For duck hunters and their dogs, wading through mucky water is part of the experience, but one type of “muck” can be especially dangerous for four-legged hunting partners – harmful algae blooms (HAB). A HAB may look like foam, scum or paint floating on the water and be colored blue, bright green, brown or red. This season, if the water appears suspicious or there is decaying algae on the shore, hunters are urged to avoid contact and keep their dogs away. Dogs that swim in or drink water affected by a HAB or eat dried algae along the shore can become seriously ill or die.
Blue-green algae are really a type of bacteria called “cyanobacteria,” which occurs naturally in all of our waters. Under the right conditions, the algae can rapidly increase (bloom) and produce toxins. Although HABs typically begin in May, they can occur through October or later. HABs generally coincide with longer days and warm water temperatures and often flourish in nutrient-laden waters. However, dead algae can wash up on shorelines and in marshy areas and persist for long periods – posing a risk to dogs that eat or drink the algae or ingest it while licking their fur.
Dogs are usually exposed to the toxins by drinking the HAB-affected water. However, they may still be exposed if they walk on, roll in or eat decaying algae along the shore or retrieve a bird with algae on its feathers.
The signs of illness in dogs usually occur within 30 minutes of exposure and include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, convulsions, difficulty breathing and general weakness. If your dog has ingested algae, or has any of these signs after exposure, contact your veterinarian immediately as HAB poisoning can quickly lead to death.
People may also become ill after contact with algae-produced toxins. Symptoms vary, depending upon the type of exposure (e.g. direct contact, ingestion, inhalation) but can include rash, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, sore throat and headache. If you, or your dog, come into contact with algae, rinse the area with clean, fresh water.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) samples publicly-accessible bodies of water for cyanobacteria when the agency is alerted to a potential HAB. When a HAB occurs, KDHE, in cooperation with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism and other lake managers where appropriate, responds by informing the public of these conditions. KDHE does not sample private bodies of water such as farm ponds or livestock watering tanks.
For the most up-to-date list of waters in Kansas currently experiencing HABs, or to report a suspected HAB not currently listed, visit www.kdheks.gov/algae-illness. Hunters and the general public can also access current lake conditions by calling 1-855-HAB-LAKE (1-855-422-5253).