This is a WARNING -- BE CAUTIOUS! Information that we all should be aware of if we like to swim our dogs in lakes, creeks, rivers and yes the ocean.
Recently we vacationed at a wonderful dog friendly area in northern California -- the Russian River in Sonoma County. The Russian River is a very large river that runs through several towns (Healdsburg, Rio Nido, Guerneville, Monte Rio and Duncans Mills). We have vacationed in this area several times and have let the dogs swim and fetch balls in the Russian River. There are many beaches along this river with few restrictions on dogs. The Pacific Ocean is a short distance away, however, dogs are seldom allowed on the beaches so the Russian River has been a perfect place to take dogs for water fun.
This year we stopped at the beach at Monte Rio which allows dogs and I went down to look at the water since this area is part of the severe drought stricken California coast. This area has had little rain for over 2 years and I wanted to look at the water. When I walked down to the water it was NOT MOVING, looked stagnant and there were patches of algae along the shore. I decided NOT to swim the dogs. My rule is that I only allow the dogs to swim in a river or creek if the water is MOVING and more importantly is CLEAR and CLEAN in appearance. AND, I am especially cautious when the weather turns warm. This water was not looking good. We would not be swimming here.
Later that day when I stopped at a winery where we often go, I asked about a place I could take the dogs to swim mentioning how bad the Russian River looked. I was then told that a few weeks ago a Golden Retriever had died very suddenly while swimming with its owners who were doing a day of kayaking on the river. I was also told that several other dogs had died in the river due to algae blooms. http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/4435353-181/owner-of-algae-afflicted-dog-recounts?gallery=4436539
Perhaps I missed a sign warning of the dangers to dogs and others in this river but where I walked to the water, I did not see any sign… certainly nothing was in the parking lot.
When I got back to our rental home I googled “water quality” and “Russian River”. The first entries told of a high bacteria count and fecal contamination in the Russian River and it was advised to keep dogs and children out of the river. Then I read about the blue green algae bloom and how it had killed one dog, a Golden Retriever.
I was angry!!! The company that rents most of the homes in the Russian River area and advertise themselves as “pet friendly” never once sent me any information to warn me not to swim my dog in the Russian River. I did not see anything posted locally with these warnings.. yet in google I found the warning clearly stated from a California water quality control board that dogs SHOULD NOT GO IN THE WATER.
The warnings were numerous on the Internet, yet I failed to find them locally. Only when I talked to locals did I hear about their opinions that the Russian River was not a safe place to swim. There were places it was clearly not moving; the temperatures had been very warm for several weeks (99 degrees) and who knows how much of the chemicals used in the wineries in this area have drained in the river… all making for the perfect storm of deadly water and algae blooms. Why so little information. Could it be the huge tourist business…..$$$$$$
I have more recently read that people were warned before Labor Day about possible dangers from swimming in the Russian River but few choose to follow whatever warning was posted locally at that beach.
Several years ago there was a story of several dogs who were out on a lake in Minnesota and two of them suddenly collapsed, had seizures and died. Googling “algae blooms and dog deaths” an alarming number of stories come up from the past year:
- After boy sickened, pets killed, Minnesota warns of toxic blue-green algae in lakes: http://www.startribune.com/vacationers-should-avoid-contact-with-blue-green-algae-mpca-warns/311618101/
- From California this year, “Dogs die from East Bay Lake Toxic Algae Blooming Caused by Drought” “CASTRO VALLEY -- Stemming from California's drought, three pet dogs have died after lapping up water in a popular recreation lake fouled by toxic algae flourishing in scarce rain and runoff. http://www.mercurynews.com/drought/ci_27433372/dogs-die-from-lake-chabot-toxic-algae-blooming
- Washington State Toxic Algae: https://www.nwtoxicalgae.org/healthrisks.aspx
- After Utah Lake-related dog deaths, experts recommend protocol for toxic algae (October 18, 2015) http://www.sltrib.com/home/2786510-155/after-utah-lake-related-dog-deaths-experts “Threat in the water.. Almost half of Utah’s waterways –including several drinking water sources are at risk of developing poisonous algal blooms scientists warn.”
- Warnings of Toxic Algae on Russian River in Sonoma County: http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Warnings-of-toxic-algae-on-Russian-River-in-6459738.php
Taken from Pet Health Network on Blue-Green Algae
What is blue-green algae?
Blue-green algae, which is also called cyanobacteria, is a microscopic bacteria found in freshwater ponds, lakes, streams, and brackish water ecosystems. Note that not all types of algae are poisonous, but some types (e.g., blue-green) can produce toxins called microcystins and anatoxins. These toxins are so dangerous that they are actually poisonous to other species too: humans, cattle, horses, cats, etc. For this reason, you shouldn’t allow your dog (or child) to swim or drink water that has been potentially contaminated with blue-green algae.
Symptoms of blue-green algae poisoning
Clinical signs of blue-green algae poisoning depend on what type of toxin (e.g., microcystin vs. anatoxin) is present.Clinical signs of blue-green algae that produce microcystins, typically include:
- Not eating
- Black-tarry stool
- Pale gums
- Jaundice (yellow) gums
In researching algae blooms and dog deaths for this writing many more stories have been published warning of the dangers of swimming in freshwater ponds, lakes, and streams… clearly it is not just our dogs that are in danger of dying from this toxin but also children can become very ill.
So the warning is….. when you travel or are thinking how much fun it would be to allow your dog to swim, play ball or fetch in this body of water, research the quality of the water FIRST. When was it tested? Is it ever monitored or tested? This is especially important during warm weather and while the drought persists causing low water flows.
While the pictures below of the blue green algae blooms are quite dramatic there can be small patches not easily recognizable as was the case at the Russian River. I am not sure they found the place on the Russian River where the Golden contacted this deadly toxin but autopsy shows it was the blue-green algae toxin. The owners also reported that the dog had not swam anywhere else.
Also, these same conditions often cause high bacteria counts and fecal contamination as was found by a testing group at the Russian River. There are times in Sedona, AZ where popular tourist places such as Slide Rock in Oak Creek Canyon are closed due to the dangerous levels of bacteria.
Clearly this is more of a problem in warm weather, low water flows from our drought and abundant nutrients that are in the water many from fertilizers and chemicals that drain into rivers. We need to be cautious and not expect that there will be local postings at rivers and lakes to warn us. Clearly this is not happening in many places.
AND, the other caution is of water intoxication which can occur any time of year, in any body of water. Too much water especially salt water can result in hypernatremia or salt poisoning. Initial symptoms can include vomiting and diarrhea but the condition can quickly progress to more severe neurological symptoms. Last month an article was posted on water intoxication in dogs.
HAVE FUN PLAYING AND SWIMMING IN THE WATER… BUT USE CAUTION.