Blue-green danger


The vet's view
Conal Finnerty

July and August are traditionally the holiday months for lots of us, with schools closed and the (hopefully) brighter sunnier weather upon us. This time of year sees lots of us getting out into the great outdoors for some well-deserved rest and relaxation, as well as catching up on some quality time with our families.
This time of year also draws us to waterways to paddle and bring our pets for that lovely cooling off swim. However, this time of year, with the temperatures rising and the sun high in the sky, can also bring a potential danger for both ourselves and our pets. This is especially so in slow moving or stagnant waterways, such as ponds, turloughs, lakes and slow moving rivers.
Hot summer weather provides the perfect environment for the proliferation of a group of bacteria known as cyanobacteria, that can multiply in large numbers in warm stagnant waters. This bloom is called blue-green algae, and these bacteria produce toxins (cyanotoxins – produced as a by-product of photosynthesis) that in large enough quantities can make humans and animals very ill. Indeed, fatalities among animal cases are rising. Over the past few years, we here at Skeldale have seen more and more cases of poisonings with these bacteria.
The blue-green scum that these groups of bacteria produce can often be hard to see on the surface of stagnant waters. Please be especially vigilant of this phenomenon during these few months. Unfortunately, if ingested in sufficient quantities – either directly by the animal or more commonly, licked off the coat post swimming in contaminated areas – the toxins are often fatal.
Sudden death for no apparent reason is often seen, and this can be very distressing and puzzling for owners. Cattle and sheep that have drunk from contaminated waters have also been known to be poisoned. It is so important to fence off stagnant waters such as lakes and ponds from livestock especially during the summer months.
With the easing of Covid restrictions continuing at pace, we will see more and more people out and about and holidaying at home this summer with their pets. It would be a disaster if your pet succumbed to the toxins of the annual blue-green algae bloom this year, and so with that in mind, do not let your pet swim or drink from waters you might suspect may be contaminated.
Also if you do suspect an algae bloom in a particular waterway, post it on social media and tell Mayo County Council, which will post warning signs in the area.

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.