Water warning as heatwave sparks algal bloom

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Argyll has been basking in temperatures akin to the Mediterranean, but the heat has brought a hidden danger to people and animals cooling off in the region’s waterways.

As the mercury has risen, so has the prevalence of toxic algae in ponds and lochs, and at the beginning of this week there were reports of dogs falling seriously ill after swimming in Loch Awe. One dog was reported to have died after ingesting the algae.

As word spread on social media, Lochgilphead’s Dalriada veterinary practice issued information explaining that algal ‘bloom’ occurs naturally in lochs, ponds, reservoirs, slow moving rivers and even puddles when the conditions are ideal for bacteria called cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae.

Dalriada vets advised: ‘The water can appear green, blue/green or greenish brown, but sometimes it can look clear.

‘The bacteria can form a scum which in calm weather rises to the surface. Cyanobacteria can produce toxins, which can kill wild animals, livestock and pets.

‘Pet dogs are probably most at risk in hot weather, because owners encourage them to cool off in water. Swimming in algal bloom water, licking the hair coat dry after swimming, or having a drink from the affected water can be fatal within 15 minutes. Sometimes the clinical signs are delayed for a few hours after contact with the toxin.

‘Symptoms in dogs include drooling, gastrointestinal upset, weakness, inco-ordination, passing blood in faeces, respiratory distress, collapse, seizures or coma.

‘There is no antidote and only rapid, aggressive veterinary treatment can occasionally save an animal.

‘The best advice we can give is do not allow your dog near or into still/non-running water. Also, take heed of any warning signs.’

A spokesperson from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) said: ‘On Tuesday May 29 we took samples from Loch Awe in response to complaints from the public about dogs falling ill after drinking from the water body.

‘We have confirmed the presence of blue-green algae at a location in Loch Awe.

The spokesperson continued: ‘Blue-green algal blooms usually develop during the warmer months and are quite common in Loch Awe at this time of year. If members of the public suspect blue-green algae they should contact and follow advice provided by the local authority.’

A spokesperson for Argyll and Bute Council added: ‘We have erected warning signs at Loch Awe to advise people of a current algal bloom in that area. We have also issued emails to everyone on our contact list and have posted warnings on our social media pages and website.

‘We would strongly urge people to avoid contact with the water there at this time.’