WARNING: Harmful algae blooms ahead

dog at pond.jpg

The conditions of spring and summer promote the growth of harmful algae blooms in lakes and other standing bodies of water. 

Waters affected by blooms — which often look like scum or foam and not actual “blooms” — pose a serious risk to dogs, and in fact have taken canine lives in the Northwest every year since the first reported case in 2009.

The first recorded case in Oregon happened after a dog playing in a creek bed suddenly became ill and died in Southern Oregon. At least two more dogs in the same area died during the same time period.  It is believed the animals drank pooled water containing toxic algae. 

These first known cases sparked immediate investigations, followed shortly by quickly-created campaigns to raise awareness in hopes of preventing further harm or death.

The last reported case was at the end of the 2010 summer season, when a six-month-old black Lab puppy lost his life after exposure to high algae levels in the South Umpqua River near Canyonville, OR. 

Prevention is king when it comes to harmful algae.  Once an animal gets into bloom-affected water and symptoms develop, there are few treatment options beyond supportive care. Death usually occurs rapidly, leaving owners in shock and sorrow.

Many of Oregon’s lakes are now monitored for blue-green algae blooms, and when detected, health advisories are issued by The Department of Human Services Harmful Algae Bloom Surveillance (HABS) program.  Check for advisories in effect at healthoregon.org/hab.  Pet parents can also enroll to receive an e-mail alert whenever an advisory is issued.

The HABS program also collects reports of suspected or confirmed animal illness or death due to algae.  Reporting is voluntary but veterinarians and dog owners are asked to call 971-673-0440 with any reports.

The #1 most important step everyone can take:  once you know, pass it on! 

Keep Your Pet Safe

  1. Check alerts by the State of Oregon by calling 971-673-0440 or HealthOregon.org before heading for the lake or other body of water that could potentially be affected.
  2. Be aware that algae blooms can happen anytime but usually occur in warm temperatures, often starting in May (perhaps June this year).
  3. Know that algae blooms can grow in any fresh water, including lakes, rivers, creeks, ponds and even a stagnant pool at the water’s edge.
  4. Watch for the warning signs: blooms may appear as a thick foam or scum and can be bright green, blue-green, white or brown.
  5. Only a fraction of Oregon’s fresh waters are routinely monitored for algae blooms.  If the water looks suspicious, stay out!
  6. Don’t let your pet drink or swim in suspicious water.
  7. If your dog does lick, tread or immerse in suspicious water, don’t let him lick his fur, and wash him with clean water as soon as possible.
  8. Watch vigilantly for signs that your pet is “off” in any way after water play.
  9. Symptoms develop quickly. If your dog is weak, vomiting, drooling, staggering or has convulsions, contact your veterinarian immediately.