A harmful algal bloom looks like blue-green paint scum or thick pea soup, so it only seems natural that a dog would love to jump in it.
But that could be a lethal mistake, and state and local officials are warning dog owners to take extra precautions when pets dash for the water.
Harmful algal blooms are not actually algae, but cyanobacteria. They look like algae, but their cells can hold liver and nerve toxins that at high levels can cause adverse health effects in both humans and animals. Dogs are more at risk than humans because they tend to lick their fur, which could give them a lethal dose. It's also impossible to tell if a bloom is toxic without getting a sample analyzed at a lab, so the state encourages people and pets to avoid algae altogether.
As far as most know, Lake George has not experienced a harmful algal bloom, but several local water bodies have. Last year the following lakes had blooms: Glen Lake in Warren County, Cossayuna Lake, Hadlock Pond and Summit Lake in Washington County and Ballston Lake, Round Lake and Saratoga Lake in Saratoga County. Lake Champlain has also had blooms.
Sea Grant New York has released an updated version of a 2014 pamphlet called "Dogs and Harmful Algal Blooms" giving owners an overview of what they should do if their dog jumps into a bloom, and what happens if they get sick (pamphlet is attached to this post).
In a nutshell, if a dog jumps into an algae bloom, owners should wash it off immediately with fresh water. The animal should be closely monitored for any signs of poisoning.
"These signs can occur within 30 minutes to a few hours after exposure, depending on the size of the dog, the type of toxin, the toxin concentration and how much toxin the dog has injested," according to the pamphlet. "In severe cases, dogs can show signs of cyanobacterial poisoning within a few minutes and can die within an hour of toxin exposure."
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Symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, abdominal swelling, dark urine, reduced urine, seizures or convulsions, paralysis, excessive salivation, disorientation or depression, difficulty breathing, elevated heart rate and skin rashes.
If your dog exhibits any of these signs, the pamphlet says to seek immediate veterinary care. There are also several 24-hour hotlines for pets that are poisoned:
• Animal Poison Control Center: (800) 213-6680 or petpoisonhelpline.com, $39 per incident fee
• American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: (888) 426-4435 or aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control, $65 consultation fee
• Cornell Veterinary Emergency Hotline: (607) 253-3060
The state Department of Environmental Conservation also posts weekly updates on where suspicious and confirmed harmful algal blooms have been spotted. So far this season, none have cropped up in Warren, Saratoga and Washington counties. To keep track or to report a bloom, visit dec.ny.gov/chemical/83310.html.
— Gwendolyn Craig