Three dogs died hours after playing at a pond in North Carolina with blue-green algae. The owners want to bring awareness to others.
A trip to the local watering hole is often the perfect way to spend a lazy, summer afternoon.
But recently, a fun day on the water turned deadly for one North Carolina family’s beloved pets.
On Aug. 8, Melissa Martin and Denise Mintz took their three dogs to a pond in Wilmington, North Carolina. Their doodle mix, Harpo, got in the water, while the two West Highland terriers, Abby and Izzy, stayed on the water’s edge.
Later that night, the three dogs became seriously ill, with all of them experiencing symptoms such as seizures or foaming at the mouth. Even though Martin and Mintz taking their pets to a veterinary hospital, the dogs died the next day.
The cause of death was toxic blue-green algae in the pond. The aquatic plant has also killed two dogs in Texas and another one in Georgia.
What is blue-green algae?
Blue-green algae – also known as cyanobacteria – are naturally occurring
microscopic organisms that increase in density or “bloom” under certain
environmental conditions, according to the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.
Those blooms can form dense mats that appear most often as thick green, white or reddish-brown scum on the surface of the water.
They occur annually throughout Delaware on ponds and lakes of all sizes and some tidal freshwaters, according to DNREC website, especially in the summer and early autumn.
Certain strains of blue-green algae can also produce toxins, though it’s unpredictable when, DNREC said.
The best precaution is to avoid contact or exposure to water with blue-green algae blooms or scum, DNREC said. If contact is unavoidable or accidental, you should wash thoroughly after contact.
Recreational activities that may inadvertently result in swallowing or inhaling droplets of water from areas of scum should be avoided.
To date, there have been no reported cases of human or animal illness in Delaware associated with exposure to blue-green algae, DNREC said online.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful.
In some cases, like with the pond that sickened Martin and Mintz’s dogs, the harmful bacteria can be hard to spot.
“That water was completely clear,” Martin said. “You can’t even see it unless you know exactly what you’re looking for.”
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What can it do to you?
The toxins from blue-green algae won’t necessarily kill you.
Often, in humans, they cause rashes, hives and blisters, especially on lips or under swimsuits.
Less frequent reactions include runny eyes and nose, sore throat, asthma-like symptoms or allergic reactions from asthma.
If swallowed, reactions could include diarrhea and vomiting, liver toxicity, kidney toxicity and neurotoxicity.
Animals who are exposed to cyanotoxins may experience the following symptoms:
- Excessive salivation
- Staggered walking
- Difficulty breathing
- Liver failure
If your pet swallows scum-laden water, call your veterinarian.
Where has it been seen?
Blue-green algae have been known to bloom in several places in Delaware.
Signs warning of its potential dangers have been placed in the following places:
- Bellevue State Park pond
- Chipman Pond near Laurel
- Coursey Pond near Frederica
- Derby Pond near Woodside
- Garrisons Lake near Smyrna
- Hearns Pond near Seaford
- Horsey Pond near Laurel
- Killen Pond near Frederica
- Lake Como near Smyrna
- Lums Pond near Kirkwood
- McColley Pond near Frederica
- Moores Lake near Dover
- Records Pond near Laurel
- Silver Lake (Dover)
- Trap Pond near Laurel
This list may not be complete. Please check for signs before entering the water and look out for indications of an algae bloom, whether there is a posted warning or not.
How can I protect myself?
DNREC advises using common sense when near ponds, lakes and other freshwater bodies, as well as the following:
- Do not swallow water from any waterway.
- Do not swim, water ski, play or wade in areas of scum.
- Avoid scum while boating.
- Avoid exposure to water with blue-green algae scum or wear gloves, if unavoidable.
- Avoid blue-green algae areas, especially if you suffer from asthma, hay fever or allergies.
- Do not let pets or livestock drink or get into water where scum is present.
- Do not feed waterfowl in or near scum areas.
- Do not cook or wash food in pond water.
- Clean fish properly.
If you or your pet is exposed to blue-green algae scum:
- Wash thoroughly to remove all traces of scum.
- If you or your pet becomes ill after contact with pond water, call your family doctor or veterinarian.
The Detroit Free Press and USA Today contributed reporting. Jessica Bies finds the news of the moment and brings it to you with local context and perspective. What have you heard people talking about? Call (302) 324-2881 or email firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas.
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