Dogs still not safe from toxic algae blooms in 2022

EWG’s annual tracking of algae bloom news reports finds more than 400 stories already this year, and further proof that toxic algae can be deadly for dogs.

According to press reports, dogs died in at least two locations – Jordan Lake, N.C., and Barton Creek, Texas – this summer because of poisoning from algae outbreaks.

A link to toxic algae is also suspected in other dog deaths, in Brook Recreational Facility, Maine, and Redwood Grove, Calif..Increasing these practices It’s still not known what killed the two dogs in Maine. Water samples did not show toxic algae, but the dogs’ symptoms did align with acute toxic algae poisoning, and toxic algae are not always detected by the time water is tested.

The Barton Creek death is particularly poignant, because it happened in part of the creek called “Barking Springs,” so named because of its popularity with dogs and dog owners.

Algae blooms – tiny organisms called cyanobacteria – are a growing problem, polluting waterways across the U.S. There are thousands of species of cyanobacteria. Some produce toxins that are harmful to human and animal health, but others don’t.

Dogs and people can be exposed to the cyanotoxins by swimming in or even just being near polluted bodies of water or drinking contaminated water.

Dogs are especially susceptible to algae toxins, because they are more likely than humans to play in and consume water with a visible algae scum. An obvious layer of film or froth on the water doesn’t always mean an outbreak is toxic – the only way to tell is to test the water.

Each year, EWG tracks news reports of algae outbreaks, with an interactive map going back to 2010. Although 2019 had the most news reports – 539 – of any year since 2010, 2022 has already seen over 400 stories about them, and the year is not yet over.

EWG has found 401 news reports written this year about potentially toxic algae blooms between January 1 and September 8. (We don’t count multiple stories about the same bloom.) That is slightly under the 414 news reports found by this point in 2021, but it’s an increase of more than 11 percent from the total we saw by this time two years ago (the pandemic likely had an impact on the number of stories written about algae in 2020).

Algae gif

Cyanobacteria thrive when the water is warmer, usually between May and October in the U.S. But they can appear any time, and out-of-season outbreaks have become more common in recent years. As the climate crisis increases temperatures and the number of extreme rain events, blooms will continue to become more frequent and ubiquitous.  

In humans, cyanotoxin exposure can cause short-term health impacts like vomiting, diarrhea and respiratory illness, and longer-term problems like liver failure and cancer. And every year, in addition to causing the deaths of dogs, they have caused fish die-offs and harm to birds and cattle.

Keeping dogs away from bodies of water with visible signs of algae blooms can help ensure their safety. Avoid water with scum that looks like split pea soup, or what looks like blue or green paint spilled on the surface. Watch local news reports and track warnings from officials at your local health department or agencies that oversee recreational areas.

The best way to protect humans and animals is to prevent these blooms in the first place. Since agriculture is a major source of the phosphorus and nitrogen that feed algae blooms, farmers need to implement many more conservation practices on their fields. Increasing these practices would lower the amount of nutrients running off farms, getting into water, and causing these harmful algae outbreaks. 

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