Be aware of toxic algae

Dogs, like Steve and Jamie's German shorthair, Molly, love water, especially in hot weather, but dog owners need to be aware of the life-threatening danger of blue-green algae. The recent hot, dry weather provided perfect conditions for ponds, puddles or any stagnant water to grow this toxic threat.

Tori McCormick and his dog Buddy were spending a hot afternoon hunting doves. Buddy absolutely loved to retrieve the fallen birds and waited, quivering with anticipation, as the doves darted across the sky. He looked slightly crestfallen at each miss, but eagerly awaited the next shot in case a dove was hit, his head intently following the paths of the swift-flying birds.

When a dove plummeted to earth, Buddy would leap to his feet and tear out of the blind to retrieve the bird, returning proudly, tail waving, pride and excitement in his eyes. A quick pat on the head sufficed, then he’d sit quickly as if to say; “Enough of the congratulations, let’s get another one, boss!”

The area they were hunting hadn’t had a rain shower in weeks and many streams and ponds had dried up or were very low and stagnant. Tori didn’t pay much attention to the small pond 30 yards from him. He was soon to wish he had.

Tori winged a bird and it angled steeply down, landing over the dam and in the water. Buddy tore over the breast of the dam, launched himself in the air and landed with a splash, churning out through the shallow water and retrieving the dove. When he returned, Tori noticed patches of blue green algae plastered on his coat, but paid little attention to it.

Less than five minutes later, Buddy began acting ill, panting heavily at first. This was quickly followed by a white froth around his mouth, the sleek body suddenly convulsing and jerking in spasms. Tori was horrified: What was happening to his beloved pet and gun dog? Grabbing his dog, he rushed to his car, driving immediately to the nearest veterinarian.

By the time he arrived, Buddy was no longer convulsing, but was extremely weak and barely conscious. Carrying his poor dog inside, Tori told the vet what had taken place. The vet immediately guessed the probable cause of the dog’s illness, induced vomiting and pushed some activated charcoal tablets down Buddy’s throat, then put him on IVs. His coat was washed thoroughly to remove any remaining toxic material and the rest was up to Buddy.

For two days he was inert, staring straight ahead, showing no desire to move, eat or drink. The IVs kept him going while Tori prayed for his dog’s safe recovery; it was touch and go. After 48 hours, Buddy began showing some interest in life again, ate some soft food and began moving about. Buddy slowly returned to a more normal life over the next several months and is retrieving once more — but he may never be 100 percent the dog he was.

The vet speculated Buddy survived this scary brush with death because he only swallowed a small amount of the algae. Blue-green algae are so toxic they can cause death within 30 minutes if larger amounts are swallowed.

JIM AND CARLA’S English retriever suddenly became very lethargic, wouldn’t eat, laid listlessly around and became so bad they were afraid she would die. The vet couldn’t diagnosis the illness, repeated tests revealed nothing. Josie has since very slowly recovered, but she too isn’t the dog she was. Did Josie come in contact with blue-green algae in the area’s farm ponds or stagnant puddles?

Dogs are particularly open to poisoning since they lick their coats to clean themselves, even if they didn’t drink contaminated water itself. So simply walking or swimming in algae-bloom waters can be life-threatening.

Two weeks ago, I noticed an official-looking notice at Red House Lake by the swimming area. The notice was a warning to avoid any surface algae that was blue-green in color. I realized humans could be at risk from this threat, but never thought about the fact animals were in danger, too. This late summer’s hot, dry weather has been perfect for creating those pockets of warm, stagnant water this type of algae requires.

Since the toxicity level of any algae bloom varies, depending on the wind, rainfall, temperature and type of nutrients in the water, it’s virtually impossible to tell if the greenish scum is deadly or not. However, small ponds and puddles in direct sunlight can warm very quickly, becoming perfect breeding areas for toxic-algae blooms.

Dog owners need to be aware and on the lookout for any ponds, puddles and backwaters where algae grows, and if in these areas where danger may exist, keep their dogs on a leash and out of the water. If your dog inadvertently becomes covered in algae, wash them down immediately with soap and water or the cleanest water available at the moment. Carrying a small container of soap with you isn’t a bad idea and having a gallon or two of clean water in the car would be a wise precaution, just in case.

If you and your canine are enjoying an outing on a hot, dry day, carry water and a bowl with you so your dog can drink often under your supervision, lessening the odds it may drink from a dangerous area out of your sight.

The odds of your dog coming in contact with toxic algae isn’t high, but it’s a good idea to be aware the threat exists and on the lookout for any potential dangers. Hunting dogs, especially retrievers, which love water, are more at risk than others. Hopefully, the upcoming cooler weather will end the threat soon.

May you and your dog have a safe and enjoyable fall.

(Email Wade Robertson at

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