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Midsummer’s nightmares

Living

REAL DANGERThe ‘algae’ caused by the growth of cyanobacteria on stagnant or slow-moving water can be deadly to pets and dangerous for humans.

The Vets View

Conal Finnerty

July is my favourite month of the year, with summer and nature in full bloom, long hot days and trips to the beach and other waterways for swims and relaxation. Unfortunately, July is also the month when we find the emergence and proliferation of a potentially deadly killer for our pets, especially dogs.
The hot sunny weather provides the perfect environment for the growth of scums of blue-green algae on lakes, ponds and any other slow moving or stagnant waters. This ‘algae’ is in fact a vast growth of a family of bacteria called, cyanobacteria. These organisms through their metabolism, produce deadly toxins which animals can ingest by directly drinking, or as is more often the case with dogs, ingest through licking their coats having been swimming in areas of water that contain the toxins.
In the past few years we have seen a number of animals present at our clinics in a state of collapse and in a number of instances, dead, for no apparent reason – but for the fact that there had been a history of swimming in waters potentially full of blue-green algae immediately beforehand.
With the easing of Covid-19 lock-down restrictions, many people are taking advantage of the long summer days to get out with their pets for some long overdue relaxation and exercise. It is vital that we are vigilant around slow-moving and stagnant waters for the presence of this potentially deadly toxic algae, as there is little that can be done if an animal ingests sufficient quantities to poison it.
If anybody sees areas of water where there is an algae ‘bloom’,  especially water where people congregate for relaxation, such as popular areas for swimming on lakes and so on, it is important to inform the County Council, so that they can erect signs, warning pet owners of the potential threat that blue-green algae poses. In fact, people too can become unwell with skin irritations, gastro-intestinal upsets, fever and, thankfully in only a few rare cases, more-severe illness if they ingest the toxins.
On a related topic, remember to always bring a bag (or bags, should your charge have a number of bowel movements) to pick up your pet’s faeces, especially on beaches or where people go to relax around waterways. There is nothing worse than a child inadvertently walking on dog poo (with bare feet!) – or worse, handling dog faeces at the beach and then grabbing a sandwich from the picnic. Bacterial and parasitic infections are so easily contracted by children in this way.
Thankfully, most of us can now get out of the house at last for some much-needed relaxation. Trips to waterways are popular with the lockdown restrictions, but always be vigilant of the presence of blue-green algae, and always leave these beautiful places as you hopefully find them: poop free!

Veterinarian Conal Finnerty MRCVS practises at the Skeldale Vet Clinic in Ballinrobe and Belmullet. Follow the clinic on Facebook, or call 094 9541980 or 087 9185350 to make an appointment.