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Blue-green algae confirmed as cause of Fredericton dog death
New Brunswick Health Officials are confirming that the toxins from blue-green algae caused the death of a dog this month in Fredericton.
It was two weeks ago Saturday when Flint, a 16-week-old hunting dog and his owners were out boating and swimming in the Saint John River.
The owners say the dog, who had just learned how to swim, was enjoying the river until suddenly he became ill.
“He got up beside my husband Earl and started to vomit, and then became very ill, very quickly,” describes Flint’s owner Sandy Kitchen-Brewer. “He was stumbling around and I just scooped him up and we jumped in the boat and started back across the river. By the time we got back to the truck he was convulsing.”
Kitchen-Brewer says they were about halfway across the Westmoreland Street Bridge when she felt Flint’s heart stop.
They had already phoned an on-call veterinarian, who confirmed that Flint had died, less than 30 minutes after showing his first signs of illness.
“It was very fast, it was very traumatic, it was an awful day,” describes Kitchen-Brewer.
On Friday, officials from the New Brunswick Health Authority called Kitchen-Brewer and confirmed that Flint’s death was caused by toxins from blue-green algae bacteria in the river.
Officials are now issuing a warning to others that the river may be toxic.
“What we’ve done is issued a blue-green algae advisory along the Saint John River between Woodstock and Fredericton,” says Dr. Christin Muecke, New Brunswick’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Health.
“Basically the advisory confirms that there is evidence of blue-green algae along that water body.”
Kitchen Brewer went back to the area where Flint got sick with Department of Environment staff, where they discovered lots of mats and blooms.
Blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, are bacterial organisms naturally found in rivers, lakes and wetlands. In warm weather, they can form blooms that may look like scum, foam or discolorations of blue-green, green, red, brown or yellow that can appear fluorescent.
The bacteria can also give off a smell that’s attractive to dogs. Three dogs died last summer from the bacteria in New Brunswick alone.
“Those neurotoxins impact the nervous system, stop muscles from working, so they are highly toxic and can cause paralysis, suffocation and eventually death,” explained Janice Lawrence, an Aquatic Biology Researcher at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton.
The health department says it’s support several research projects on blue-green algae, in hopes to get a better understanding of the bacteria.
In the meantime, Kitchen-Brewer is hoping to spread the word, so what happened to Flint, doesn’t happen to anyone else.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Laura Brown.