With Burlington beaches closed, officials warn against toxic algae’s danger to pets

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) – Those hoping to cool off at a Burlington beach Wednesday were out of luck — they’re all closed. Blue-green algae has been spotted at all local beaches. And while the blooms can be unhealthy for humans, they can be downright toxic for pets.

Beach closures kicked in midday Sunday after an algae bloom was spotted, but it wasn’t before some had already been in the water with their pets.

“If you have any doubts that there could be even a chance of cyanobacteria in the water, don’t risk it. So, I will be doing a lot of hiking from now on,” said Ali House of Burlington. The City Council member says she was at North Beach Sunday playing in the water with her dog, Teddy, when lifeguards told everyone to get on land because they spotted a cyanobacteria bloom. “They were really great. They helped us get Teddy to the showers and helped us bathe him off and keep him calm. They were phenomenal.”

House noticed throughout the day that Teddy wasn’t acting right, with some signs of coughing, passing gas, and sores on his paws. She took him to the vet. “What they told me was that they have some dogs who go in and they collapse as soon as they get out of the water. So, he’s really lucky and he stayed awake and alert the whole time, which was great there were no neurological symptoms,” House said.

Teddy now has to wear a cone so the sores on his paws can heal. House checked for warnings before she even went to the beach, and even checked the water for blooms floating on top, which often looks like spilled paint on water. But she didn’t realize that signs of cyanobacteria can lurk beneath the surface.

“If there are a lot of little specks in the water sort of coming together, that’s also a sign to move on and get out. And if you are at a public beach, inform the lifeguard. As we said, things can change very fast,” said Lori Fisher with the Lake Champlain Committee.

Veterinarian Erin Forbes says if you believe your dog has been exposed to cyanobacteria, get to the vet as soon as possible. She says there can be toxins in it that can affect the skin, and liver, and cause neurological damage. And there’s no antidote. “Even though our communities do a pretty good job about being vigilant about it, you have to check the water pretty obsessively if you’re going to let your pet swim in it, because if they drink enough of it — like I said – – they can die from it,” she said.

The city checks the water every day but conditions can change very quickly at beaches. Also, once a beach is closed it doesn’t reopen until a test for cyanobacteria comes back negative, and that usually takes about 24 hours.

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