CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Viral stories on Facebook and other social media outlets reveal a tragic story of somebody whose dog suddenly died only hours after a fun time at the local lake. The stories blame the bloom of blue-green algae as the culprit. Although many times social media can unnecessarily alarm people over matters which are of little concern, this is one time a West Virginia veterinarian says there is cause for attention.

“It’s truly something you should be concerned about and it’s not a Facebook myth,” said Dr. Erika Alt, Staff Veterinarian for the West Virginia Department of Agriculture.

The potential exposure to bacteria sometimes produced by an algae bloom is of particular concern to waterfowl hunters with the upcoming early Canada goose season and the early waterfowl hunting seasons across West Virginia. Retrieving dogs will be in all kinds of water bringing downed birds back to their owners. The seemingly benign activity could carry an enormous risk under the right conditions.

“Blue-Green algae contains bacteria which can occur in ponds, lakes, and pretty much anywhere water gets stagnant. The danger lies in the bacteria which can produce two different types of toxin and those toxins are extremely dangerous to not only pets but also to livestock and even humans,” she said.

One of the toxins impacts the dog’s liver and can take a day or two to become noticeable. The other toxin attacks the respiratory system and the animal will be in distress and could die in just a few hours after being exposed.

“It can happen very quickly and you’ll probably start noticing the G-I signs first with vomiting and diarrhea. If your dog has been swimming those are the signs you want to get them medical attention immediately,” said Alt in a recent appearance on West Virginia Outdoors.

The bacteria appears in algae when it blooms on the surface of a body of water, but the bacteria doesn’t occur in all forms of algae. Alt explained it’s very difficult to know which is toxic and which is not. She suggested the best thing to do is give your dog a good rinsing after any swimming and water activity to be on the safe side. Then watch them closely afterward for any signs of sickness or distress.

The blooms form after extended periods of hot sunshine. Those blooms and the risk of infection drop off substantially after temperatures moderate and become cooler.

“Once the temperatures start being cooler and especially at night, the blooms are going to subside,” she said.