Cyanobacteria blooms can be fatal for pets

The upper reaches of Lake Anna have been hit by algae blooms that can cause illness, prompting state officials to warn visitors against swimming and wading. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)
The upper reaches of Lake Anna have been hit by algae blooms that can cause illness, prompting state officials to warn visitors against swimming and wading. Photo from 2018. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Late summer is the “bloom” time for harmful cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, and some of Virginia’s ponds and streams are under advisories, the state Department of Health says.

From the Flannagan Reservoir in Dickenson County to parts of Lake Anna, you check where advisories have been posted here.

“Be aware of algae blooms and avoid water that smells, is discolored or where there are dead fish present,” the state warns. You can report blooms and fish kills here.

A Wilmington, N.C., couple who lost three dogs last week hours after playing in a pond contaminated with the algae have drawn national attention to the dangers the bacteria pose to pets.

“It is the most horrific death that you could ever experience. Our dogs did not die peacefully,” said Melissa Martin, the dogs’ owner, says in a video posted by USA Today. “That water was completely clear.”

Cyanobacteria are microscopic organisms found naturally in all types of water, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The blooms create cyanotoxins, which the CDC says “are among the most powerful natural poisons known” that can sicken people, pets and other animals. There are “no remedies to counteract the effects” and it’s impossible to tell if a bloom has toxins by looking at it. The blooms themselves can be tough to see.

“They sometimes stay below the water’s surface, they sometimes float to the surface,” the CDC says. “Some cyanobacteria blooms can look like foam, scum, or mats, particularly when the wind blows them toward a shoreline. The blooms can be blue, bright green, brown, or red.”

The CDC also says climate change can make the blooms worse.

 

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Robert Zullo
Robert has been winning and losing awards as a reporter and editor for 13 years at weekly and daily newspapers, beginning at Worrall Community Newspapers in Union, N.J., where he was a staff writer and managing editor. He spent five years in south Louisiana covering hurricanes, oil spills and Good Friday crawfish boils as a reporter and city editor for the The Courier and the Daily Comet newspapers in Houma and Thibodaux. He covered Richmond city hall for the Richmond Times-Dispatch from 2012 to 2013 and worked as a general assignment and city hall reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from 2013 to 2016. He returned to Richmond in 2016 to cover energy, environment and transportation for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He grew up in Miami, Fla., and central New Jersey. A former waiter, armored car guard and appliance deliveryman, he is a graduate of the College of William and Mary.