NEW BRUNSWICK OFFICIALS CONFIRM BLUE-GREEN ALGAE WAS CAUSE OF DEATH OF 3 DOGS
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By Michelle Moore
New Brunswick officials confirmed at a press conference on August 6 that toxic blue green algae was the cause of death for 3 dogs who were swimming in or ate plants from the Saint John River on the weekend of July 21-22.
Blue green algae, otherwise known as cyanobacteria appears as green slime on the surface of water. According to Health Canada roughly 60% of blue green algae blooms have been found to be toxic, so they should be treated as such as a precaution.
Two of the dogs were swimming in the water in Carleton Park near Fredericton, while the other was ten kilometres away, at Hartt Island. Jeff Wilhelm's dogs Sookie and Peekaboo and Stacy McFadden's dog Nike died within 30 minutes of either swimming in the river or ingesting the plants.
Stacy McFadden said on Facebook that her dog Nike "quickly went into what looked like shock, convulsions, and lost control of bodily functions."
New Brunswick's provincial veterinarian Dr. James Goltz said "all three dogs died from exposure to anatoxin, a neurotoxin produced by the blue green algae."
Dr. Goltz reported a similar case from 2010 when anatoxin exposure was the cause of death for a five and a half month old puppy that died within half an hour of contact with the water.
Dr. Goltz said "two other dogs that died following a visit to Carleton Park in Fredericton had not been observed swimming but had been seen eating aquatic vegetation that had washed up on the shore."
After the incidents the Department of Environment and Department of Health collected samples at both sites and the National Research Council tested water and algae samples.
Dr. Goltz said "all samples contained anatoxins, but the levels were particularly high in the samples from vegetation mats and the stomach contents of the dogs submitted for necropsy."
Health officials aren't saying people and animals shouldn't go in the Saint John River but caution is advised.
Dr. Goltz said "all of these risks are increased with small body size so as for health we don't say that animals shouldn't be going in the water, but we feel that owners should ensure that pets are kept under close supervision when they're at the water or at the shore."
As for humans, Regional Medical Officer Dr. Na-Koshie Lamptey said when entering the water people should look out for a strange colour or bad smell. She also recommended showering afterwards and not swimming if you have open wounds.
Dr. Lamptey said "to be clear, while it has been determined that blue-green algae is present in some areas of the Saint John River, we are by no means saying that you can not continue to use the river for recreational purposes such as swimming."
She added "the river is vast, flowing and always changing. It is likely that any presence of blue-green algae is intermittent."
Dr. Lamptey also offered her condolences for the families who lost their pets and acknowledged their patience during the investigation.