When in doubt, stay out

Photo courtesy Oregon Health Authority’s Public Health Division

Photo courtesy Oregon Health Authority’s Public Health Division

Warmer weather has many people hitting the lakes and rivers with their dogs for outdoor fun.  Sadly, these days it’s become a must to first check advisories on harmful algae blooms, a condition that can cause serious illness and even death in animals and humans.

Algae blooms occur when large masses of normally microscopic plant material form on water surfaces.  Not all algae blooms are dangerous, but cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, can produce a dangerous toxin.  Additionally, despite the “blue-green” designation, toxic blooms may appear white, brownish-red or bright pea-green.

The Oregon Health Authority’s Public Health Division issues advisories of confirmed sites of blooms, but it’s vital to keep in mind that not all water sources are monitored, so it’s up to us to stay aware . . . and away from suspect bodies of water.  “It’s the same message over and over,” says Bonnie Widerburg with the Public Health Division, “If it doesn’t look right, keep yourself and your dog out.”   Cats too — five felines in Pierce County, Washington died after ingesting water from a contaminated lake.

While harmful blooms are often associated with summer and fall, conditions can occur anytime.  In fact, two advisories listed for Douglas and Jackson counties, on the South Umpqua River and Lost Creek Lake, were in effect through January.  Also, these conditions don’t just occur in the backcountry; small creeks in local parks or neighborhoods are not immune.

Be alert around any and all water; swimming in – or even running through — affected areas can cause health problems ranging from skin irritation, diarrhea, cramps and vomiting to paralysis and even death. 

According to the health department, “The most severe reactions occur when large amounts of water are swallowed.”  Always take fresh water on hikes and outings.  If your dog does get into suspicious-looking water, wash her with clean water as soon as possible and DO NOT let her lick her fur, and watch for loss of appetite, stumbling, foaming at the mouth, excessive drooling or tremors within a day of exposure.  If any of these symptoms occur, or you suspect your dog has ingested contaminated water, get her to a vet immediately. 

While these cautions may seem severe, several pets have died in Oregon and Washington from contact with harmful algae blooms.  Animals are members of the family, and their well-being is king. 


Subscribe to ongoing alerts at Hab.health@state.or.us

Washington’s Freshwater Algae Control Program
Link to Washington Advisories at Washington State Freshwater Algae Control Program