Vet says dog likely killed by blue-green algae in Mississippi River

- Just across the river in Hager City, Wis., something in the water two-year-old Rhone loved so much may have killed her.

On Fourth of July weekend, after playing in the Mississippi River for hours, Rhone suddenly wasn't herself.

“She went and laid in the sand  but was laying in a really awkward position,” Rhone’s owner Jackie Hayes said.

30 minutes later, Rhone was vomiting and by the time her owners got her to an emergency veterinary clinic she was having a seizure and dead within three hours.

“Whatever had taken her down had paralyzed her, made her stop breathing, heart was still beating but she was essentially brain dead.,” Rhone’s owner Greg Hayes said. 

The veterinarian who tried to save Rhone that night couldn't confirm it was blue-green algae that caused the death without an autopsy, but he said most signs and symptoms point in that direction. The only strange aspect to him was the otherwise healthy Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever was not jumping in a calm pond  or lake, she was jumping in a  moving river.

“If you get enough nutrients and it's a large enough river you can get algae to grow, think Lake Pepin or the Minnesota river," Pam Anderson of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency says.

Most commonly, the blue or grayish toxic algae looks like  pea soup or thin paint., but not always. It can be suspended below the surface at various depths.

“If you are seeing algae it doesn't have to be a big nasty bloom,” Anderson says. “It can be a little bit of green in the water.  Rinse yourself off when you get out, certainly  rinse off your pets. they lick their coats and that's generally what gets them into trouble.  they ingest a lot more algae than a child will.”

While  the kids playing in the same water that day are just fine,  the entire Hayes family is heartbroken.

“We still don't know, and we will never,” Greg said. “But the thing we can't rule out is the blue green algae."

Tips to protect yourself and your pets

Not all blue-green algae is dangerous, but officials say you cannot tell if a bloom is harmful just by looking at it. Before you or your pets enter the water, check the lake for algae in the water or along the shore. Harmful blooms are not always large and dense and can sometimes cover small portions of the lake with little visible algae present.

“If [a lake] looks bad and smells bad, don’t take a chance,” Pam Anderson, MPCA water quality monitoring supervisor, said in a statement earlier this year. “We usually tell people: if in doubt, stay out.”

If you or your pet comes in contact with blue-green algae, use fresh water to rinse it off immediately.

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