Two local dogs die after swimming in pond; owner wants to spread awareness of blue-green algae

By Tom Barr -

Sadie and Roscoe are the two dogs that died shortly after swimming in a pond Thursday.

Sadie and Roscoe are the two dogs that died shortly after swimming in a pond Thursday.

Courtesy photo

CLARKSVILLE — Two family pets were reported to have fallen victim to toxic blue-green algae.

“It’s an extremely SAD day!” Nancy Riehle posted on Facebook Friday morning. “Blue green algae is real! We had to bury two of our dogs last night after they died from ingesting Blue Green Algae HABs. They died a terrible quick death (15-20 minutes) after getting out of the pond.

“We don’t know if they had this toxin building in their system or just one event. They had seizures, foamed at the mouth and lost all bodily functions. This is a quick killer. Horrible to experience.

“To our friends and family be aware of letting your dogs in ponds and lakes! We are devastated.”

Nancy and Todd Riehle have lived on their farm on the Clinton-Warren County line for 14 years. Todd is a lifelong farmer; they said they have never experienced anything like this.

Nancy told the News Journal Friday that they have three dogs, and the two younger ones — 9-month-old Sadie and one-and-a-half year-old Roscoe — are playful, energetic and love the water, and the dogs would swim daily in their two ponds.

However, on Thursday night after the dogs came out of the water, they both had grand mal seizures, began foaming at the mouth, and lost control of their bodily functions, with pieces of green moss in their stool.

Nancy said she called and spoke to the veterinarian who cares for all of their animals, but within that time one dog had already died and the other would pass within a few minutes. She said she described the symptoms to the vet and was told the symptoms were classic ones of blue-green algae.

“All ponds have some algae,” Nancy told the News Journal. “But we haven’t seen anything that looks like blue-green algae. The kids even swam and played in the water in summer, with no issues.”

Nancy, who said the experience was “overwhelmingly shocking”, was emotional speaking with the News Journal, but she wants to make sure that everyone knows the dangers of blue-green algae.

“That’s all I can hope for,” she said.

What is it?

Blue-green algae is the reported cause of death of dogs in northern Ohio and in other states, and it has caused illnesses in people.

“Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) are a growing concern in Ohio,” according to a document by the Ohio EPA. “From Lake Erie to the Ohio River, HABs are becoming commonplace in many streams, lakes and ponds. Besides being unsightly and sometimes odorous, some algae can produce toxins that can kill animals. HABs include toxin-producing blue-green algae which are actually photosynthesizing bacteria (gram negative, photoautotrophic prokaryotes), called cyanobacteria. These organisms may produce a number of types of “algal” toxins that can cause skin irritation, illness or even death to pets, livestock and people.

“Numerous dog and livestock illnesses and deaths from exposure to HABs have been reported in the U.S. and around the world. As researchers stressed in their March 2003 report to the U.S. House Science Committee’s Subcommittee on Environment, Technology and Standards, the past 30 years has revealed a substantial increase in the rate of occurrence and the duration of harmful algal blooms. There have been reports from 50 countries, including at least 27 states in the U.S. of human and animal illnesses linked to algal toxins.

“Cyanobacteria are present in most surface waters including lakes and streams. Excessive growth (blooms) of these organisms can occur any time of the year when an abundance of nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen) are present in the water. Cyanobacteria blooms increase the possibility of toxin production that may cause illnesses in people and animals.

“It is generally thought that most blooms occur in stagnant water in the late summer and early fall when water temperatures are high. However, there are many reports of cyanobacteria blooms developing in the early spring and in slow moving waters, such as the Ohio River. In fact, some species bloom under ice, providing there is sufficient sunlight transmitted through the ice.”


“It is not possible to visually distinguish a toxic cyanobacteria bloom (HAB) from a non-toxic cyanobacteria bloom,” according to the Ohio EPA. “Water samples need to be analyzed for a variety of algal toxins to determine if the bloom is toxic. An Enzyme-Linked Immuno Sorbent Assay (ELISA) is generally used to determine toxin 2 concentration of some common algal toxins, such as microcystin, a hepatotoxin.

“A bloom of cyanobacteria can have many appearances. These organisms can distribute throughout the water or appear as foam or surface scums. Scum color varies and includes white, brown, purple, blue-green and black. Some scums may appear to be green paint spills, green colonial formations or dots in the water. Some species such as Planktothrix do not generally form a scum, but distribute through the water column giving the water a blue-green or brown appearance. Some algae blooms have a foul or musty odor and others do not.”

Animal illnesses

“Animals are not hesitant about swimming in or ingesting water with algal blooms,” according to the Ohio EPA. “They are exposed to HAB toxins by primary contact resulting in skin irritation, and most importantly by ingesting HAB infested waters; eating blue-green algae on the beach; or when licking fur when self grooming after swimming. And since dogs have a smaller body mass, they are likely to experience more adverse illness and even death at lower algal toxin levels.

“According to Dr. Michael Carlson, diagnostic toxicologist with the UNL Veterinary Diagnostic Center at the University of Nebraska, hepatotoxins such as microcystin can cause lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, pale mucous membranes and death. Animals suffering from the neurotoxin, anatoxin-a poisoning can experience muscle tremors, rigidity, lethargy, respiratory distress, convulsions and death. Victims of the neurotoxin anatoxin-a(s) poisoning can experience salivation, urination, lacrimation, defecation, tremors, dyspnea and convulsions and death.

“Dr. Carlson emphasizes that time can be critical because some exposures to HABs can produce life-threatening illnesses within a half-hour of ingestion, while other exposure may take several hours to days.”

Sadie and Roscoe are the two dogs that died shortly after swimming in a pond Thursday. and Roscoe are the two dogs that died shortly after swimming in a pond Thursday. Courtesy photo

By Tom Barr