Let’s do what we can to keep our animals safe from blue-green algae

Onset of signs of poisoning can be quick, which is why dead animals are often found close to the body of water where they ingested the algal toxin.

Over the years with increased phosphorus and nitrogen getting into bodies of water, there have been more blue green algae blooms and that means more contact with cattle, as well as dogs, birds, wildlife and, of course, people.

With cattle, most of the time we get sudden death but also neurology cases.

Wildlife, including birds, can be a sentinel species when it comes to consumption of contaminated water. If dead wildlife are found especially by a body of water suspicions are raised. This is where wildlife officers, producers, their veterinarians and the medical profession can provide surveillance for each other.

The main focus is on the large publicly used bodies of water and Alberta Health Services posts notices about bodies of water where blue green algae has been spotted at ahs.ca/news/bga.aspx.

The toxin dissolves fast, so testing water is often not fruitful and you find nothing following post-mortems of cattle. It is usually diagnosed by ruling out other causes. Watering cattle from tanks using solar powered pumps really reduces the likelihood of an incident.

These blooms, as they are called, can leave a scum on the water and appear like grass clippings or globs on the surface. They smell musty or grassy. Wind can often concentrate these blooms to one side of a dugout or pond.

In the cattle business we worry about (although rarely see) multiple deaths. Sometimes by the time a water sample has been taken, the toxin has already dissolved, so it is hard to prove what happened. However, affected cattle are usually found very close to the water source with little sign of struggle, much like water hemlock (a poisonous water plant) weed poisoning.

If your dog is swimming in this type of algal bloom, it is best to wash them off because they can get poisoned by self-grooming. Dogs of fishermen have got the condition from consuming fish or fish entrails that have come from affected lakes.

Onset of signs can be quick, which is why dead animals are often found close to the body of water where they consume the algal toxin. Some of the more common toxin cases are hetatotoxic (meaning they damage the liver.) Other rare ones affect the brain and nervous system. Signs are non-specific but include salivation, staggering and coma.

With cattle, the outcome would be sudden death. The dose would determine the signs and I think with cattle there would have been considerable consumption.

Humans can get rashes, red sore eyes, swollen lips and other symptoms simply from external exposure to the algal blooms. Wash well after coming in contact with water that may contain blue green algae.

Authorities on both the agricultural and human health sides want these incidents reported. You can call Health Link at 811. This way both sides can help each other with heightened awareness and reporting where any suspect blue algal events are happening.

The Office of the Chief Provincial Veterinarian wants algal poisoning as well as other toxins (such as lead poisoning) reported within 24 hours. There are other reportable and notifiable diseases on their list and this would include things such as anthrax, tuberculosis, rabies and Johne’s disease, to name a few.

Reporting suspect blooms and opens blue green algae advisories is a great example of One Health in action and how everyone benefits. One Health recognizes the interconnections between people, animals, and plants, and encourages joint actions. It is a small world with humans, production animals, pets and wildlife always in relative proximity.

If you have public health concerns, you can always call 811 and it is a great resource to turn to. And again, Alberta Health Services has up-to-date advisories on sites where the algal blooms have been reported and confirmed.

For example, at the end of June, lakes such as Stoney, Skeleton, Garner, Baptiste and Lac La Biche were all listed as having recent algal blooms. As you can see, these can be close to home and the help we can give each other by reporting all these incidences is huge. A true One Health scenario and a win-win situation.

Let’s keep our production animals and our pets as safe as we can from algal poisoning this summer.

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