Algae blooms endanger livestock and pets

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Animals are not picky about drinking water, even when it is tinged green or red.

Water with these colors or green carpets on the surface may contain harmful algal blooms, blooms of microbes that produce substances toxic to animals. Pets, for example, can ingest these organisms not only by drinking a drink, but also by grooming after swimming.

Dr Sherri Lyn Kasper, private practitioner in Tallahassee, Florida and chair of the AVMA Committee on Environmental Issues, taught vets at the AVMA 2021 Virtual Convention how to identify the different signs of intoxication related to efflorescence, what treatments could be needed and how to educate clients on identifying potential hazards. She gave a talk entitled “The Effects of Harmful Algal Blooms on Our Patients” on July 29th.

In recent years, federal health authorities have collected information on the damage caused by algal blooms and raised public awareness of the risks. In December 2020, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that HABs sickened at least 389 people and 413 animals during three years of surveillance, 2016-18. The numbers were among the first data released through the CDC’s One Health Harmful Algal Bloom system. Of the 92 animal cases with reported signs, just over half of the signs were gastrointestinal.

Wildlife, especially wild birds, is responsible for most diseases in animals. But the figures also included at least 50 dogs and 36 cattle.

During his session, Dr. Kasper noted the differences in clinical signs between HAB exposures. Hepatotoxins cause liver damage, depression, vomiting, and jaundice. Neurotoxins cause signs ranging from ataxia to paralysis of the respiratory system. And dermatoxins cause irritation to the skin and respiratory tract.

“Asking the client if this animal has been near a water source or, if you are going to a farm, watching the herd and the water source where the herd is drinking will be very helpful,” she said.

The physical exams will be broad and the clinical signs will depend on the dose, she said. If an animal has recently been exposed to a waterway and signs of exposure to HAB, a veterinarian may consider having a client take a water sample for testing.

Dr Kasper also said vets might want to research how to submit water samples and patient samples now so that they are prepared for any potential exposure to HAB. She noted that state governments often provide information on confirmed or suspected HABs, and some accept reports of related illnesses.

Detoxification can include steps such as bathing the animals to remove remaining toxins from their coats and induce vomiting.

Treatments can vary widely depending on the type of substance, and may include administration of activated charcoal, intravenous fluids, anti-epileptic drugs, antimicrobials, antiemetic drugs, vitamin K, or plasma. Some patients may need respiratory support, and some may need a month of antioxidant administration to protect their liver.

“With the right kind of supportive care, many of these patients can survive,” said Dr. Kasper.


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