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Huntsville veterinarian advises caution over toxic algae

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- So far, no dogs in Alabama have fallen victim to the toxic blue-green algae that has killed four dogs in states across the South. But vets say blue-green algae is a common summer foe, and dog owners should still use caution.

Just in the last week, four dogs died of liver failure brought on by drinking water contaminated with toxic blue-green algae. One dog in Texas, three dogs in North Carolina, and another in Georgia.

"Before I'd read the story it wouldn't scare me, but now that I've read the story maybe it would scare me," said local dog owner Matthew Jett.

Vets say the culprit of this unsolicited pet deaths is the blue-green algae present in the ponds where the dogs played. It produces a toxic bacteria the Centers for Disease Control says is one of the most powerful natural poisons in the world.

"Within 15 to 30 minutes you'll start to see some signs of being either lethargic or depressed, some even have neurological problems where they start having seizures," said Dr. Kaisha Pritchett, an emergency veterinarian at Animal Emergency & Critical Care in Huntsville. "If you notice anything that's a sudden onset, definitely be concerned."

No deaths have been confirmed in the state, but Pritchett said it's always something to be aware of.

"It's always been a thing," she said. "We mostly see it in cows, animals that live on a farm and have those little ponds that they hang around. We mostly see that issue with them but not a lot of dogs."

Free-flowing water is less likely to have algae growth.

"For the most part I'm not worried about it," Jett said. "But I know it's out there, and I know algae could get in bodies of water over here."

Vets say there's no need to be fearful of taking your dog swimming, but do be cautious.

"I think it's just one of those things maybe that's just been the right recipe as far as weather, water for it to be a big issue in those areas," Pritchett said. "It's always been out there."

The Alabama Veterinary Medical Examiners Board will alert all vets in the state if there's a confirmed case of blue-green algae poisoning.

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