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Dog’s death prompts pollution agency to issue alert on toxic algae blooms

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is asking the public to be on the alert for potentially toxic algae blooms in lakes and streams.

The MPCA issued the alert Thursday following the death of a dog last weekend in Sherburne County.

Brock Tatge, the dog’s owner, told the MPCA that he and his family were spending time last Sunday on Prairie Lake, where they live, when their dog, Copper, suddenly became ill. The dog had been fetching a tennis ball from the lake.

“We noticed that Copper went on shore, began vomiting and panting very hard, and just looked very sick,” Tatge said. “I carried him to my truck and brought him to the vet’s office.”

Copper’s condition deteriorated and he died at the veterinarian’s office. The cause of his illness has not been confirmed, but the veterinarian who examined him believed that he became ill after ingesting toxins from blue-green algae.

The MPCA is advising pet owners to check water conditions when dogs are playing near lakes or slow-flowing streams.

Blue-green algae “blooms” have a thick, cloudy appearance that can look like green paint, pea soup or floating mats of scum. Some, but not all species of blue-green algae contain potent toxins that can be deadly to dogs, livestock and other animals within hours of contact.

Dog owners are being advised to keep their pets away from algae-laden water. If animals do enter water with heavy algae growth, they should be hosed off right away, before they have a chance to lick themselves clean. Animals become ill when they ingest the toxins, so preventing them from drinking affected water or licking toxins from their coat is key to preventing illness, the MPCA said.

Pets suspected of being exposed to harmful blue-green algae should be taken promptly to a veterinarian.

Blue-green algae blooms are usually associated with warm weather and low rainfall but can occur anytime during the summer. They often occur when lakes develop high levels of nutrients such as phosphorus.

“This year’s unusually heavy rainfall has carried tremendous amounts of nutrients into Minnesota lakes,” MPCA scientist Steve Heiskary said in a statement. “If the rain slows down and we move into a period of hot, dry summer weather, we could see an exceptional number of algal blooms across the state in the coming weeks, even in lakes that do not normally experience them.”

Humans exposed to toxic blue-green algae can experience skin irritation, nausea, and eye, nose and throat irritation. Swimmers should avoid the water if they suspect a blue-green algae bloom. Human deaths from exposure to blue-green algae are extremely rare, since the unpleasant odor and appearance of a blue-green algal bloom tend to keep people out of the water, according to the MPCA.

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