A Fredericton veterinarian is urging people to keep their pets out of shallow, warm waters containing blue-green algae after a dog became ill while swimming in the St. John River on Saturday.
Dr. Colleen Bray said the dog died within minutes, before arriving at her clinic.
“When I saw this dog I thought, ‘I want this to be the only one,“’ Bray said. “I don’t want to see more this weekend or at all this summer, I want people to be aware.”
Three dogs died last summer after exposure to toxic substances produced by cyanobacteria, a type of blue-green algae, after swimming in the St. John River.
The algae has not been confirmed as the cause of Saturday’s death, but Bray said the sudden symptoms — starting with vomiting and tremors and rapidly leading to death — are similar to previous cases.
Bray said the dog on Saturday had appeared to be normal and died within 20 minutes of its symptoms appearing.
Samples from the dog have been sent to a lab to determine a cause of death, though it could be weeks before results are back.
In the meantime, Bray advised pet owners to err on the side of caution and avoid stagnant water in hot and sunny conditions, as dogs can ingest blue-green algae from swimming or by picking things up from a riverbank or beach.
“In hot sunny conditions that are favourable to the algae growing, it’s a better-safe-than-sorry situation in my opinion,” Bray said.
New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health issued an advisory on June 27 warning people to check bodies of water and shorelines for the algae that often blooms in warm weather.
Dr. Cristin Muecke, the province’s deputy chief medical officer of health, said Monday that people should check recreational water before entering.
“If you see anything or smell anything unusual, it’s best not to go in the water. We recommend that you don’t swallow recreational water. You should rinse after getting out, and don’t go in if you have any open cuts or sores,” she said.
Muecke said there’s no greater concern about the St. John River than any other body of water in the province.
“You can also check our website to ensure if there have been any previous experiences with blue-green algae in that water body,” she said.
Not all blue-green algae blooms are toxic, but experts advise treating all blooms as if they are. Bray said symptoms, which also include salivation and signs of neurological change, can materialize with an otherwise healthy animal within 10 minutes of entering water.
Jim Goltz, manager of New Brunswick’s veterinarian laboratory service, said the algae can sometimes can appear brown, different shades of green or even red.
Goltz said there are a few things you can do to ensure dogs stay healthy at the beach.
“Make sure your dog is well hydrated before you go to the beach. Give it nice clean water in a clean bowl and make sure that it drinks that water well so that it’s not thirsty before going around the water,” Goltz said.
“It’s also important to keep dogs under strict supervision when they are with you at the beach. Make sure they don’t eat mats of vegetation. Those mats can often concentrate toxins of algae,” he said.
Muecke said adults or children exposed to the toxic algae can also become ill.
“If exposed to blue-green algae you could get skin, throat or eye irritation. That might last a couple of days. If you ingest the water you may experience gastrointestinal symptoms,” she said.
The dog that died Saturday entered the water from an island in the river in the Fredericton area. Goltz said a crew will examine the area.
— with Holly McKenzie-Sutter in St. John’s, N.L.
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