Although the kids are heading back to school, the mild weather will likely last at least another month in Upstate New York. And since swimming is the fourth most popular activity or sport in the U.S., you might be inclined to spend one more weekend by the bay or at the lake. But if you do, you’ll want to be careful — especially if you have dogs. That’s because several bodies of water in the Rochester area have been found to feature the dreaded blue-green algae bloom that’s been observed in areas all over the nation. And if you let your pup take a dip, it could be disastrous.
If you have an aquarium at home, you’ll know that having a single turbo snail for every one to two gallons of water and a hermit crab for every five to 10 gallons of water will help keep the tank algae free. But unfortunately, it’s not that easy to keep natural lakes and other bodies of water free from algae growth. What’s more, these blooms can be extremely dangerous. In many cases, they can prove toxic. When cyanobacteria is able to overproduce in a body of water, that bacteria can cause algae blooms that are harmful to both humans and animals. Conditions need to be just right to produce these results (e.g., warm water, sunlight, and an abundance of nutrients are typically required), but it’s an occurrence that’s become extremely prevalent over the last few years.
This summer, blue-green algae — which tends to look like scum, foam, or even paint spilled on top of or in the water and is often accompanied by a musty or earthy odor — has been spotted all over the nation. And since 95% of Americans live within an hour’s drive of a navigable body of water, residents are starting to pay closer attention to the appearance of their local lakes. Within our region, harmful blue-green algae blooms have been spotted in Ellison Park (specifically in their dog park, which is understandably a worrisome discovery for pet owners), as well as along Canandaigua Lake, in Irondequoit Bay, and in Hemlock Lake (which is the primary source of Rochester’s tap water).
Although algae isn’t always toxic, most people would rather be safe than sorry; since the symptoms of toxic algae bloom exposure for humans include rashes, allergic-like reactions, skin and eye irritations, gastroenteritis, nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps, respiratory issues, and even cardiac issues, paralysis, and liver failure, it’s often better to simply stay away than to take a risk. For four-legged friends, the consequences of exposure can be even worse.
Although symptoms will vary depending on how long a dog swam in contaminated waters or how much they ingest, dogs may lose their fur, experience long-term health problems, or die as a result. That’s a fate that many poor pups have suffered — and sadly, it’s one that comes on quickly. Numerous pet owners throughout the U.S. took to social media and news outlets to warn other dog parents about the dangers of taking their dogs to swim at local lakes after their furry best friends “crossed the rainbow bridge” as a result of their exposure to the toxic blooms.
Although most dogs benefit from daily aerobic exercise and a 30-minute walk, experts say that those outings should not include a dip in the water. Instead, keep dogs leashed and do not allow your dog to drink from ponds or lakes. Dogs can actually be attracted to the foul taste of these blooms, so you’ll need to be vigilant about protecting your pup. The symptoms of exposure can start to appear anywhere from 15 minutes to several days after the fact, so you’ll want to watch for weakness, disorientation, drooling, diarrhea and/or vomiting, seizures, breathing difficulties, and other warning signs. If you observe any of these, contact your veterinarian immediately or bring your pet to an emergency vet. In some cases, toxins can be flushed out if the condition is caught early enough.
It’s certainly a scary time for dog owners, particularly those who love adventuring with their pups and who don’t want to deprive them of a well-deserved swim. But with any luck, the cooler weather of autumn will make the need to do the doggy paddle a bit less likely — and in the meantime, you’ll want to stick to a kiddie (or puppy) pool in the backyard.