As summer comes to an end, animal owners should be wary of the potential threat of blue-green algae.
Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, are a phylum of bacteria that produce energy through photosynthesis. These bacteria are often found in freshwater lakes, streams, and ponds, but can also be found in saltwater. They may often be confused with plants, such as moss or duck weed.
Although blue-green algae have the potential to grow throughout the year, blooms are seen more frequently in the summer months in warm, stagnant, nutrient-rich water. Animal owners should note if a water source is discolored, produces a foul smell, or if there are dead fish floating. Although evidence of a blue-green algae bloom is often visible (they can be emerald green, blue green, pea green, red-brown or white) there are instances in which algae attaching to sediment or plants at the bottom of a water source. It is also possible for wind to blow algae onto the soil surrounding the water source. If there has been a blue-green algae bloom, but it has collapsed (decayed), there may still be algal toxins in the water.
Testing is the only method to definitively determine if a water source is dangerous. Thus, animal owners should remain cautious of the water sources animals swim in and drink. Although not all blue-green algae are toxic, of the strains that produce toxins, there are two types: one that affects the neurological system and one that causes liver failure.
Neurotoxins can cause muscle tremors, seizures, excessive salivation, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, and death within hours or even minutes of exposure. Hepatotoxins cause vomiting, diarrhea, bloody or dark stool, and pale or jaundiced (yellow) mucus membranes. Animals can die quickly, or they can develop liver failure over several days. If an animal is suspected of having been exposed to blue-green algae, a veterinarian should immediately be contacted.
The Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (TVMDL) offers a test that may assist clients in detecting blue-green algae.
Toxicology Evaluation (Microscopy)
Specimen:20 mL of suspect water
Microscopy can identify whether or not blue-green algae are present, but cannot determine whether those present are producing toxins.
TVMDL also recommends submitting suspected samples to the California Health and Food Safety Laboratory at UC Davis. Samples can be tested with the Algae Toxin Panel that can detect four different toxins using LC/MS/MS/MS technology (https://cahfs.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/lab-tests-fees).
For questions concerning testing for blue-green algae, contact the College Station laboratory at 1.888.646.5623.