Three North Carolina dogs died this week when they were accidentally exposed to toxic algae. After a hot day in Wilmington, North Carolina on August 9, Melissa Martin and Denise Mintz took their dogs to the park and let them swim in the pond to cool off. Before they left the park, one dog was having a seizure. Despite getting all three dogs to the vet, all three died within three hours of exposure to toxic blue algae in the pond. Martin and Mintz had no clue that the pond was thrilled with life threatening algae. The water didn’t appear slimy or have any odor.
Monday evening Melissa Martin and Denise Mintz took their three dogs for an evening walk at a popular walking trail near their home in Wilmington, North Carolina. They let Abby and Izzy, young West Highland Terriers, and their six year old golden doodle take a quick swim in the park’s pond to cool off after a long hot day. The water looked clear and cool. There were no signs posted warning of toxic algae.
Within fifteen minutes of leaving the pond, little Abby began to have a seizure. Melissa Martin and Denise Mintz thought Abby may have been stung by an insect. By the time they arrived at the vet, Izzy was seizing. While at the vet, Harpo seized and went into liver failure. All three dogs were dead by midnight. When the vet consulted the North Carolina Department of Environmental Health and other resources, they were able to pin down the cause of the dogs’ deaths to poisoning by toxic blue green algae in the pond.
Neither Martin nor Mintz would have thought that what appeared to be flower petals in the water was actually toxic blue-green algae called cyanobacteria that can be lethal to humans and animals especially children and pets. It will never be easy for them to believe that their three healthy dogs were playing happily in the park, chasing a ball and rolling in the grass. Then after a quick dip in pond, the dogs were killed by poisonous cyanobacteria either from ingesting it while swimming in the pond or licking their fur when they got out. In the days since their dogs’ deaths, Martin and Mintz have learned about this deadly and hard to detect toxin and vow to raise awareness.
Cyanobacteria is one of the oldest bacteria. Fossils have been found that are over 2.5 billion years old. These algal blooms grow in both fresh and salt water. It’s most commonly found in stagnant ponds or rives in warm weather. The bacteria photosynthesizes and grows, but it’s often too small to see. We all know we wouldn’t let our children or dogs play in murky, slimy, smelly water but that’s usually due to green algae which isn’t toxic. Cyanobacteria is extremely toxic. It prospers with sunlight, warmth and water and also by fertilizer runoff and septic tank overflows. The blooms are often difficult to detect or be determined as something that could be lethal. The toxins in cyanobacteria are poisonous and can be deadly to people and animals. They are particularly dangerous to small children and animals. Several cases of dog deaths due to the cyanobacteria have been reported over the past two decades. Signs of exposure include lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, jaundice and seizures. It depends how much exposure there is.
Melissa Martin and Denise Mintz are not the only pet owners affected by the deaths of their beloved dogs from toxic blue-green algae or cyanobacteria. There are other recent cases. There has also been an increase of reports during the past two decades. This week, four dogs died from exposure to the toxic bacteria throughout the United Kingdom. The incidents occurred in Northern Ireland, Edinburgh, Cheshire and Sussex.
Why are we suddenly hearing about the dangerous effects of blue-green algae now? The problem has been going on forever. Cyanobacteria is one of the oldest and most common bacteria. However, it’s summer and it’s been a particularly hot season for many throughout the world. This is the time that we usually hear more about dog deaths due to the toxin because it’s the end of a hot summer season. This is also a good opportunity to help spread awareness of the possibility of cyanobacteria being not obviously present in ponds and rivers throughout the world. In 2015, the state of Nebraska experienced widespread instances of the effects of cyanobacteria on dogs, livestock and wildlife. The more we know about cyanobacteria or blue-algae, the better we can protect our children and pets.
Determined to raise awareness
With the tragic loss of their three dogs, Melissa Martin and Denise Mintz are determined to raise awareness of the dangers of blue-green algae. The day after their dogs died Melissa Martin posted the message of their loss on her Facebook page and the post was shared 15,000 times. The outpouring of support has really affected her, and she is inspired to do everything she can to raise awareness about the “invisible” bacteria that can instantly be deadly to a pet or small child. While Melissa Martin would hope that more warning signs could be posted where possible blue-green algae exists. She hopes to spread awareness to the world that just because water can look clear and harmless for pets or small children, it could contain blue-green algae and is not worth the risk. In just a few days since the loss of her beloved pets, Martin’s friends have already started a GoFundMe page and have raised $5,000. In the meantime, Melissa Martin hopes to honor her dogs with stories of their love of life and their importance to her and Denise Mintz. In fact, Martin has been working on a book about her dog Harpo for some time before his death. Harpo is a therapy dog for Martin and has helped her in many ways. If nothing else, Martin hopes that anything she can do to raise awareness of blue-green algae can prevent another dog’s death.