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Pet owners near Lake Lanier can relax about toxic algae
Lake Lanier
Lake Lanier. - photo by File photo

By Kelsey Richardson

DCN Regional Staff

Dog owners throughout the Southeast are pointing their fingers at blue-green algae as a pet-killing culprit.

Reports have recently spread involving two cases — one in Lake Allatoona and the other in Wilmington, North Carolina — regarding dogs dying shortly after spending time in freshwater.

Pet owners who visit Lake Lanier can relax.

Dale Caldwell, Chatta­hoochee Riverkeeper’s headwaters director, said the nonprofit hasn’t reported any harmful algal blooms in the Chattahoochee watershed, which encompasses Lanier.

He said Lanier is constantly monitored by the nonprofit’s staff and volunteers. During the summer the organization conducts nutrient monitoring, which entails examining algae.

“We’re not aware of any type of blue-green algae bloom involving cyanobacteria that’s happened in the Chattahoochee watershed, certainly not one that has caused illness or deaths,” Caldwell said.

Blue-green algae, known as cyanobacteria, is found throughout the U.S. in lakes and ponds, and thrives in warm environments.

Caldwell said the toxic bacteria can kill aquatic life and pets that consume the infected water.

If Lanier had any signs of a harmful algal bloom, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper would most likely know. Caldwell said people can easily detect cyanobacteria by its color and the way it floats on the water’s surface. It can look blue, green, red or brown.

Although the blue-green algae isn’t difficult to spot, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper’s staff have the ability to test the water for traces of the bacteria.

“Chattahoochee Riverkeeper is prepared to test for cyanobacteria if the threat comes about, or we have reason to believe that something we need to hone in on,” Caldwell said.

Denise Funk, veterinarian at Animal Medical Care in Gainesville, said in her 30 years of practice and life-long residency on Lanier, she hasn’t seen or heard of any dogs dying from blue-green algae on the lake.

However, she does encourage pet owners who live near freshwater to give their dogs a leptospirosis vaccine.

Funk said leptospirosis, which is a bacterial infection, can lead to kidney and liver problems, or in some cases death. The bacteria is spread by the urine of infected animals, which can get into lakes and people’s yards.

To avoid harmful bacteria while swimming, Funk recommends staying out of stagnant water and areas with peculiar floating gunk.

“I want people to know that the sky is not falling and they can let their dogs swim,” she said. “Just swim in clean areas.”