. If you know or suspect that body of water is contaminated, notify city officials and your local water authority. You may also want to contact this pet poison helpline.