A rash of recent companion animal deaths related to cyanobacteria toxins prompted a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service aquaculture expert to offer information to alleviate fears.
Todd Sink, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension aquaculture specialist, College Station, wanted to address recent stories involving companion animal deaths linked to toxins in surface water to assuage fears and provide information to help the public protect themselves and their animals.
Sink said cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae as they are often incorrectly referred, are everywhere in the environment, and exist in virtually every single body of water in the world. There are hundreds of different species in the U.S. alone.
Sink and other AgriLife experts suspect as many as an additional six to 12 livestock cases go unreported per year because producers may not know cyanobacteria could be a potential source of toxicity. But prior to this year, Sink had only received one suspected case of cyanobacteria toxicity in a companion animal such as a dog in the last five years.
In most cases, there is no need to fear allowing pets to play in bodies of water, nor is there necessarily a need for owners to submit samples for expensive testing, Sink said. There are other no-cost common-sense methods to protect their pets.
“The first thing you should know is the presence of a bluish-green surface scum or mat is an immediate red flag, and you should not allow your animals to swim in or drink the water,” he said.
The blueish-green color is a clear sign of cyanobacteria, but the absence of this color in most cases means absolutely nothing because most cyanobacteria are not blue-green. Most species are various shades of green or brown and some even have a reddish tint, so color alone cannot be used to identify cyanobacteria.
Another clear red flag can be dead aquatic species, such as fish, including small minnows, frogs and turtles, along the shoreline, Sink said.
Testing is not always the answer as testing consists of two parts, Sink said. The first is a visual identification in which a person trained in algae species identification microscopically examines a water sample, carefully inspecting it to determine if cyanobacteria cells are present, how many cyanobacteria species are present and at what density of each cyanobacteria is present. This only tells half the story.
Therefore, testing can become quite expensive, Sink said. The average water sample will cost $450-$500 to test.
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