HENRICO, Va. (WWBT) — Pet owners across central Virginia are on the lookout for blue-green algae after three dogs from North Carolina recently died from exposure.
The family’s three dogs died after swimming in a pond to cool off. One of the dogs was at home several hours later when it started acting strange and later began seizing and showing signs of liver failure.
“People need to know about this,” said Melissa Martin, one of the owners. “Like I said, if we had any clue this was ever a thing, we would have never come. We had no idea.”
News of the dogs’ passing has gone viral on social media as the family works to inform other pet owners about this potentially dangerous bacteria.
“I had no idea about it,” said Chris Dunn, of Mechanicsville.
Dunn was walking her dog, Dusty, Monday at Henrico’s Three Lakes Park when she found out about the North Carolina story.
“I think that is just terrible. It must be awful for the owners to lose their dogs after playing in water that has this algae,” she said.
Now pet owners all across the country are focused on keeping their pets safer than before, and are also urged to prevent the growth of algae near bodies of water by picking up after your pet.
“The [waste] left (that’s) not picked up can get into our rivers,” said Joanne Frazier, of Henrico. “So it made perfect sense.”
Officials said your dog’s waste provides a nitrogen source for algae blooms, which deplete the water of oxygen and can make people and animals sick.
It’s why Frazier urges others to pick up after your four-legged friends while on walks.
“I’ve been guilty of it myself when no one is looking and he’s at the edge of the woods,” she added. “Maybe I’ll let it slide, but after the talk with the county worker, I became more conscious of it.”
In the wake of the three deaths from North Carolina, Frazier is even more focused on keeping her dog, Deacon, safe.
“I didn’t know it was as serious as that,” she said. “It just highlights the need to be more mindful.”
According to the Virginia Department of Health, you’re urged to keep pets out of water where you may see blue-green algae blooms, foam, or scum on the surface.
At this point, there have been no reports of dogs dying from exposure to toxic blue-green algae across central Virginia, but pet owners say knowledge is power.
“I think it’s important to get that knowledge out to the public so that they understand that their dogs could be at risk if they’re going into ponds,” Dunn said.
Cyanobacteria, sometimes called blue-green algae, are microscopic organisms found naturally in all types of water. It can grow quickly, or bloom, when the water is warm, still and full of nutrients. Blooms typically happen during the summer months.
According to the state Department of Health, teams are currently investigating algae blooms out near Louisa County.
However, if your pet gets in water with a bloom, you’re told to immediately wash it off with clean water and do not let the animal lick the cyanobacteria off its fur.
Symptoms from exposure to toxic algae in pets include:
• Loss of energy and appetite
• Stumbling and falling
• Foaming at the mouth
• Excessive drooling
• Tremors and seizures
• Or any unexplained sickness that occurs within a day or so after being in contact with water.
It’s important to note you cannot tell if an algae bloom is toxic by just looking at it; some are not toxic at all. These blooms could not only be harmful to your pets but humans as well.
There is a group known as the Virginia Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force which works to inform the public if a blue-green bacterial bloom is identified that could affect human health.