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Dogs playing in water.

Pet Owners Beware: Toxic Algae Bloom Hitting Area Lakes

Manzanita Lake.

Manzanita Lake. Image by Gina Clugston.

MOUNTAIN AREA — Officials across the Golden State are warning that a summer outbreak of toxic blue-green algae in area ponds and lakes could be deadly to dogs and other animals.

On its website, the California EPA (CAL EPA) is reporting that on August 14th  water samples taken from Indian Lakes in Madera County tested positive for a potential toxic algae “bloom.”

“County staff reported presence of a cyanobacteria bloom along the shorelines of the lake and covering about 50 percent of the lake,” a report noted on CAL EPA’s interactive website, which tracks the dangerous algae blooms across the state.

On June 26th, observers from Madera County’s Environmental Health Department visiting Indian Lakes reported that “dead fish are along the shoreline.”

At the time, the County recommended no swimming at Indian Lakes as health department officials are currently in the process of testing samples from the lake.

In May, observers at Millerton Lake also reported a potential toxic algae outbreak, while in June, similar algae outbreak advisories were issued for Hensley Lake and HV Eastman Lake.

In July 2018, an algae advisory was issued for Manzanita Lake.

Sharon Fitzgerald, president of the EMC SPCA, warns the algae blooms are nothing for pet owners to take lightly. “People need to be vary careful” when their animals are around bodies of water with potential algae blooms, she warned.

In most instances, when a toxic algae bloom has been confirmed, signs are prominently posted warning people — and their pets — to stay away from the water.

Pet Poison Helpline warns the blue-green algae can harm people, livestock and pets.

“While most blue-green algae blooms do not produce toxins, it is not possible to determine the presence of toxins without testing,” the helpline says. “Thus, all blooms should be considered potentially toxic. Very small exposures, such as a few mouthfuls of algae-contaminated water, may result in fatal poisoning.”

Algae occurs naturally in water but the blue-green variety, known as cyanobacteria, are called Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs).

According to health officials, toxic algae can look like foam or scum on the water’s surface. Harmful algae blooms, which can be blue, vibrant green, brown or red, are sometimes mistaken for floating paint. Their distinctive odor, while nauseating to humans, attracts animals, who can die within hours of swallowing the water.

Experts say HABs are most prevalent in the warmer, summer months. Just in the past month, toxic algae reportedly has killed dogs in Texas, Georgia, and North Carolina.

“The most sensitive individuals to algal toxin poisoning are those that ingest cyanobacteria when they are in the water,” according to the helpline. “Many times, those are dogs, since they are entering and exiting algal blooms at shorelines. So it is a good idea to keep pets out of the water when cyanobacteria may be present.”

Symptoms of poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty in breathing, and hyper-salivation.

Since algae blooms are spurred by higher air and water temperatures, officials at the EPA warn HABs will occur with greater frequency and intensity as a result of climate change.

Before hiking around or swimming in a local lake, concerned pet owners can check CAL EPA’s interactive map of HABs at https://mywaterquality.ca.gov/habs/where/freshwater_events.html.

Note: This article was updated on Aug.19, 2019 to correct an initial reporting error regarding the date the most recent algae bloom was reported at Manzanita Lake.

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