From staff reports
A dog died June 22 after swimming in a Sherburne County lake that had developed areas of heavy algae growth, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
Brock Tatge and his family, who live on Prairie Lake between Becker and Clear Lake, were enjoying a beautiful Sunday on the lake when their dog, Copper, suddenly became very ill. Copper had been fetching his tennis ball from the lake, according to a MPCA press release.
“We noticed that Copper went on shore, began vomiting and panting very hard, and just looked very sick,” Tatge said. “I carried him to my truck and brought him to the vet’s office.”
Copper’s condition deteriorated and he died at the veterinarian’s office. While the cause of Copper’s illness has not been confirmed, the veterinarian who examined him believed that he became ill after ingesting toxins from blue-green algae, according to the MPCA.
It was the first such animal death reported this year, according to Alexis Donath, MPCA spokesperson. She said they typically get one to two reports each summer of a dog dying after suspected exposure to blue-green algae.
The MPCA advises pet owners to check water conditions when dogs are playing near lakes or slow-flowing streams. Blue-green algae “blooms” have a thick, cloudy appearance that can look like green paint, pea soup or floating mats of scum. Some, but not all, species of blue-green algae contain potent toxins that can be deadly to dogs, livestock and other animals within hours of contact.
The MPCA analyzed a water sample from Prairie Lake and found that most of the algae in the sample was not blue-green algae. However, some blue-green algae was found in the sample, Donath said.
She said algae blooms are caused primarily by excess fertilizer — especially phosphorus — in a lake.
“This year’s unusually heavy rainfall has carried tremendous amounts of nutrients into Minnesota lakes,” said MPCA scientist Steve Heiskary. “If the rain slows down and we move into a period of hot, dry summer weather, we could see an exceptional number of algal blooms across the state in the coming weeks, even in lakes that do not normally experience them.”
Blooms can pop up quickly and, in some cases, go away quickly, Donath said. Rainfall, wind shifts or cooler temperatures can all disrupt algae’s growth.
Blue-green algae blooms can occur anytime during the summer, though they are normally associated with warm weather and low rainfall. Most blue-green algae are not toxic, but there is no way to visually identify whether a particular bloom contains toxins that are harmful to people or animals, according to the MPCA.
If possible, the MPCA advises dog owners to keep their pets away from algae-laden water entirely. If animals do enter water with heavy algae growth, they should be hosed off right away, before they have a chance to lick themselves clean. Animals become ill when they ingest the toxins, so preventing them from drinking affected water or licking toxins from their coat is key to preventing illness.
If someone is concerned that their pet has been exposed to harmful blue-green algae, they should take the animal to a veterinarian immediately.
If humans are exposed to toxic blue-green algae, they can experience skin irritation, nausea, and eye, nose and throat irritation, according to the MPCA. People should never swim in water if they suspect there’s a blue-green algae bloom.
The MPCA reports that human deaths from exposure to blue-green algae are extremely rare, since the unpleasant odor and appearance of a blue-green algal bloom tend to keep people out of the water.