Nova Scotia veterinarian warns dog owners about toxic blue-green algae in lakes

HALIFAX – Nova Scotia dog owners should keep an eye out for blue-green algae in lakes and ponds this summer after two dogs died after possible exposure to the bacteria, said a veterinarian at the clinic that treated the fatally ill animals.

Juanita Ashton of Elmsdale Animal Hospital said one of the two golden retrievers was dead and the other was suffering from seizures and diarrhea when they arrived at the clinic north of Halifax.

The cause of the disease has not yet been confirmed, but she said symptoms were consistent with exposure to toxic blue algae blooms.

“The big risk for dogs is that they usually ingest a lot of water when they swim,” she said. “If you ingest enough of it, it’s potentially fatal.”

Residents of the Grand Lake area near Enfield, NS, were advised of the potential danger in the water after a person was hospitalized and two dogs died last week.

Blue-green algae produce toxins that pose a number of health hazards to humans and animals.

Dogs can develop mild rashes or suffer from organ failure and death, Ashton said.

If a dog ingests enough bacteria, vets can offer supportive treatments, but “it’s very difficult to get these dogs into normal health,” she said.

While the older dog had died before arriving at the clinic, the younger pup was extremely ill, Ashton said.

“It was so devastating,” she said. “They were just the best pet owners. They were very responsible. “

The Nova Scotia Department of Environment said people with wells 30 meters or less deep and within 60 meters of the lake should not use their well water for drinking, bathing or cooking until further notice.

A department official said the water will be tested for pesticides, organic materials and petroleum hydrocarbons, but the toxin produced by blue-green algae is the most likely cause.

“A picture was taken the first night … and it’s this pretty bright color, which suggests it’s blue-green algae,” Deputy Environment Secretary Julie Towers said in a briefing Friday, adding that it is after an unusual warm sequence of days.

The frequency and size of the blooms could be related to climate change, she said.

“Like any other plant, algae react to heat. We’re getting warmer. We’re seeing the effects of climate change, ”said Towers. “I suppose we will have more flowers in more locations.”

For dog owners, Ashton said, it’s important to keep an eye out for bright green scum on lakes and ponds, especially during a heat wave.

According to the Nova Scotia Department of Environment website, poisonous blue-green algae can range in color from bright neon green to turquoise, olive green, or even red.

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Flowers can look like a fine cut of grass in the water or a large foam carpet on the surface. The algae can swim on the surface or float in the water.

“When the days are hot, not windy, the bacteria like to grow on the water,” Ashton said. “It’s a big, huge lake in Grand Lake, so it won’t be all over the lake, but it could be on the shore.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on June 13, 2021.