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Blue-green algae poisoning to blame for death of dogs, pet parents beware

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Veterinarians say blue-green algae poisoning is to blame for the death of a handful of dogs around the country.

The owners of those dogs say their pets died within hours of swimming in a lake or pond.

Veterans Park Lagoon is the only body of water in the city of Milwaukee that's being tested for blue-green algae due to its history with algae blooms. Public boating is allowed in the lagoon, but signs posted are meant to deter people or pets from coming in contact with the lagoon water.

Milwaukee Public Health says toxic algae can cause poisoning in the nervous system for both people and animals if swallowed.

"Toxic algae, they can cause neurotoxicity. In people and animals these can manifest very similarly," said Nick Tomaro, Milwaukee Public Health Emergency Response Planning Coordinator.

Veterinarians say the process can happen within 15 to 30 minutes. Signs include vomiting, seizures, diarrhea and shock.

The DNR says blue-green algae create a variety of deadly toxins.

"If they get a high enough dose, it can kill them unfortunately,” said Gina LaLiberte, Harmful Algal Bloom Coordinator for the Wisconsin DNR.  

LaLiberte says local public health departments are the ones who test and close public beaches, but most only test for harmful bacteria. 

"There are only a handful of public health agencies that have the capacity to do testing for blue-green algae," said LaLiberte.

A North Carolina couple lost three of their dogs in a matter of hours on Friday. The dogs went swimming in a lake that had blue-green algae. Their veterinarian determined the dogs died from poisoning. Their Facebook post has now been shared at least 26,000 times.

"People need to know about this, I mean if we had any clue that this was a thing, they would've never come. I had no idea," said Melissa Martin, whose dogs died from blue-green algae poisoning.

"This time of year we worry a lot more about it, because as the warm weather sets in these algal blooms are more common," said Tomaro.

LaLiberte says test results for algae can take hours or even days in some cities, so the best thing to do is be cautious.

"Anytime you see really discolored green water, if you see scums or mats or floating clumps of algae, keep your dogs out, because you can't tell if blue-green algae blooms are making toxins," adds LaLiberte.

Tomaro says in the future they'll look into testing other areas of Milwaukee.

Veterinarians say once symptoms of poisoning show, it may be too late. They advise you take your pet immediately to the vet if you think you may have come in contact with blue-green algae.

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