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Hunting Dog Owners Cautioned To Watch for Harmful Algal Blooms

PRATT – Kansas hunters are urged to remain vigilant to the dangers harmful algal blooms can pose to hunting dogs. Every summer, dogs in Kansas get sick or die from exposure to harmful blue-green algae, but potentially deadly algal blooms can still occur into fall and winter.

“There are a lot of different species (of blue-green algae) and some don’t care what season it is,” said Tom Stiles, Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) Bureau of Water director. “If there’s a period of sunshine, calm conditions and it’s warm, a bloom could pop up. Hunters need to pay attention to their dogs.”

KDHE monitors blue-green algae across the state April 1-Oct. 31. But Stiles knows heavy blooms have been documented well into November and believes they happen through the winter. Stiles added that 2020 has been a particularly bad year, with potentially harmful densities of blue-green algae reported at as many as 39 bodies of public water.

Algal blooms are often highly visible, appearing like a bright green slime on the water’s surface, though Stiles added the blooms come in other colors and textures. Hunters need to keep a watchful eye on water conditions before sending their dogs to make a retrieve. However, dogs have also ingested potentially fatal amounts of bacteria from water that showed no visible signs of the algae, so hunters are encouraged to err on the side of caution when hunting around waters documented to have had harmful algal blooms earlier in the year.

As well as directly drinking toxic water, Stiles said dogs often ingest the algae by eating it along the shoreline. Another common scenario is when a dog licks itself after coming out of toxic water.

Stiles said while algal blooms in Kansas’ large reservoirs get most of the attention, small waters on private lands can be just as dangerous. The state has thousands of small ponds that drain fertilized croplands, creating the potential for algal blooms.

“I get calls every year from ranchers who’ve lost cattle by a pond,” said Stiles. “If it’ll kill cattle, it’ll easily kill dogs.”

Stiles recommends hunters offer fresh drinking water often to their dogs to decrease their interest in drinking from tainted ponds or lakes. Dogs that have swam through possible blooms should be toweled off immediately and taken to a place where they can be sprayed thoroughly with clean water. Hunters also need to monitor their dog’s condition for hours following a hunt.

“Sometimes it’s only a matter of minutes before they get really sick but other times it’s hours,” said Stiles. “If a dog is exhibiting any symptoms like throwing up, is especially lethargic or starts having seizures, rush it to the vet.”

If you suspect that your dog got sick because of exposure to blue-green algae, please report it to the KDHE by calling the EpiHotline (877-427-7317) or by using this online form found at: https://kdheks.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_3m9Zfcls27nckMB.

For more information on blue-green algal blooms in Kansas, visit www.kdheks.gov/algae-illness.