Health officials in Canada are issuing warnings about the dangers of pet exposure to blue-green algae and are advising the public on how to prevent their pets from getting poisoned.
As reported by CTV's Your Morning, the subject became a matter of urgent concern recently when three dogs in New Brunswick succumbed, following exposure to blue-green algae.
According to the World Health Organization, blue-green algae – cyanobacteria – possess the characteristics of both algae and bacteria, but are now classified as bacteria. They have the ability to photosynthesize like plants, hence their blue-green color.
They grow mainly in calm, nutrient-rich waters, and proliferate during the warmer months, resulting in toxin-producing Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs). These can be debilitating, depending on the type of toxin and water-related exposure. Humans are affected with a range of symptoms including skin irritation, stomach cramps, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, fever, sore throat, headache, muscle and joint pain, blisters of the mouth and liver damage. Contact with water containing cyanobacterial toxins may also result in allergic reactions, such as asthma, eye irritation, and rashes. For animals, birds, and fish, exposure to high levels of toxin-producing cyanobacteria can be lethal.
Dr. Rebecca Greenstein, a veterinarian, says that some cyanobacterial blooms can look like pea soup or paint floating on the water and should be avoided at all costs. When a pet is exposed, within an hour, "you’ll see convulsions, walking a little bit strangely and they can go into breathing paralysis and die that way.” She adds that they should be taken to a veterinarian right away, even if they are not showing any symptoms. The vet will induce vomiting and administer activated charcoal.
New Brunswick is not the only province to confirm blue-green algae in some of its water bodies. Officials in Ontario and Nova Scotia have issued public advisories this summer as well, asking residents not to swim in contaminated areas in some cases. The bacteria is present in almost all lakes in Canada, says David Schindler, a professor of ecology at the University of Alberta. Last year, blue-green algae was found in 246 water bodies in Canada, according to the University of Alberta.