This came as quite a shock to me that there’s the chance that blue-green algae may and perhaps did kill a dog. I take my babies, Jezzie and Bruti swimming in the lakes around here, west central Wisconsin, quite often during the summer, and never considered this as a possible toxic hazard.

This case of possible toxic algae comes from Lake Tyrone, on the Hartland Township and Tyrone Township border.

“Blue-green algae, in some cases, can create some toxins,” Bolang said. “We’re doing some testing to see if that’s there. At this point, nothing’s shown up.”

The microorganisms can cause a potent smell and, sometimes, be toxic to animals and humans. The scum-like algae can be blue-green to red in color.

Signs of poisoning can start within a couple hours after first contact with the algae.

Side effects for humans include eye, ear or skin irritation and gastrointestinal problems. Smaller people and animals ingesting large amounts of the algae are more susceptible to death.

Hartland Township resident Bob Tatus might have found that out the hard way. He said his 9-month-old border collie, Vita, died last week after ingesting lake water. Tatus said Vita spent about 90 minutes in the lake, came out of the water, started salivating, vomited and collapsed at his feet.

He said a vet told him his dog appeared to have brain damage and that dogs sometimes die from blue-green algae toxicity. (Livingston Daily)

Livingston County Department of Public Health has taken water samples from Lake Tyrone and is awaiting results. Groundwater specialist Matt Bolang said there have been no indications of blue algae thus far.

“With (the) Fourth of July weekend, people are going to be flocking to the lake, and here we are, sitting on this deadly toxin,” Bob Tatus said.

Tatus sent Vita off to be autopsied and was still awaiting the results. He said that another person’s dog died recently after swimming in the lake, and some area children developed stomach cramps and other illnesses.

Samples taken from the lake Tuesday showed small amounts of one kind of blue-green alga toxin, microcystin, which can harm the liver. Results are pending on a second type, anatoxin, which affects the neurological system.

A state official said the microcystin results were below the World Health Organization’s standard for recreational waters.

That standard includes the possibility that someone in the lake might accidentally drink the water, said Gerald Saalfeld of the state Department of Environmental Quality’s water bureau.

The lake’s surface is now clear and whatever toxins might have been there are gone, said Matt Bolang, water specialist with Livingston County’s Environmental Health division.

Algae occur naturally. Some types of blue-green algae can grow and bloom in large numbers. These blooms can release toxins when they’re stressed, Saalfeld said. In 2005, health officials found an outbreak of microcystins in lakes near Muskegon. Several Minnesota lakes last summer and again this summer have suffered outbreaks.

Not all blooms are toxic, and it’s hard to tell when one becomes toxic. “Whenever you see blue-green algae, it makes sense to avoid exposure,” Saalfeld said.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alga toxins can affect animals and humans. For humans, risks include skin irritations to intestinal problems, nerve and liver damage if people are exposed to large quantities. Animals can die from drinking toxic algae, the CDC said.

Saalfeld said Vita’s death is the first ever reported to state officials with algae as a possible cause.

Tatus, who lives near the lake in Hartland Township, said he saw thick algae on the surface of the lake the night the dog swam. It looked like paint.

“I didn’t think anything of it,” he said. “No one has ever warned me about algae.”

For recreational waters, the WHO allows no more than 20 micrograms of microcystin per liter. The highest result from Tyrone Lake on Tuesday was 12 micrograms. The WHO drinking water standard is 1 microgram per liter.

Saalfeld said the lake was treated with copper sulfate, which kills algae, after the dog died. After treatment, the lake’s microcystin levels dropped to 2.2 and 0.08 micrograms in two areas.

“Had I known algae of any kind was toxic, you can be sure my dogs wouldn’t be swimming anywhere near it,” Tatus said. “And Vita, whose name quite ironically meant ‘life’ in Latin, would be alive today (Detroit Free Press)

What is blue green algae?

  • Technically known as cyanobacteria, the microscopic organisms live naturally in lakes, streams and ponds at low levels.
  • Under favorable conditions, usually in the summer, the algae can increase dramatically and bloom, creating thick mats, or scrum, on the water’s surface.
  • Between 30 to 50 percent of blooms are nontoxic, but it’s best to avoid the area until the water is tested and declared safe.

For more information: Cyanobacteria

Source: Livingston County Health Department

Obviously this is not something to be taken lightly so if you have any concerns whatsoever, better safe than sorry, find somewhere else for you and your canine companion to swim.

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