A family is urging others to be careful after their beloved pet dog named Mako became very ill and died suddenly.
One Monday morning last month, electrician Jamie, 23, woke up on his rural property just north of Byron Bay to find his three-year-old kelpie behaving unusually.
“She was off colour and lethargic. She just didn’t look her usual, happy self,” his mum Michelle Lee, 45, told Yahoo News Australia.
Just the day before, Mako had spent the day with Ms Lee at her home and seemed “fine”.
But by Tuesday, Mako had “gone downhill fast” and Jamie and his partner Bella rushed her to an emergency vet on the Gold Coast.
“She was having seizures and her liver was failing. She had been such a healthy little puppy,” Ms Lee said, adding that Mako died two days later.
“She went into shock and they had to put her down. We all got to sit in the room and say goodbye to her,” the 45-year-old said.
“They just couldn’t save her. It was so heartbreaking for us.”
The confused family said initially the vet thought Mako had been bitten by a snake or ingested rat poisoning, but further tests “showed it was an algae or fungus of some kind”.
After doing a bit of digging online, Ms Lee said she discovered there was an alert about blue-green algae blooms close to her son’s property in Stokers Siding.
“Her entire system shutting down? Everything pointed to that,” she said.
It is unknown how Mako could have ingested the algae, whether it was at the creek she frequents, on a stick she chewed or in some of the low-lying bodies of water behind her house.
Storms can feel algal blooms
Blue-green algal blooms are a natural phenomena that can kill livestock and pets and are toxic to humans.
They thrive in warm, calm, shallow bodies of water where the water is rich in nitrogen and phosphates, according to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).
Some of the primary sources of excess nitrogen and phosphorus are agriculture, stormwater, wastewater, fossil fuels and fertilisers used around the home.
“Blue-green algal blooms often persist for several weeks, sometimes months, depending mainly on the weather or flow conditions,” Janet Anstee, a senior experimental scientist with CSIRO, told Yahoo News Australia.
“Cooler, windy weather or increased flow may reduce or prevent blooms from occurring. As the bloom dies, the cells tend to become 'leaky'.
“If the bloom contains species that produce toxins, it will result in the release of toxins into the surrounding water. Once released, some toxins may persist for more than three months before they degrade.”
Ms Lee said she’s believes the recent heavy rainfall along the east coast, mixed with days of sunshine and high humidity, could have caused the blue-green algae to form in the low-lying stagnant water on her son’s property.
Storms can cause more nutrient run-off into waterbodies, feeding more algal blooms, according to the US Environmental Protection agency.
Ms Lee is now encouraging pet owners to keep an eye out for blooms on the surface of bodies of water and check Water NSW for their daily algae alerts.
Currently, there are dozens in place across the state.
Algae bloom toxicity may be fatal
RSPCA NSW Chief Veterinarian Dr Liz Arnott told Yahoo News Australia this week “toxic algae blooms are made up of bacteria (cyanobacteria) which can produce toxins”.
Swimming in and ingesting these toxins can affect dogs and other animals including livestock, she said.
“The type of toxicity that results depends on the toxin produced by the particular algae but can lead to liver, kidney, nerve or skin disease,” Dr Arnott added.
“However, commonly liver damage or liver failure is seen from ingestion of the algae.
“Signs include vomiting, diarrhoea, weakness, pale or jaundiced mucous membranes, collapse or seizures. If neurotoxins are involved you may see excessive salivation, muscle tremors and paralysis.
“Signs of toxicity can occur rapidly after ingestion but may not be apparent for a day or two. Urgent veterinary treatment is required in the form of intensive supportive care. However, treatment is not always successful, and this toxicity may be fatal.”
Ms Lee said her son and his partner are “devastated” over Mako’s death and are now left struggling to pay off a huge vet bill. She has created a GoFundMe to help ease the pressure on the young couple.
“No matter how much money we had, we couldn’t save her,” she said.
“[Jamie] is doing it really hard, now he has a huge bill and no puppy. He tried his best but it killed her instantly pretty much.”
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