As the conditions continue to heat up in our county, we tend to find ourselves loading up the hounds and heading for the water. While we want to enjoy every bit of the beauty that surrounds us, we also need to keep in mind the dangers lurking about. We, here at HPS, have gathered some information we would like to refresh in your minds in an attempt to keep our little friends safe!
So, as it turns out, the blue-green algae we’ve come to know and fear is actually not algae at all, but bacteria now being called cyanobacteria. Single-celled, these organisms obtain energy through photosynthesis and are able to produce oxygen. Their production of oxygen causes the levels in lakes to frequently fluctuate, which can be harmful to other organisms that need specific oxygen levels in the water. It is actually thought that cyanobacteria are responsible for the Great Oxygenation Event which introduced oxygen into our planet’s atmosphere! Unfortunately, in addition to producing oxygen, cyanobacteria also produce potentially deadly poisons known as cyanotoxins. When exposed to these toxins, organisms can become very sick and in many cases even die.
Though cyanobacteria can produce a variety of dangerous chemicals, two to be aware of are anatoxin-a and microcystins. Both of these can be dangerous for you or your pet. Microcystins are hepatotoxic, which means they cause damage to the liver, while anatoxin-a effects the nervous system. Of the two, anatoxin-a is less common, but exponentially more dangerous and can result in death within the hour. It’s no surprise that anatoxin-a is also known as Very Fast Death Factor. Below is a chart of symptoms:
|Nervous system damage|
Though potentially deadly, not all cyanobacteria produce toxins. Unfortunately, it is difficult to determine if a bloom is toxic by sight alone, therefore it is highly recommended that you simply do not allow your pets or children into water containing any floating algal blooms. Should your dog head into water you think may be contaminated, the recommended course of action is to wash the dog thoroughly in clean water and immediately seek veterinary guidance. Sadly, there is no known antidote for dogs that have ingested toxins from cyanobacteria, though immediate veterinary care may help.
Cyanobacteria usually grow in areas with calmer waters such as ponds, lakes, stagnant pools, and rivers. When the conditions are just right, cyanobacteria can reproduce at a very fast rate, forming large concentrated groups called blooms. Strong blooms can greatly reduce visibility for other organisms that rely on sight to find food or partners and increase the amount of toxins in the water to dangerous levels. Contributing factors for blooming conditions are rising water temperatures, low flows, animal and human waste as well as fertilizer runoff.
So, why was cyanobacteria once thought to be algae? Because it looks very similar of course! Being familiar with the difference between the two can help save the life of you and your pet! Regular algae is usually stringy or fibrous, resemble plants, and have a skunky odor. Cyanobacteria looks more like slime or paint on water, and usually has a foul odor like petroleum. We have provided some photos on the right to help you identify some of the different types of cyanobacteria.
Keeping these things in mind may save lives! So, we hope you have fun, be safe and enjoy the waters!
Photos above were taken as part of a 2015 University of California Berkeley project to monitor Eel River cyanobacteria. For more information on the project please visit http://eelriverrecovery.org/algae.html.