A warning went out this past week to all veterinarians in New York City from DEC. We spoke to Dr. Chris Gaylord of North Slope Veterinary about it.
Brooklyn Bark: The City of New York is reporting that the Department of Environmental Conservation has identified a harmful algal bloom in Prospect Park Lake. What in the world does that mean? And for those who don't know where we are talking about Prospect Park allows dogs to swim in their waters, untethered, during off leash hours.
Dr. Chris: Harmful algal blooms are caused by blue-green algae which is also called cyanobacteria. It grows in warm sunny conditions in stagnant bodies of water where there is lots of runoff from fertilizers or waste water. It can be extremely toxic to dogs who drink it.
Brooklyn Bark: What precautions should I take?
Dr. Chris: For now it is recommended to keep all dogs out of Prospect Park Lake and the surrounding waters including the dog beach at the edge of the Long Meadow. While most of our dogs are geniuses, some of them do have trouble with common sense decision making such as not consuming large amounts of toxic algae water. Dogs, especially smaller ones, could even get sick from licking the algae that sticks in their fur.
Brooklyn Bark: Is all algae toxic? How do I know if the algae I see in the water is a harmful algal bloom?
Dr. Chris: Most of what you see floating in the water (i.e. algae, pond scum, and green stuff) is harmless if small amounts are consumed. The Department of Environmental Conservation tests city park waters regularly for dangerous algae. You need an expert with a microscope to determine if blue green algae is present.
Brooklyn Bark: What should I do if my dog is exposed?
Dr. Chris: If you have any reason to suspect that your dog has been exposed you should wash them thoroughly with soap and fresh water. Wear gloves. Prevent them from licking their fur or grooming. If your dog shows any signs (see below) you should seek veterinary care immediately. Dogs are quite sensitive to the toxins produced by this algae and consumption can result in death.
Brooklyn Bark: What are the signs?
Dr. Chris: There are different types of toxins produced by the algae and the signs depend on the type of toxin consumed. Skin toxins cause a rash; this is the mildest form of toxicity. Liver toxins can cause vomiting, diarrhea, dark stool, jaundice and loss of appetite. Neurotoxins can cause excessive salivation, disorientation, ataxia, depression, and seizures. We would expect dogs to show signs within minutes to hours after exposure/consumption.
Brooklyn Bark: What is the treatment?
Dr. Chris: Unfortunately there is no antidote for the toxins produced by the algae. Activated charcoal may be given to absorb the toxins and supportive and symptomatic treatment initiated.
Brooklyn Bark: Have any local dogs gotten sick from this?
Dr. Chris: I am not personally aware of any reported cases here. Cases of cyanobacteria toxicity are quite rare in general, however because it can be very serious it is important that people take the necessary precautions to keep their dogs from being exposed.
Christopher Gaylord, DVM, is the practice owner of North Slope Veterinary, 207 6th Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11217. A graduate of Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Gaylord practiced in Manhattan and Jersey City before opening his practice in Park Slope. He can be reached at info@NorthSlopeVet.com To make an appointment with Dr. Gaylord, call 718-789-7170, M-F: 9am-7pm or Sat: 9am-3pm. House calls available on request.